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Istanbul: Hagia Sophia At nIght

Istanbul: Hagia Sophia At nIght

The first impressions I have of a city tend to leave me with a solid punch that is hard to change.

So what are my first impressions of Istanbul: clean, water, hills, minarets, colors, yummy, tummy happy, feet sore, history, cobbles, flavor.

What a city!

So much life, such bustle, and such charming old and new world mixed together. I don’t even mind the pushy sellers!

Baklava anyone?

Baklava anyone?

Here for the Easter weekend with two good travel buds. A fun chance for me to travel with other well-shod travelers who are smart, eager, and ready for more.

And more we had!

Day 1: Culinary Food Tour.

This tour with blogger Claudia from “A Seasonal Cook in Turkey,” is part of the staff of “Istanbul Culinary Backstreet Walks” and was… well… let’s just say… yum. yum. fun. yum!

A fav of mine, aubergine salsa

A fav of mine, aubergine salsa

It’s an expensive walking tour – but includes an all-you-can-taste-insanity in terms of food. Sometimes we walked only 3 steps to the next place and the next flavor. it was worth every penny, lire, euro or whatever you want to measure it in!

From goat milk cheese to Turkish Coffee…, from warm and flaky simit pretzels..  to sweet and slight fizzy Boza (made of fermented millet and served with roasted chick peas by dudes in adorable hats in the most lovely little tiled shop where Ataturk’s boza glass is framed on a shelf)… from the best donër wrap I’ve ever had…  to smooth and sweet milky rice pudding with a secret ingredient that you will never EVER guess!… from little meatballs deepfried in a crust of lentils and flour and sprinkled with ground pistachios… to deep-red Turish tea in a 400-year old courtyard…. from buffalo cream (a sort of cheese) called kaymak that is nothing like cream cheese and a heck of a lot like heaven… to freshly made pide (long and skinny version of a pizza) topped with salami and peppers…

This is a work of art...

This is a work of art…

As our articulate and knowledgable guide Claudia said – “Anything is possible in Istanbul.”

It was a 7-hour experience of a life time.

I don’t think my stomach will ever be the same! I may just have been ruined for future eats.

And it gave you a totally different perspective and access to the city. With Claudia our little group roamed into streets that I never would have considered walking down for the best treats possible.

Oh – I forgot the lokum, better known as Turkish Delight – of rosehip or pistachio flavor that is made by a little tiny backstreet shop said to be the second oldest lokum maker in Istanbul.

Being a waiter in Istanbul is a bit tricky sometimes...

Being a waiter in Istanbul is a bit tricky sometimes…

We walked through markets teaming with energy and people and motion and colors and dried eggplant and red apricots and shiny samovars and the smell of roasting Turkish coffee. Walked across broken cobblestones and past Ottoman gravestones. We stepped through doorways and winding alleyways filled with merchants into a courtyard where a family has been making kitchen tools for centuries and into shops where the entire shop could fit into a space the size of a SmartCar.

And man… did we eat. Laugh. Talk. See.

Thank you to Claudia, to our new Canadian compatriots in eating, to Becky for organizing us, to Eric for being willing to eat the last bite of pide, to Daisy for having such a beautiful smile, to Istanbul and to the joy of sitting down to discuss the love of cheese over a cup of tea.

The less-crowded, less-touristy spots outside the Spice Market, with better prices!

The less-crowded, less-touristy spots outside the Spice Market, with better prices!

I’m not sure where I got more nourishment from – the food, the company, the energy of a different culture, the flavors of a new land, or standing among the serene blue and red swirling tiles of the Blue Mosque.

We took a bit of a gamble doing the tour on our first morning there – but am so glad! It gave us the knowledge to eat wisely in the next few days, be braver to try more, and also tips and tools to eat the best of the best… even going back for more of our top favorites!

And the Istanbul Eats book that they gave us, became more part of our mapping and planning than the guidebooks! You cannot visit Istanbul without it!

The best dried apricots ever - the darker ones are dried on the tree!

The best dried apricots ever – the darker ones are dried on the tree!

View from my hotel room: the Blue Mosque. A good stop in between the eating!

View from my hotel room: the Blue Mosque. A good stop in between the eating!

Obviously enjoying every bite of the tour!

Obviously enjoying every bite of the tour!

For the lean months, dried aubergines and peppers that you can stuff :)

For the lean months, dried aubergines and peppers that you can stuff :)

Is the best simit in Istanbul? We were willing to try them all to let you know! ;)

Is the best simit in Istanbul? We were willing to try them all to let you know! ;)

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