Ask Istanbullus what makes their city special, and the answer usually comes straight from their stomachs. The local cuisine has a fan club as numerous as it is vociferous, and its members enjoy nothing better than introducing visitors to the succulent kebaps, flavoursome mezes and exotically spiced Ottoman dishes that form its signature dishes. This is a dream destination for everyone who loves to eat, cook and shop for food, particularly as an ever-increasing number of cooking courses and food-focused walking tours are on offer. Here are five of our favourites:
1. Cooking Alaturka
Italian chef Rocco Strazzera and his Turkish wife, Leyla, took over Cooking Alaturka, the first cooking school in Istanbul, in 2015 and it still gets rave reviews. Like his predecessor, Cooking Alaturka founder Eveline Zoutendijk, Rocco offers hands-on half-day classes focussing on traditional Anatolian dishes in the purpose-designed cooking school in Sultanahmet. Each class has between two and 10 participants, and the delicious results are enjoyed over a five-course lunch or dinner with drinks.
Akbiyik Caddesi 72a, Sultanahmet; cooking course €65 per person (cash only).
2. Turkish Flavours
Born and bred in Istanbul, Selin Rozanes is passionate about the city’s culinary heritage and is keen to introduce visitors to its many unique qualities. A member of Slow Food Turkey’s Istanbul convivium (https://www.facebook.com/fikirsahibidamaklar/, in Turkish), she leads a small team of guides who run excellent food-focussed walking tours, including a cross-continents visit to the Spice Bazaar and Kadıköy market that introduces participants to staple ingredients and delicacies before culminating in a huge lunch at Çiya Sofrası, a restaurant specialising in dishes from south-eastern Anatolia. Turkish Flavours also conducts small-group spice-tasting and cooking classes including lunch in Selin’s home. If requested, Turkish Sephardic dishes from her family recipes can be added to the menu.
Feneryolu–Kadıkoy; tours $80-125 per person, cooking course $100 per person.
3. Culinary Backstreets
A shared love of Turkish food and respect for the old-school ustas (masters) making kebap, baklava and other dishes both well-known and obscure in old-fashioned hole-in-the-walls led American expats Yigal Schleifer and Ansel Mullins to start up the tour company and website Istanbul Eats. They’ve now branched out globally under the Culinary Backstreets umbrella, but the Istanbul tours are still close to their heart. Fun and knowledgeable local guides take small groups of two to seven people on half-day walking tours, eating their way through the city’s diverse districts. Culinary Backstreets also offers a market trip/cooking course in Kurtuluş, a traditional neighbourhood with a rich past.
Most tours $125 per person (evening Kebab Krawl $75 per person), cooking course $110 per person.
Sisters Aysun Hanquet and Ayşın Ekinci take food-lovers on a shopping trip around their Kurtuluş neighbourhood – historically home to a mixed community of Christians, Jews and Muslims – stopping at small butchers, bakeries and green grocers who have been plying their trade for generations. They then bring their guests home to learn how to cook six traditional Turkish dishes with the ingredients they’ve procured, yielding a meal for everyone to enjoy together along with a glass of rakı.
Yunus Bey Sokak 32/A, Pangaltı; cooking course $110 per person (cash only).
5. Istanbul Walks
To get under the skin of a city, it always helps to have a local guide. Specialising in cultural tourism, this small company offers a large range of English-language guided tours, including a ‘Dining Out in a Turkish Way’ evening in which participants are taken to a traditional teahouse, an ocakbaşı (restaurant where meats are grilled over coals in front of diners), an iskembecisi (tripe soup joint), a meyhane (Turkish style tavern) and a cafe specialising in Turkish coffee.
1st fl, Şifahamami Sokak 1, Sultanahmet; €75 per person.
Last updated in January 2018.