The Taste of Two Continents Istanbul Food Tour
I’ve done a lot of food tours throughout my travels around the world. I believe that knowing the country’s food is the best thing to immerse yourself in their culture and gives you an idea of what local life is about. I’ve been on food tours in cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Washington in the US. Hong Kong and Malaysia in Asia. And different places in Europe such as Madrid, Lisbon, Tallinn, and Poland. The longest food tour I joined was in Georgia which was seven hours long.
So when I traveled to Istanbul on a whim, the first thing I did was join a food tour, the Taste of Two Continents Istanbul Food Tour, because I thought that joining this food tour will be a great way for me to be introduced to Istanbul and appreciate both European and Asian parts. And this food tour in Turkey also lasted seven hours and it’s one of my favorites. The amount of knowledge of food we consumed was unbelievably worth it!
The food tour has over ten stops where we got to try uniquely different but delicious traditional Turkish foods on both the European and Asian sides of Turkey. I’ll try my best to describe as many stops and the foods we ate on the tour but I’m pretty sure I need to write a book to include them all. The seven-hour long tour costs 100 USD per adult. Rain or shine the tour will continue and there was a lot of walking involved so I recommend bringing an umbrella when the weather forecast says it’s gonna rain on the day of your tour.
The Meeting Point
I was a little early to arrive at our meeting place which was a 20-minute walk from my hotel. It was outside this amazing looking coffee shop in the Old Town of Istanbul and not two minutes later, our very charming and knowledgeable tour guide showed up, Ibrahim.
Our group was at a maximum of seven people and I was the odd one out who wasn’t in a couple. All the more Turkish food for me, I guess.
After introductions, Ibrahim briefed us on what to expect and made sure that none of us have any food allergies or things we’re not allowed to eat. Two of the people in our group were vegetarians which gave Ibrahim the inspiration to take us to stops that serves the best meat but with good vegetarian options too.
We’re finally on our way to our first stop where we passed by a spice market on the way. Ibrahim made us try their olives and cheese which had so many different flavors. He said that Turkish people love to eat olives for breakfast. They were damn delicious.
First Stop: Turkish Breakfast
Turkish people absolutely love their breakfast. Ibrahim explained that Turkish people consider it the most important meal of the day and they have family come over on the weekend to enjoy a long breakfast. I can see why. The breakfast served to us was like a feast. I’m pretty sure the servings on the table were more than enough to feed all eight of us twice!
We ate a lot, but they do say you’ve never been to Istanbul if you haven’t experienced a full Turkish breakfast.
What’s on the table?
We have this fresh circular bread topped with sesame seeds called simit. It was surprisingly crispy while still being soft on the inside when I bit into it. Ibrahim said that a Turkish breakfast wouldn’t be complete without a fresh ring of simit on the table.
Bal & Kaymak was surprisingly my favorite. I really love the taste of it. It’s made out of water buffalo clotted cream and honey. I heard that many people who went on this tour said that this was this favorite also. The fresh cream and the luxurious Turkish honey was a perfect mix of sweetness. It’s something I wish to have for breakfast every day.
Menemen was a familiar dish to me and it turns out that it’s basically a Turkish omelet. The egg was scrambled and added with bell peppers and tomatoes then spices. Other varieties add different ingredients to their menemen like spicy beef salami.
Ibrahim knew that I had a sweet tooth so he immediately made me try a dish called fındık ezmesi. He said I would love it and I did! It’s a hazelnut cream paste that tastes somewhat like Nutella without the preservatives and it was delicious. I wish I brought some home with me.
We also have pastirma or pastrami which is dried and cured beef meat. Ibrahim explained to us that Turkish people used to be nomadic before settling in this area we now known as Turkey. And the dried and cured beef meat is a convenient way to bring food to eat throughout their journey. We ate it with the menemen and it was lovely.
We also had strong aged goat cheese otherwise called tulum peyniri in Turkish that was just the best quality you have. And lastly, the typical Turkish tea that no Turkish breakfast will be caught without. And that’s basically the usual Turkish breakfast: full delicious and filling assortment of traditional Turkish dishes that once you got a taste of you just don’t want to stop.
During the wonderful Turkish breakfast, we learned from Ibrahim that most Turkish people are quite snobbish when it comes to other types of cuisine. They prefer and prioritize their own Turkish cuisine over international ones and I totally understand why! How can I not while eating the delicious Turkish breakfast in front of me that’s completely appealing to my sweet tooth and the cheese monster in me.
The breakfast that started our day definitely made me happy and I recommend coming to this tour with an empty stomach.
Second Stop: Spice Market
Back in the spice market, we learned a lot about saffron. Saffron apparently has a lot of health benefits and we even tried drink made out of it.
We also got to try the famous snack Turkish Delight! It was damn good, of course, and it comes with so many flavors and colors. All of them look so interesting and the flavors that I did try were all so delicious, not one was disappointing. It’s cheap and is sold everywhere. I actually wanted to take some home but alas we have to continue the tour.
Third Stop: Lamb Soup
Two words: HOLY GRAIL! This is probably my favorite stop from the entire tour. I absolutely love the lamb soup so much so that I had it every day during my stay in Istanbul and most of the people on my tour loved it as well. Ibrahim said that the meat came from the Syria border and was stewed for 12 hours. No wonder the meat was so tender!
The vegetarians on our group had lentil soup instead. They allowed me to try it and it was just as good but I definitely prefer my lamb soup.
Journey to Asia via Ferry
We’ve finally come to the part of the tour where we ride a ferry (the ferry tickets are included in the tour fee) across the mighty Bosphorous to explore Turkey’s side of Asia, the more modern and chic Kadıköy.
The ferry ride was beautiful; we can see the entire city of Istanbul on the ferry. The ride was so lovely that I had to ride on it again and I got to see a beautiful sunset while riding it. During our ferry ride on the tour, Ibrahim told us stories about the daily lives of people living in Istanbul and how the city streets are quite safe.
He also explained how the stray dogs and cats wandering the streets of the city are given good care and loved by the Turkish people. I wasn’t surprised because the stray animals I encountered in Istanbul all looked so healthy like they were someone’s actual pets.
We’ve finally arrived at Kadıköy and I honestly, love this Asian side of Turkey more. Most people would just stay and explore the European side and I think that this trip to Kadıköy is what’s great about this tour; it shows the two sides of Turkish cuisine.
After the ferry ride, the first stop we made is at this grand restaurant that specializes in Iskander Kebab, a dish that’s made of doner meat and tomato paste on pide bread and ours was topped with goat cheese. It was heaven! The meat was so tender that it melts in my mouth. Ibrahim was so excited for us to try it and he said that it’s one of the best foods in Istanbul. He even introduced us to the owner.
Pickle Stop: Tursu
Ibrahim showed us around the markets and stopped at this pickle shop to try pickled vegetables. Ibrahim said that not most people love this part of the tour because it’s too salty for them but Turkish people absolutely love their pickled vegetable and hey, we are in Istanbul and we’re here to learn so I say why not?
We first tried the pickle juice which I found salty but bearable. Better if you shot it though. I loved the ones that I tasted (garlic, cabbage, chili, and more). They were surprisingly good. We also tried some pomegranate balsamic which my tour mates who were also in the food business bought. They bought a lot of local Turkish ingredients on the tour to which Ibrahim was very helpful in recommending them fresh quality ingredients and where to buy them.
Another one of my favorite stops and many people on the tour: the vegetable shop. The shop served daily home-style dishes full of vegetables that are in season. We were given full vegetable plates here that came with delicious bread. The vegetables were so delicious as well, I tried everything that Ibrahim recommended from thyme, hummus, stuffed eggplants, and more. I’ll definitely keep eating vegetables if they were all this delicious.
Midye Dolma or Stuffed Mussels
Not many people eat mussels but Ibrahim showed us where it’s served well. The flavors were glorious and I tried them all from the original flavor to spicy to the special flavor, I love them all. Most people are worried that they may get sick with street food but I probably had ten pieces of mussels. Plus it came served with rice which appealed to the Asian side of mine. This became one of my favorites stops on the tour. (I know right, the itinerary was well planned, it was hard to choose only one favorite).
And to make things more special is that the staff are really cute and it’s funny because when they know that you’re really enjoying the food they’re serving, they won’t stop preparing the mussels and always have one available for you to take. It made it very hard to stop eating the mussels they’re offering. But alas, we must move on.
Baklava and Turkish Coffee
Baklava is these layers of pastry with tons of different flavors to choose from, usually chopped nuts like walnuts, pistachio, or even honey. The baklava is poured over with delicious syrup and goes perfectly with Turkish coffee that is also quite delicious with a unique texture and perfect for this time as the temperature is dropping at this time of the tour.
Most people enjoy Baklava ( I’m not one of them) but I believe the selections of Baklava here will give something for everyone.
Ibrahim took us to the next stop where they prepared us fresh tantuni for us to try. It’s like a Turkish burrito full of minced meat and fresh vegetables. The first bite is heavenly as the oily juices are perfectly balanced by the fresh vegetables. Definitely one of the best foods to try in Istanbul.
On our final stop on the tour, it has almost been seven hours and Ibrahim got us to try Turkish ice cream or Dondurma, traditionally made with goats milk, orchid root, and mastic sap. It’s very different from the ice cream I’m used to. It’s very hard and chewy and we even need a knife and fork to eat it with. It was delicious though, I tried all the three flavors offered: chocolate, plain, and pistachio. It definitely made for a unique experience with ice cream, plus it’s not too sweet.
Another unique thing we tried as the tour is coming to an end is Tavuk Gogsu. Ibrahim described it as a chicken pudding dessert as it’s made with chicken, milk, and rice flour. Upon the first impression, I thought it was kinda weird. But when I tried it’s actually kinda good!
Throughout the tour, Ibrahim was full of recommendations of the most picturesque streets to take instagrammable photos at, Umbrella Street I call it. He also asked the group if they want to grab an extra drink that’s not part of the tour just for the fun of it. If we’re not up for it then we move on to the next stop.
Tour Ends Back to Ferry to Europe Side of Turkey
The tour ends when Ibrahim took us back to the ferry after over seven hours of tasting delectable Turkish food. And it’s amazing to think that in 15-20 minutes we can from Asia to Europe on a beautiful ferry ride. Ibrahim asked as for our plans during our stay in Istanbul and as always gives us many recommendations to do during our stay. We were stuffed but we learned a lot on the tour, had good conversations and even bonded on our shared love of Turkish food. We were really happy.
After the tour, I went back on the ferry a couple of time to explore the Asia side of Istanbul on my own. I fell in love with the place and it was my favorite part of the tour.
Reasons to do Istanbul Food Tour:
There are too many to list but the first thing is that you’ll get to learn a whole lot about Turkish cuisine and the locals in a span of a day. You get to experience both the European and Asian side of Istanbul that not many tourists experience and you have an English speaking guide to show you around that’s full of great recommendation. Ibrahim is both charming and knowledgeable with wonderful energy that makes you feel relaxed around him.
Additionally, the tour is a great way to support the locals and learn more about Turkish food other than their kebab. Istanbul on Food Tour : Taste of Two Continents offers a lot and doesn’t limit the servings of our foods. If we want more then we can have more. Ibrahim said to just ask. They definitely spoiled us on this tour and it stands out as one of the best tours I ever went on.
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