Tasting a country’s food is definitely among the best ways to connect with its culture. Though it seems simple and mundane, food has the power to initiate us into a whole different world. Food is one of the most vital parts of any given society and it reflects aspects of a people’s history, traditions and lifestyle in the most striking way. At the end of the day, food is life itself. But food is also great fun. For all those reasons, we love tasting the world’s cuisines. This is why we decided to take a food tour in Istanbul. The meeting point of Europe and Asia couldn’t possibly have boring food. Therefore, we were determined to learn as much about the secrets of Turkish cuisine and the food culture of Istanbul as possible.
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Taking an Istanbul food tour with Istanbulite
Once we decided to take a food tour in Istanbul, we contacted Eda, the soul of Istanbulite. The latter offer a wide selection of some of the most exciting private Istanbul tours. Eda suggested we joined the Following The Footsteps Of Shane Delia In Istanbul tour, one of Istanbulite’s best culinary experiences. This private tour visits some of the most authentic parts of Istanbul and includes tasting excellent food along the way. The original version lasts 6-8 hours and is meat-centred. Those were both huge problems for us. First of all, we wanted something considerably shorter and, secondly, I am vegetarian. However, those were hardly problems for Eda who is a true expert in planning tailor-made tours for everyone. She designed a 3-hour walking tour for us which is probably one of the few vegetarian friendly options among Istanbul food tours.
Best kebab in Istanbul
Eda met us on Istiklal Street at about 19:00 in the evening. After wandering around some of the prettiest side streets, we reached Zübeyir Ocakbaşı, the first stop on our Istanbul food tour. Packed with locals, this grill restaurant is a meat lover’s paradise as it serves some of the best Istanbul kebab. As an added bonus, meat is cooked over coal fire right in the middle of the restaurant offering both an impressive spectacle and a super warm ambience. Eda ordered kebab for Katerina, roasted vegetables and patlican közde for both of us. The latter is a warm eggplant salad which may not sound much but it’s a must-try. A basket of various types of flatbread, both spicy and plain, came along as well. Patlican közde was to die for and so was the kebab.
The most incredible traditional Turkish food in Istanbul
Considering this just a starters session, we shamelessly walked on to the next stop on our tour. Just looking at the food Hayvore had on display, we knew we were at the right place. This restaurant at the heart of Beyoğlu serves primarily dishes from the Black Sea region of Turkey. We tried fried hamsi (small fish from the Black Sea) and kuru fasulye (dry beans in tomato sauce) with erişte (Turkish homemade pasta) there. Katerina also had kara lahana çorbası, namely cabbage soup. Everything was beyond words delicious. Do visit this restaurant during your own trip to Istanbul and you can thank us later. We, for one thing, are utterly grateful to Eda for letting is in on that local secret. It is seriously one of the best places to eat in Istanbul.
A cup of the best Turkish coffee
A while later, our bellies full and our faces happy, we stepped inside Mandabatmaz reflecting on whether a coffee shop can get any more iconic than that. Now, as you may know, both Katerina and I don’t drink coffee. Ever. However, we couldn’t leave Istanbul without tasting one of Turkey’s most popular drinks. So, when Eda suggested we had a cup of Turkish coffee before dessert, we couldn’t be happier. It was a God-sent (or should I say Eda-sent) excuse to cheat on our caffeine-free diet in the most guilt-free way possible. That said, caffeine kicked in right from the very first sips so we were too scared of the outcome to empty our cups.
Top Istanbul dessert
Eda had saved the best for last. My sweet tooth had been waiting for that moment all evening. Dessert! Özkonak Lokantası is one of those instances which prove that the more unassuming a place, the greater treasures it hides. Eda took us there for their superb kazandibi and tavuk göğsü, which are chicken breast based desserts. You can hardly trace the chicken in tavuk göğsü but I knew it was in there so I passed. However, Katerina enjoyed it immensely. Had I not been vegetarian, I would probably have had the same. But then I would have missed the chance to taste one of the most mouthwatering desserts I have had in my life. Kemalpaşa with kaymak. Fried dough balls drowned in syrup and served with Turkish clotted cream. Oh, why can’t somebody beam me up to Istanbul ASAP?
Why we loved our private food tour in Istanbul
That was actually the final stop on our Istanbul food tour. However, as we were strolling around the beautiful, off the beaten path Cihangir neighbourhood, Eda suggested we had a glass of local beer at Geyik, one of the hippest bars in Istanbul, before calling it a night. It was at that point that we realised we had suddenly made yet another friend in a foreign country thanks to our travels. By the end of the night, our experience felt more like catching up with an old friend rather than being shown around the city by a tour guide. And this is priceless. We can’t wait to be back to Istanbul some day. Not just because there’s so much more to eat. Sorry (not sorry) I meant to say so much more to see. But also because we can’t wait to meet our friends again.
The fine print: Istanbulite offer fascinating private tours in Istanbul as well as the rest of Turkey. Although mostly geared towards luxury travellers rather than budget-conscious ones, Istanbulite tours are worth every penny as they are highly customisable and promise authentic experiences in the company of local guides whom you can call friends.
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Disclosure: Istanbulite offered us a complimentary 3-hour customised food tour (we paid for our meals though). However, as always, we share nothing but our very own and honest opinion about the experience we had.