Experiences, Turkey

A Walk in the Turkish Food Markets

16 Comments 13 September 2012

hills of spices in the spice market

Peaks of spices at the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

As we wandered through the market I was finally able to ask all of the questions that had been consuming my brain in Turkish markets. What’s this? How do they make that? What is this used for? When do people eat this? And the list goes on and on. Whenever you explore a new country’s cuisine you are exposed to new foods and preparations – and most people shy away from food if they don’t really know what it is. This is the beauty of having Hulya guiding us – all of a sudden these food mysteries are solved and I want to try everything.

We started our food centered Istanbul markets walk with Hulya at the entrance to the Spice Market on the European side of Istanbul. Here she introduces us the main flavors and spices in Turkish cuisine – mint, oregano, cumin, all spice, and chili flakes – you’ll find this in most Turkish dishes. We slowly made our way through the crowded arched halls of this historical market slinking through slow tourists like a snake. We stopped in her favorite shops and taste dried fish, teas, and Turkish delight.

saffron spice turkey

Unveiling the rare and expensive sumac

Hulya is an expert in Turkish cuisine and flavors. She’s written a book called “Dilim Gülümsüyo!”on food culture of Turkey and is working on more spicy books!  She also teaches cooking classes and today she is leading my educational walk through the European and Asian markets in Istanbul giving people a taste of the cuisine that is new and sometimes intimidating.

We entered a spice shop and huddled in the corner where they brought us little glasses of apple tea and one of the employees took us on our own personal ‘spice trail’ having us taste a variety of ground spices with a little wooden stick. We end with the queen of all spices –  sumac.  This red and slightly tangy spice is a staple in all Middle Eastern cooking. We learned that it was used before the Romans introduced lemons to the area. But most importantly – it’s as valuable as flakes of gold and the price reflects it!

Spice market istanbul

The spice bazaar archways

Even though it was a food walk and I knew that we would be doing some food tasting – my stomach was not prepared for just how much we were trying. Every place we stopped we tried a sample. When we were in the deli trying a platter of different meats and cheeses it hit me that this was going to be a long afternoon of stuffing my face. I wondered if my stomach could keep up with my eyes and enthusiasm.

food tasting with Hulya

Hulya passes around more food

Just when I think I can eat no more, we got a reprieve from eating and instead focused on traveling to Asia. Ahhh – Istanbul the unique city that spans continents and today we would be eating on both continents. Hulya handed us each our ferry tickets and brought some dessert to go – chicken pudding – just in case we got hungry on the 20 minute ferry ride! Soon we were moving through the busy boat traffic of the Bosporus enjoying the views of European Istanbul getting smaller and smaller.

ferry ride istanbul

Goodbye Europe…

While on the ferry, we passed by the railway station, Haydarpaşa Station, on the Asian side and Hulya announced – this is where Asia ended – yet this is not where the eating ended. In fact we were only halfway through the walk when we landed in Kadikoy, the main outdoor market on the Asian side of Istanbul. Kadikoy is lined with fruit vendors, specialty gourmet shops, bakeries, and restaurants. It’s a fabulous place to be if you are a foodie or you are hungry!

Hulya picked up right where she left off – and continued to feed us full of food and culinary information. We stopped by cafes and pickled food stalls, talked to fish mongers, looked at the architecture, and learned more about the strange food that looked so foreign to our eyes. We went to a Turkish Delight and candy shop that reminded me of an old small town drug store with men in white aprons behind the dark wood counter and jars of colorful candies right at eye level tempting and teasing you.

colorful candy jars

The candy man…

She even had us wait outside while she quickly ran into a bakery and emerged again with 5 little white bags. I could smell the aroma dance out of the bag and tickle my nose…mmm…bread. She handed each of us a bag – whatever baked mystery was inside the bag was still warm. Hulya simpy said “This is something for you to try for breakfast tomorrow.” So now we weren’t just eating today on this walk – we were eating tomorrow too!

Haydarpaşa Station

Haydarpaşa Station – where Asia ends…

And how do you end a market and food walk all afternoon – of course you go to dinner. We had a table at Ciya – one of the best known restaurants in Kadikoy which serves up a variety Turkish cuisine from all regions. Hulya ordered for us ensuring that we were able to get a taste of a number of different regional cuisines and drinks. She talked throughout the dinner about how various foods and dishes had evolved and the frequency of specific ingredients among all the regions. It was sort of like having a curated dinner – a unique experience no doubt!

Among my favorites dishes was Visne Kebabi made from sour cherries, meatballs, and pita – the flavors were out of this world! In addition we tried a trifecta of drinks from a tart sumac drink, to ayran (salty yogurt drink), and mulberry juice. Other favorites were the bulgar balls with yogurt sauce as well as the fresh oregano salad.

bulgar balls

Bulgar balls with yogurt

turkish drinks

A sample of Turkish drinks

However the most surprising was the plate of desserts – where my Ceviz Macunu (walnut) was proudly displayed. Not only did I eat and enjoy the boiled sweet walnut, but I also loved the sweet eggplant and special Ramadan dessert güllaç.  Güllaç is a traditional Turkish dessert that dates back to the Ottoman Empire and was even once a part of the circumcision ceremony menu for Sultan Süleyman


Güllaç – layered yumminess!

As we finished our dinner it seemed as the rest of Istanbul was just starting their iftar dinner as many of the tables around us broke their daily Ramadam fast and the restaurant was quickly filling up. It was a day of food glorious food and thanks to Hulya I now knew what to purchase at the market and order off the menu in Istanbul…and I also probably gained 5 pounds!

The Good:

• The dinner at Ciya was separate and optional.
• A complete variety of tastings from all parts of Turkey
• There was no pressure to buy in any of the markets – Hulya made it clear that it was our choice.
• Bathroom breaks were planned for and included.
• She sent us home with breakfast – lovely!
• Hulya was a fabulous leader who clearly knew the topic of Turkish food.

The Could Be Better:

• The tour could have used a bigger warning for just how much you were going to eat to ensure that you didn’t have lunch before hand!
• The only thing I feel like we missed out on a bit was the fish stalls at the Galata bridge – since we were getting the ferry near there, it would have been nice to add a walk through that section to talk about the fishing around the bridge which I was always curious about as I stayed in Istanbul.
• It might have been nice to have a bottle of water for everyone on the tour since it seemed that we were eating so much.

Would I recommend it?

Yes. If you are interested in really understanding and trying new foods while in Turkey – then this is a great primer. I felt the $77 USD price tag for the 4 hour tour was worth it if you really want to learn about cuisine. What sets Context walks apart normally is the quality of the information that you receive and I feel that this walk was no exception – definitely high quality. I would suggest to do it early on in your stay so that it educates you on what to get and try for your remaining days. The tour really does take all of the fear and unknown out of trying a new cuisine and gives you the confidence to know what to order for the remainder of your stay. It was my favorite thing I did in Istanbul!

More Information:
Website:  www.contexttravel.com/city/istanbul
Tour: Istanbul Market Tour
Cost: $77 USD Ciya tasting menu was an additional $36 USD

Your Comments

16 Comments so far

  1. I recently went to Turkey and fauned over all of the food. Among my favorites were anything we got from a stall or a small cafeteria, where half the fun was agreeing to get something different for each person (there were seven of us!) and trying to guess what it is.

    My post: http://sunshineandsiestas.com/2012/04/24/a-beginners-guide-to-turkish-food/

  2. Reading your post and the post by Sunshine & Siestas, I have *got* to try and learn some basic words and phrases in the Turkish language. Last week in Canberra, I found myself devouring some delicious döner in a Turkish shop in the Yarralumla neighbourhood; the folks running the joint were clearly speaking Turkish, with a liberal sprinkling of Australian English. At that time, I wish I had learned just a bit of Turkish! I’ve also had some great Turkish food experiences with friends in Cologne. All in all, I’d really like to try and visit Istanbul, too. Thanks for your post, Sherry!

  3. I’m dying to know what the little bag of delicacy for the next morning’s breakfast contained :-) Yummy article!

  4. Mark H says:

    Sounds a wonderful intro to Turkish food and culture.

  5. So what was in the breakfast bag?

    • Sherry says:

      it was a roll of some sort – with little almond slivers on top. It wasn’t overly sweet – but really heavy and tasty with coffee in the morning!

      • Hulya Eksigil says:

        It is a pastry with tahini paste. That’s why it’s so heavy and tasty! These type of pastries are eaten a lot in Anatolia and this shop (Kovan) is famous with it’s tahini pastry.

  6. Petulia says:

    Dear Sherry, thanks for such a lovely article and for the useful suggestions. I have talked to our docents, and we are discussing the possibility of introducing a “fish stop” as part of the walk. Regarding the water,we’ll definitely make sure to either bring a bottle, or allow enough time for everyone to get a bottle. And finally, we’ll make sure to have clearer notice about the amount of food we eat!

    Thanks again! And I look forward to reading about your future trips!

    • Sherry says:

      Petulia – my pleasure! I had a wonderful time and I have had a number of people contact me about it wanting to know more! It was a wonderful way to end my long stay in Istanbul – I can’t wait to go back!

  7. turkish says:

    Your blog about Turkish food is really awesome. I like Turkey cuisine food very much and i have tried many turkish recipes which i got from youtube and many other website. I like visiting Turkish restaurants in weekend.

  8. Duncan says:

    Hey Sherry

    Love the post! Those spice pictures remind me of Marrakesh.. That reminds me… i should write about that!



  9. Have you tried the meat based dishes Kebab? I have noticed that Turkish cuisine is a combination of Central Asian and Middle Eastern. Your photos makes me hungry. :(

  10. Our tour with Olga was one of our favorite activities during our time in Istanbul. Olga is Russian (although her English is perfect), and at first I wondered how she could really know that much about Turkish cuisine. But Olga impressed us from the start, bringing us breakfast when we met her on the pier. She took us on an excellent walk through a local market, explained how different foods are prepared and bought us delicious baklava and coffee, before taking us to her home to prepare several appetizers, a main fish dish and dessert. By the end of the day we felt like we were just hanging out with a friend, cooking a feast! This was probably one of the pricier things we did on our vacation, but totally worth it.

  11. Nicole says:

    This sounds like (and looks like) a great tour. I just got back from Istanbul a few weeks ago and would have loved to do this tour.

    Oh well, something to look forward to on my next visit!

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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