Asia Europe

Taste of Two Continents: Istanbul Food Tour

I’m back from my whirlwind trip to TΓΌrkiye (Turkey). I traveled around the country for 2.5 weeks and had the opportunity to see, and do so much. The country is stunning and offers so much, and one of the things that truly did not disappoint was the food.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t had much in the way of Turkish food prior to my trip, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. However, one of my fav ways to see a new city is to do a food tour. I find it a great way to get your bearings in a new city, while also getting to try a ton of the local cuisine when you’re short on time. I knew when I booked my trip to Turkey and had a few spare days in Istanbul, the largest city in the country, I knew that finding myself a food tour to join was a necessity. That’s where I found Yummy Istanbul.

About Yummy Istanbul

Yummy Istanbul offers a handful of different food tours in Istanbul. From evening tours to full-day tours (what I did), to street food, to even private tours if you have a group or want to tailor the experience. I selected the Taste of Two Continents tour as I felt it is a great way to not only explore the European side of Istanbul but also the Asian side. Having never been to Istanbul before, I figured this tour would be the best one for me this time around to get a good overview of the city while also trying a tremendous amount of food.

What is Turkish food?

Turkish food is largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, with heavy influence from Mediterranean, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Eastern European cuisines. Turkish cuisine consists largely of veggies, legumes, meats (primarily chicken, beef, and lamb), spices, grains, and nuts. It has even fallen on many lists ranking it as one of the best cuisines in the world. After spending 2.5 weeks across the country, trying local specialties, I can definitely confirm it’s one of my favs from the 30+ countries I’ve visited.

A food tour of Istanbul

Back to the Taste of Two Continents tour, we seriously ate so much food. The tour was about six hours long and it was six hours of discovering, learning, and eating across two continents. Our local guide was very passionate and knowledgeable about his culture and country, and expertly brought us to some of the best food stops across the city of Istanbul. Without giving too much away, here’s a run down of how the day went.

First Stop: Turkish Delight

Our first stop was at Ali Muhittin Hacibekir which is the oldest Turkish Delight (also known as lokum) shop in Istanbul, dating back to 1777. We had a small sampling of their Turkish Delight which was fresh and delicious before heading off to the Spice Bazaar.

Note: I also went back to this shop later on in my trip to buy a mixed back of Lokum to take home as a souvenir. I can confirm that despite it being more expensive, it was absolutely delicious.

Stop Two: Turkish Breakfast

The next stop of the day was the Spice Bazaar. Unfortunately for us, the day we did this tour was the day of the re-elections in Turkey which meant everything was closed in the city. Thankfully our guide was great at maneuvering around the weird opening hours of all the food stops we went to, but the Spice Bazaar was one exception as it was closed for the day. I did return here later on in my trip and it was really fabulous and cool to see, but for the sake of this food tour, there were stalls open along the right-hand side of the outside of the Spice Bazaar that our guide purchased some goodies from such as fresh olives, local cheeses, pastrami, and some simit (the Turkish bagel) from a local street vendor.

We then headed off to a small local restaurant where we set up shop to enjoy our market purchases. At this stop, the owners made us hot tea, warmed up our simit, and made us a classic Turkish breakfast dish, menemen, which is a scrambled egg dish with tomatoes, peppers, and other seasonings.

Stop Three: Beyran Soup

Our next stop was down a hidden alleyway (that I would have never found on my own) to a restaurant that was making Beyran Soup. This soup is traditionally served for breakfast and is made from rendered lamb fat that’s topped with rice and shredded lamb meat, and a variety of spices. It seemed odd to have lamb soup for breakfast, but honestly, this was one of the best dishes we had of the whole day. Everyone on our tour loved it.

Stop Four: Ferry to the Asian Side

I think it’s so cool that you can visit both Europe and Asia when in Istanbul, there truly is no other city like this in the world. So off we went to the Asian side of the city via ferry (the fare was included in the tour price). Our guide gave us the tip that to have the best view of the city sit on the back of the ferry boat and he was definitely right.

The Asian side of the city is more liberal and has the youngest age demographic living there. It’s also a great spot to visit to do any shopping, etc. because you’ll generally find everything is cheaper over there vs. the European side which is more touristy and home to the main tourist attractions in the city.

When we arrived, our first stop was to try tursu suyu. This essentially is a pickled juice made from different vegetables. Locals love the salty and sour taste, but honestly, I could not stomach it. It was way too bitter for me. I would say about 50% of our tour group inhaled it though so it must be something that you either love or hate.

Stop Five: Boyoz & Bomba

Our fifth stop was at a bakery that made boyoz and bomba. Boyoz is a pastry that resembles a fluffy bun. Ours was filled with tahini which was really fresh and delicious. Bomba, is a Nutella stuffed cookie which was so rich and delicious. I could only eat half because it was incredibly sweet.

Stop Six: Kokoretsi

We then continued on to a local shop that was selling kokoretsi. They had their spits of meat spinning slowly outside their shop and were preparing sandwiches. These sandwiches are made with lamb (or goat) intestines wrapped around seasoned offal (sweetbreads, hearts, lungs, etc.) and grilled. Now I know what you’re thinking, this sounds disgusting, but who goes on a food tour without getting a little out of your comfort zone? These sandwiches were actually really delicious and if you hadn’t told me what was in the meat, I’d have 0 idea.

At this stop we also tried the famous yogurt drink, Ayran, which I wasn’t a fan of. It was a little too bitter for me.

Stop Seven: Midye Dolma

As we were walking down the street to our next stop, we made a side stop at a street stall serving midye dolma. You’ll find these all over Turkey, especially in Istanbul. They are stuffed mussels that contain herbed rice. They make for a tasty, fresh snack.

At this point, you’re probably wondering how I’m still eating. It’s very important on this tour that you pace yourself. Although serving sizes are small, if you start to feel full, only have a bite or two of each thing so you have room to make it to the end. You won’t want to miss out on a single stop because you get too full!

Stop Eight: Ciya

We now headed for a sitdown lunch at the famous Ciya, Ciya was featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table for its attention and focus on locally produced and sourced foods and ingredients. Their menu changes daily based on what’s in season and available, and the food was absolutely incredible.

We started with a mix of mezze, which is a plate of appetizers. This included different salads and snacks. After this, we tried icli kofte which is like a fried and stuffed meatball, a pistachio kebab, and baklava. We also had a fermented grape drink which was called sira.

Stop Nine: Iskender Kebab

We literally had a full lunch and now we’re onto lunch number two, or three, or four? Honestly, I’ve lost count at this point. Our next stop was to try iskender kebab which is one of the most popular dishes in Turkey.

This kebab is different from the classic doner kebab. It is made by layering meat that is mixed with tomato sauce over bread, and it’s topped with melted butter and yogurt. We went to a local, family-run shop that serves this kebab. It was SO good I only wish it was at the beginning of the tour so I had more space to eat more of it.

Last Stop: MADO

Our last stop was at the famous ice cream chain, MADO. MADO can be found across Turkey and it serves up Turkish ice cream and desserts. We had both baklava and ice cream at this stop. This ice cream is made from goat’s milk and has more of a chewy texture than your traditional ice cream. We tried chocolate, pistachio, and one made from orchid seeds.

I actually learned they have a MADO right here in Toronto. I’ll definitely be visiting when I need to reminisce about my time in Turkey.

Conclusion

After all that food, and all those stops, I was full for at least the next 24 hours and headed back on the ferry to the European side to head to my hotel to lay down for a minute. My tour with Yummy Istanbul was a great way to see the city and explore different foods that I may have not had the time or opportunity to try on my own. I went into Istanbul with a lengthy bucket list of foods I wanted to try and this helped me check a lot of them off my list.

Disclaimer: Yummy Istanbul provided me with a discount to join their tour. Everything written in this article is true to my experience. I only recommend activities that I 100% would support or have a positive experience with.

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