Food and food culture is one of my favorite ways to learn about a new place, foreign or at home. On our first morning, bright and crisp, we met Tuba Satana of Istanbul Food for a private walking tour of the Eminonu and Sirkeci neighborhoods. She instructed, “Don’t eat breakfast”. We strolled, chatted, ate and met many of her favorite restaurant owners and vendors—several who share a generational passion, passed down four or five times over.
We started with cay (tea, pronounced chai) and simit (think pretzel meets bagel topped with sesame seeds) and sat outside at a small table in a working class neighborhood surrounded by men smoking cigarettes, talking and not working. We sipped freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (just .50US) and ate hot fried whole anchovies from the fish market under the Galata Bridge. Across the Galata Bridge it was onto the candy (Turkish delight) shop, but only after learning about the intricacies of the handmade wrought iron skewers—there are many different sizes depending upon what is being grilled. There was the teeny tiny cheese shop followed by a stroll through the Spice Bazaar, a shock to the senses, and an introduction to the young Ahmet. His custom created Turkish spice blends are top secret and several are coming home with me.
We had two small lunches: kofte (lamb meatballs) and pide (its closest cousin is a pizza, but oblong in shape) topped with minced meat and often an egg. Istanbulu love their bread, pickles, meat, cucumbers and tomatoes, yogurt, and more meat. I do, too!
This 6-hour cram course in food, culture, history and community was the best way to kick off our first day in this vibrant and delicious city. –Rochelle, November 2013.