Saturday, March 28, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 3 - The Food Tour

Where Our Heros
  • Find the limits to Uber
  • See more of the city than they would ever have imagined
  • Find the cowboy hat problem only is in the main tourist district
  • Are introduced to more foods than one could possibly think
  • Become public transit virgins in Istanbul no more

Today was devoted to a food tour.  We chose a tour from the operator Culinary Backstreets. I have nothing but praises for the tour and our guide.  But more on that later.  This little adventure of ours covered three and half pages of notes and 71 pictures!  How to distill it? 

Well let's start with getting to the start of it which was a bit stressful.  The start was quite a ways north of where we are.  I didn't know if we should take a car or use public transportation.  Public transportation would have been fine but it would have taken us a while as we didn't know what we were doing.  We tried to get an Uber car but when I looked it was a 45 minute wait.  I don't think Uber has a ton of drivers in Istanbul and I think they frequent the more upscale, business-residential areas not this tourist, old town area.  Our hotel called us a cab and it was there in minutes.  As it was called by the hotel, there was no funny business with fare (we've heard all kinds of stories about taxi fares).

Our guide, Benoit, was a fountain of information.  The Turkish Government licenses tour guides and they have to go through six months of training.  As such he was familiar with far more than food and brought that to the experience.  To try to condense this into readable form, I think I will give an overview of where we went in the city and then a list of everything we ate.

We started in the Besiktas neighborhood.  This is a fairly upscale, liberal neighborhood.  Istanbul is a rich complex of ethnic, social and religious groups.  There are conservative Islamic areas and areas that are comparable to any in the Western world.  We went to an area where there are nothing but breakfast restaurants...tons of them...serving the younger, hip, we want brunch at 3 PM crowd.  We visited a mosque from the architect, Sinan, the most famous from the mid-Ottoman period.  We saw the district of drinking places, markets, and  100 year old bakery.

Then we took a ferry across the Bosphorus Strait to the neighborhood of Uskudar on the Asian side.  This is a more conservative (religiously), lower middle class neighborhood.  We went to a traditional cemetery, and then visited and Alevite religious center.  The Alevites are sub-group of Islam that have very different beliefs than the Sunni majority.  We ate part of a meal associated with one of their ceremony feast days...not at all what I expected from a food tour and a real great experience. Then it was on to the Uskudar markets where we went to 10 different shops and had samples!

Finally it was north on to a community called Kuzguncuk.  This used to be a multi religious area including Greeks, Armenians, and Jews until the end of WWII.  Then in the 70's it was populated by residents from the Black Sea areas of Turkey.  Finally in the last decade, it has become a place for the artists and hip.  Here we had a fish meal and 4 more shops and samples.

A note on public transportation

We did it all today.  It was great to have our guide to shepherd us through.  We did:
  • The ferry
  • The city bus
  • A private bus
  • A kind of group taxi (it doesn't leave until its 9 seats are filled) that covers a fixed route.  Kind of like a mini-bus
  • The tram
The tram was particularly interesting as it was packed like a Tokyo subway train and you had to push and shove to get in our out.  Wife and I took it with aplomb I thought since we were on our own at that point. 

Finally a comment about the hat, it was pretty cool today the first part of the day.  I had the hat and there was not a single comment until we hit the main tourist area that we had to go through to get to our hotel.  Then we dealt with all the hits all over again.  I'm going to plot a different way for us to get to and from our hotel to the major transit lines.

A list of foods tried (with pictures to follow in a separate post)

  • Clotted cream from buffalo milk with Eastern Turkey sourced honey
  • Three kinds of menem (soft omelets) with one with veg, tomato and rice, one with a beef sausage, and one with pasturma, a cured meat
  • Pudding from a shop specializing in puddings only
  • An orange flavored cookie
  • Borek - a savory phyllo pastry where the inner layers are very quickly boiled.  The outside is crisp.  The inside is like a noodle.  Way cool.
  • A very, very old, traditional bulgur wheat and lamb dish at the Alevite shrine
  • Locally made pickles (Alexis, you'd be in heaven)
  • Roasted Sheep's head -  I kid you not.  I was the only one who really dug in :)
  • Dolmas (stuffed vegetables)
  • A variety of (cosmic) feta like cheeses
  • A variety of honey
  • A fish soup
  • Fried fish
  • Olive oils
  • Chicken breast pudding (reaches way back to when all puddings needed animal gelatine to hold them together)
  • A pudding of wheat, eggs, milk, and sugar
  • Lots and lots of great Turkish tea
  • Turkish coffee
Our tour started at 9:30 in the morning and we were done with our guide at 5:30 in the afternoon.  A real value I'd say.  Thanks Benoit and Culinary Backstreets.


Renee Michelle Goertzen said...

Wow. A pudding shop sounds terrific. What a great tour.

Agent W said...

What a great food tour day!! It's amazing how many dishes you were able to taste on this tour!

Tom P said...

That is one hell of a day! You must be tired and full!

Keep the posts coming. This is vicarious travel at its best!

alexis said...

ahhh.. I wish we could have done this but we were visiting a friend who also had a toddler and we figured between the two small ones and my preggo belly it wouldn't be so easy. We did a smaller version and loved it too!

Diana and Steve said...

Sheep's head? That overshadows the tepid pig's feet you tackled in France.

de-I said...

Diana/Steve - There was one big, BIG difference between the sheep's head experience and the tepid pig's feet experience - The Sheep's Head was great!