Istanbul, Turkey: Istanbul Eats Old City Food Tour

by jenjenk on November 10, 2011

I try not to set my expectations too high about anything lest my expectations get crushed to bits and pieces.  That didn’t really work out well for me when I headed out to Turkey.  There were so many people singing the praises of the food, the people, and the sights that it was impossible not to have heightened expectations.

I set up a tour with Istanbul Eats based on a few recommendations from the friendly folks in Twitterland.  I set out on a cold and rainy Thursday with my friend, Carrie, with very high expectations.  I was determined to eat my way through Istanbul the best I could and, as my over-6-feet-tall-dainty-eating-male-colleagues from Arkansas can attest to, I approach eating like it’s an Olympic sport. I was so anxious to get there “on time” that we showed up 30 minutes early.

As we stood there in the rain, I saw a man wheel up with a cart of jars filled with black wormy things.  I did a double take.  Those weren’t worms, they were leeches. I watched in fascination as he began cleaning out each of the jars while carefully picking out the dead floaters with tweezers.  I looked in askance to Carrie, “what the hell is he doing with barrels of leeches??” Carrie shrugs her shoulders and responds, “bloodletting?”  We never figured it out because our guide for the Old City Food Tour, Angelis, arrived [but if you guys know what this was for, please let me know].

He enthusiastically beckons all five of the members of the tour over towards him.  Apparently we were all waiting on the wrong side of the building which I suspect was my fault since the other tour members waited around Carrie & me. First words out of his mouth after, “good morning” was, “I hope that you are hungry because we’re going to be eating a LOT of food.  Come on,” and off we went.

I loved this String Cheese like cheese. Just a bit salty.

I was a little nervous about the pace we started off at, thinking there was no way that I would be able to keep up, but it was a case of hurry up and wait, while we picked up the components of our traditional Turkish breakfast.  It continued to rain lightly as we went from stall to stall as Angelis greeted each vendor warmly and respectfully, stopping in his movement only to explain what each product we were picking up was.

I was baffled as to where we would find a spot to sit and eat as he walked us through a narrow passageway into a lobby that had huge bags of coffee beans piled up high along the wall.  Just beyond those bags was a rickety table with a newspaper “tablecloth” spread out on it. We began placing the food we collected onto the newspaper.

We dug in to the cheeses, meats, and simits [similar to a sesame bagel] as we waited for the tea/turkish coffee to arrive.  I started laughing when I saw a pulley system that reached from the top floor 3 stories up down to the lobby where we were sat, that sent down the hot drinks to us.  It was awesome.  It was ridiculous.  It was at that point that I knew I was in for a special treat the rest of the day, taken to places that I wouldn’t have found or discovered on my own as a tourist.

Some highlights of the food tour included a stop at the the Kral Kokorec, which consisted of lamb intestines wrapped around offals. It first cooks on a spit, then is chopped up and fried to a crispy consistency with some fresh finely chopped vegetables, then placed into a bun. Most of the people in our tour were turned off by it but I actually really liked it – spicy and flavorful.

We continued on to various savories – Pides from wood fire ovens, Soups from traditional and somewhat historic Soup Kitchens, deep fried anchovies from the street, and a doner kebab that I wish I could eat right now.

Interspersed with the savories was my personal favorite – the sweets! Fresh figs from street vendors, Baklava from my friends/supermodels at Gaziantep [they told me that if I needed a job, they’d hire me], Altan for Turkish delights, and some Chicken Pudding – chicken slow cooked in milk until fully melted – that was absolutely wonderful [I never would have guessed there was chicken in it]!

This is not an inexpensive tour. However, food rates very high for me so I didn’t mind shelling out the money for it.  I enjoyed my time with Angelis.  He was very flexible when I expressed an interest in having some Hamsi [anchovies] and made sure he incorporated it into our tour.  Istanbul Eats also puts out a book, at a much less financial commitment, which we used as well.  It was a great resource.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy/ShowFoodChef November 10, 2011 at 3:22 am

Wow, I loved the pics, so original and such a flavor of the culture. I hope I get to try this one day. You’ve definitely convinced me of the food part.


jenjenk November 10, 2011 at 3:33 am

It was so good…cathy, you’d love it!! GO! :)


Ehalvey November 10, 2011 at 3:31 am

I never figured out the leeches either. Bait for fishing? Wish the tour was in our budget (except for the lamb intestines and anchovies), sounds like it was a great time!


jenjenk November 10, 2011 at 3:34 am

so you saw them too??!! it was just so bizarre!!!


Carrie November 10, 2011 at 3:56 am

I Googled it – leeches are sold in the marketplaces for medicinal uses. So basically I was right….bloodletting.


jenjenk November 10, 2011 at 4:06 am

WHAT? Uhhh…for their ability to prevent clots from forming???


inka November 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I have never seem the ‘ leech man’ and never heard about the Food Tour. Happy to have learned something new, although I wonder where exactly this place with the newspaper table cloth and the ‘tea pulley’ was.


jenjenk November 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm

It’s through this narrow passageway just past Memet’s coffee…I never would’ve found it on my own. ever.


Courtney Mroch November 10, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Oh wow! That looks SO awesome! My husband is desperate to get to Istanbul. Everyone RAVES about it. And now to learn about a Food Tour? That is an AWESOME idea!!!


jenjenk November 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm

I find the best way to MY heart is through my stomach…and I’m in love… 😉


Jan Ross November 10, 2011 at 3:42 pm

We discovered a food tour in San Francisco and have been on the lookout ever since. We found a great one in Portland, Maine – yum, hand-dipped chocolates and smoked trout – so this is definitely something we would consider. It’s so nice to have someone who knows the area and what is good to eat!


jenjenk November 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm

*SIGH* i love eating in SF. It’s embarrassing how gonzo I go. Well, embarrassing for everyone around me. The most memorable trips I’ve had has been filled with eating, drinking, and being merry.


Jozef @ Where Now? November 10, 2011 at 11:08 pm

ahhh Every time I read a post like this it makes me so hungry! I did have an english doner kebab yesterday though, not quite the same I know, but its as close to authentic turkish as I will get for a while :p


Andrea November 10, 2011 at 11:16 pm

What an awesome tour! I found a lot of the Turkish cheeses to be too salty…


Turkey's For Life November 11, 2011 at 12:26 am

Glad you had a great time trying out all the street food. No idea what the leach thing is all about?? :)


Travel Club November 11, 2011 at 9:16 am

Turkey is my favorite place for holiday. this is such a great place.


HeatherChristo November 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

OMG. this looks incredible. I always love to hear about your world traveling adventures Jen! My husband and I would LOVE to go to Turkey and eat like this!


Abby November 11, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I also loved the breakfasts in Istanbul. The food there is so amazing!!


Marj November 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Hi Jen, you are in Istanbul? Lucky you! Leeches in the jar, never heard of it :) Have you tasted pig intestine. In some countries they actually cook the pig intestines:) Your photos are beautiful and I hope you are having a great time. xo
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jenjenk November 13, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Not any longer! :( but it was great…I don’t think I’ve ever had pig intestines…but who knows…i just eat it without really asking questions. :)


Dallas November 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Great photos! The food looks delicious, even the lamb intestines!
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Sarah Wu November 14, 2011 at 10:27 am

What a fun food tour. I love those food tour too. Next time if I go to Turkey I’ll check them out. Great post!


Christy @ Technosyncratic November 14, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I’ll have to take your word on the lamb intestines and chicken pudding – both of those sound awful!
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jenjenk November 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm

It does, doesn’t it???!!! but the chicken pudding was AWESOME!!! if he didn’t tell me what it was, i would never have guessed it!


Marisol@tTravelingSolemates May 15, 2012 at 5:38 am

Oh my yumminess, now I can’t wait to go back to Turkey. Thanks for making me drool. One thing that made me so fond of Turkey is the food. I found that you can’t go wrong with food in that country. Everything was excellently and deliciously prepared whether you go for cheap eats or fancy dining and whether you’re in a big city or obscure village. I think a dinner at a Turkish restaurant is in order tonight! Fortunately, we have a numbers of good ones in NYC to run to when I crave for something Turkish.
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