Istanbul had been on our radar for a long time. We were fascinated with the history and culture of this cosmopolitan city. We lined up some great tours of the Istanbul landmarks, but wanted something unusual for our free evening – something that would take us away from the tourist scene and show us a bit of the real city. The tour we chose, an foodies tour, became a highlight of our time in Istanbul.. The evening walking tour, Twilight in Taksim, gave us the opportunity to get to away from the crowds, and mingle with locals enjoying the city after work. And the food…
Our days in Istanbul were packed with visits to museums and mosques. All outstanding activities, but it’s impossible to get a feel for a culture if you’re surrounded by people just like yourself! On this trip we hoped to experience a little of the living, breathing city of Istanbul. And we wanted to do this in the evening, which can be daunting when you are unfamiliar with the streets and don’t speak the language.
How we chose our foodies tour of Istanbul
We researched several options before finding Istanbul on Food on TripAdvisor (note: Istanbul on Food is now Yummy Istanbul). All five-star ratings! Booking the trip was simple. Istanbul on Food responded quickly to our online query and advised us on the right tour for our schedule. We chose the Twilight in Taksim tour as our hotel, the Pera Palace, was only a short distance from the meeting spot.
Taksim is a lively neighborhood with shopping, nightlife, and an instagramm-able vintage tram. We took pictures of the tram but chose to walk Istiklal street to Taksim Square. There we met Korhan, our charming tour guide. We enjoyed some tea with him as we waited for the rest of our group. Korhan books no more than six guests for this tour so that we can visit smaller shops and get an authentic feeling for the Turkish eating experience.
Istanbul on a Evening Foodies Tour
As soon as the group was together we took off. Korhan chatted as he led us down streets and alleys far away from where we would have wandered on our own. When we arrived at a tiny shop window, Korhan introduced us to tantuni – a meat and spice filled wrap that’s a favorite street food in Turkey. We watched the chef as our food was prepared. The meat was exceptionally tender and delicious with juices soaking into the fresh pita wrap.
Just a short walk to our next stop – a sit-down restaurant. The lower level contained the kitchen and the smell of fresh bread made our mouths water. Upstairs we were served three bread-based dishes. Korhan explained that the Turkish diet is heavy on bread with very little meat. He laughed when we asked how vegetarians or the gluten-intolerant handled this diet. His opinion is that being a vegetarian is a luxury lifestyle – as Turkey isn’t a wealthy country, with no major industries, there are no vegetarians. Whatever the explanation – we all loved the selections offered here!
As the sun set, the alleys came to life. Groups of young people filled the cafes. People gathered around folding tables playing backgammon. Laughter and chatter filled the air. We found a table at a great little spot where we were served Pide -a Turkish pizza. Delicious. This was accompanied by ayran-a drink of yogurt, water and salt. Not delicious.
We were pleasantly full now but the tour continued. Next stop – a brush with royalty – a shop operated by the (once) Sultan’s official rice makers. The pilav rice was indeed delicious, cooked in bone marrow and flavored with homemade butter. It was served with white beans and some beef.
More than just food – history and culture on our walking tour of Istanbul
Throughout the evening Korhan shared more than just the food of Istanbul.
- He took off his tour guide badge and led us through an alley of transsexual prostitutes. This was an unofficial brothel, but Korhan explained that there are legal brothels in Istanbul where the women are health checked, taxed, and receive a retirement stipend.
- He pointed out beggars on the streets as well as garbage pickers pulling huge vats of recyclables. Most of these people were Syrian refugees doing whatever they could to survive. It was illuminating to see the refugee crisis first hand.
But we weren’t done with food. We stopped for raki- the anise flavored alcohol which Korhan mixed with water to make ‘Lions Milk’. More alleys, more cafes – kebab meat wrapped in pita, mussels, lamb intestines !!, soups, anchovies, moussaka. Though we ate very little of anything, we were stuffed.
As we’d hoped, the tour ended with baklava. Korhan took us down the funicular to the waterfront. The baklava was delightful, so many variations, all that perfect combination of nuts and honey. It was fun to see a different area of the city but it seemed a long walk for pastries after a full evening on our feet. We returned by tram to Istiklal street, wandered a bit enjoying the festive nightlife, and headed back to the hotel.
The benefits of taking a walking food tour in Istanbul
As we’d hoped, our tour took us into the back alleys of the city. We would never have tried navigating these narrow alleys on our own, but learned so much about Istanbul and its culture by seeing the city come to life in the evening. Korhan made sure we enjoyed the tour while encouraging us to try unusual foods and activities. We ended the evening feeling much more comfortable in this exotic city!
This was our first Foodies tour and we loved it! Have you taken a food tour or a cooking tour? Where would you suggest we try next?
Yummy Istanbul offers group and private tours. We’ll use them again if we revisit Istanbul.
Mikla Rooftop Bar – Best View in Istanbul
Right across the street from the renowned Pera Palace stands the Marmara Pera Hotel. On the advice of Korhan, our Istanbul on Food guide, we headed for this hotel on our last night in the city. We took the elevator to the top floor and ascended the narrow stairway to the Mikla rooftop bar. What a view! Historic Istanbul alight on one side and modern Istanbul on the other.