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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Food Tour with Istanbul Eats

Two foodies started a website celebrating Istanbul street food about 2 years ago and just over 2 months back, published their first book by the same name. What stood out about the website and the book was that these guys were passionate about the Turkish traditions and foods and the reviews were their personal,  honest opinions.

There were no review ratings by the public, or annoying advertisements. They were not touting to be food experts but just food lovers who have canvassed the city and sussed out the best and most unique flavours that Istanbul had to offer. They make efforts to find out the history behind the shops and seek old family run places that who knows, might not be there in a few years. Some of the reviews are not even of restaurants, but of mobile carts operated by old men and their wives in the backstreets. It's where the locals go get their lunch sandwiches and menus don't exist.

I had the inkling that the eating tour we signed up for with these guys would be filled with anecdotes and quirky facts and I was not wrong.

We met at 9.30am, or just after because we got lost trying to find this street Ansel said he would be waiting. The location was in Cihangir Square, where the Firuzaga Mosque stood. A tram ride from the old city of Sultanahmet brought us to a few streets close to the destination. As we were not prepared for a 15 walk uphill to his meeting spot, we hopped  into a cab but no one heard of this mosque. I figured that there must be thousands of mosques around so we can't presume they know all of them. Then I found out that the Firuzaga Mosque was the misnamed the Cihangir Mosque so that's why we drew blank looks from the drivers.

Here's the cafe under the mosque and A is wearing the white cap.

The coffee shop is like any hawker stall in Asia, simple, run down and fuss free.

Near where we sat, there was a marble slab that was rectangular and about the size of a medium sized table. According to Ansel, there is a traditional ritual where they lay the deceased on this stone as part of the funeral ceremony and to day, is still being used for that purpose.

Ansel pointed to a empty table under a big tree and unveiled the first meal of the day. He had gone to buy some local pastries or Borek and Simitci for us to sample. The table we sat at, was in a cafe that operates outside the mosque. They brought us some local teas and we tucked into the boreks, one filled with cheese and another with spinach. A local breakfast item, he says and though I already had breakfast at the hotel, could not resist its salty, slightly greasy treat. The other pastry, or Simitci is like a Pretzel, sold everywhere in carts along streets. It's slightly soft and salty with generous sesame seeds on top.

They only cost 1 lira each and goes great with coffee and jams.

After the teas, we strolled up to a deli well known in that area for Turkish cheeses, olives and prepared food items like stuffed peppers and salads.

We were given a cheese tasting and I enjoyed the smoked cheese so much we bought some back. The product were all locally made and comes from all parts of Turkey.

He didn't speak a word of English so thankfully A was there to translate. 

Next stop was for a drink at the pickle shop. This has been around for 3 generations and they pickle everything. 

The juice was as you can imagine, very sour but refreshing.

The walk after pickle juice stop took us through the residential areas and since A was a restoration expert, explained the architecture and pointed out ancient walls and buildings along the way. The cobblestoned roads were winding and narrow but people were streaming everywhere. Istanbul is a busy place, over 10 million live in this city and A said, you never feel alone here.

We walked through a food market and were tempted by the fresh fruit and produce. The shopkeeper cracked open a fresh walnut and we were sold! Bought ourselves half a kilo of walnuts for a snack.


Just past the fruit man, we stopped at a candy store. 

A explained that the son of the original owner now runs the place and they still make turkish delights the traditional way. The father was fortunately also around and smiled as he offered us some almond marzipan. It was delicious.

The jams stocked on the shelves are also home made and in vats from the Ottoman ear, 150 years old.

This little shop has been photographed and written about by magazines and newspapers as far as New York. The son was eager to show us the framed articles on the wall about his father's shop.

They make cherry, orange, pomegranate and even quince jams so we took back a bottle of T's favourite flavour - quince.

Will post more about the tour again later. For now I am going to make some lunch !

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