Bread shop

A Taste of the Bosphorus.

The grey and overcast sky looked ominous and, just as we started to walk towards our breakfast stop in Beşiktaş, the heavens opened. It was going to be a wet walking tour….

But nothing was going to stop us. The streets of Beşiktaş may have been a bit more deserted than was usual for a Saturday but this didn’t deter us.

With Culinary Backstreet’s Born on the Bosphorus tour we were about to explore three different neighbourhoods for a taste of the Bosphorus…

Beşiktaş

Beşiktaş, on the European side of the Bosphorus is a middle class area, more liberal than conservative and with quite a few students residing here. They are proud of their football team, Beşiktaş JK. Statues of their emblem, the black eagle, appear when you least expect them. Loyal football supporters they definitely are.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

Our day started with breakfast at Çakmak Kahvalti, a simple cafe that is frequented by the local residents young and old. Bal kaymak, that wonderful breakfast of kaymak and honey, was served to start with.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

Kaymak, made from the milk of buffalo is similar to clotted cream but not nearly as sweet. With a drizzle of honey from Eastern Turkey, it is delicious.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

Our guide Benoit explained that it’s not easy to milk buffalo. The buffalo need to be able to see their calves whilst milking is taking place. It’s probably just as well that the herds are small, numbering about ten buffalo in all. Kaymak can also me made from cows milk but it’s not the same! Kaymak is the basis for many dishes, this katmer we ate in Gaziantep being one.

Breakfast hadn’t finished. The kaymak was followed by four different variations of the Turkish breakfast dish, menemen. I hadn’t realised that menemen came from the town of Menemen , which we had been very close to on our drive from Alicati. The tomatoes in this area are famous…no wonder the menemen tastes so good. Our four menemen dishes included one with fetta, one with pastirma, one with sausage(selcuk) and the last just with the eggs, peppers, onions and tomatoes that menemen is usually made from. It was hard choosing the best!

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

 

The Greek influence

There are somethings you will never find by yourself which is why I love small tours. Our stop at a small greek orthodox church was one of these. An unobtrusive doorway in the street gave no clue as to what lay behind.

Unfortunately photos were not allowed but like all Greek Orthodox churches, its lavish decorations were beautiful. Gold embellishments, icons covered with silver plate..all dating back to the days of the 19th Century when twenty percent of the population of Beşiktaş were Greek. The nearby school has closed as there are now only 3000-5000 Greeks in the area but services still continue at the church.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

A short walk through the back streets, past the recently restored Sinapasa Camii, a 16th century mosque that was designed by Sinan according to a commission by an admiral and we were at the town’s market square.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

Beşiktaş market has a reputation for its fabulous fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. The fishmongers were setting up when we arrived. Fish were still stacked in their boxes, water and ice was  being sloshed around on the floor whilst others had finished setting up with their beautifully displayed fish.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

Out of the corner of my eye I could see a fabulous display of figs…my favourite summer fruit. Infact all the fruit and vegetables looked fabulous. A sale made, we proceeded on to our next stop.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

A bakery stop

The two hundred year old 7-8 Hasanpasa Bakery was our next stop. The windows were full of their wares and I gazed longingly at them as we stopped to hear the story behind the name of the bakery. The general at this time couldn’t read or write, so if he had anything to sign, he would use the turkish words for 7-8 (yedi-sekiz) as his signature and this is how the bakery was named.

Stepping down into the old shop, we were greeted by trays of freshly baked biscuits and breads covering the counter. Sweet and savoury biscuits, coconut macaroons, rye and bran loaves, and if you’re lucky, there’s sometimes a delicious carrot cake.

 

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

 

Usküdar

It was then time to face the weather and catch the ferry to Usküdar on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.

flag on bosphorous

Usküdar lay at the end of the silk road and was important in its time. Compared to Beşiktaş, it is a more conservative neighbourhood, again with its own personality. There’s a stronger Muslim population here with more mosques in the area. Most of the mosques were built by women, usually the mother of the sultan who had a lot of power being number two in the heirachy.

Our first stop, in the basement of the local school attached to the mosque, sold nothing but honey. The honey comes from the Eastern Turkey town of Bilop. We tried a lighter honey from mountain flowers in the area and a delicious chestnut honey from Bilop that is famous.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

Just down the street was a shop specialising in cheese.  We tried three chesses…a tulum, a goat’s cheese that is aged in goat skin and another that was a mixture of goat and sheep but not aged. For comparison we also tried cows cheese. The cheese aged in the goats skin won hands down…far sharper and tastier than the others.  A Taste of the Bosphorus

A Taste of the Bosphorus

Olives marinated in brine and bakes olives (selve) were also sold along with halva. I’m not sure that you could call the halva we get at home halva. In Turkey there are so many different ones to choose each with its own distinctive taste. Summer halva is dark, made with almond and semolina whilst winter halva is made with sesame paste and herbs. What I really wanted to take home was the isot (dried pepper) paste and tapenade that I spied sitting in the corner.

We wandered slowly in and out of the shops lining the main street, tasted fabulous pickles, cheese and and pastirma, the popular dried meat that had originated from beef being salted and kept in the sides of saddles and then pressed as the horsemen rode.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

Stories flowed. In the time of the Ottomans, there existed a private army, the Janissaries. When a new sultan came to power they would be offered a tray of rock candy. As a thank you a tray of baklava would be sent back. Tired of the candy, the sultan organised a competition to make a softer sweet…and so turkish delight was born. It is presumed that this must have been around the 18th century as starch only appeared in 1770.

I loved these little pieces of history that Benoit shared as we walked from one stop to another. By the time this story was finished we had arrived at one one of Istanbul’s well known, family owned sweet shops where a tantalising array of rock candy, turkish delight and marzipan was on display. Turkish sweets are made using mastic, a white sticky substance that comes from the resin of white pistachio trees which are found mainly on the island of Chios and a little in Cesme.

A Taste of the Bosphorus

 

We probably should have visited the sweets shop after our next tasting! Have you ever eaten sheep’s head? Yes, the sweets would have gone down well after a nibble of sheep’s head!

A Taste of the Bosphorus

Which part would you want…the brains, the cheek, the tongue maybe or would it be the fat from the back of the eye which we were told is delicious!

Kuzgunick

As it was raining we caught the bus further up the coast to our next stop…..Kuzgunick

Again, this area was very different to the previous two suburbs. We wandered away from the Bosphorus, along tree lines streets into the back streets where old wooden homes stood.

 

In the first couple of minutes in Kuzgunick, we had passed a Greek church, an Armenian church and a Jewish synagogue. Everyone lived together in those days.

In the 70’s and 80’s the Greeks left the area and villagers from Black Sea came. Today the area has attracted writers, intellectuals and film stars. Trendy cafes, olive oil shops and boutiques stand next to old shops still selling staples from the Black Sea area.

Suburban Collage

We stopped at a small cafe for a delicious fish soup, balik corbasi and then continued on.

We weren’t sure where we were going as we wandered the streets, passing beautiful wooden homes and a communal vegetable garden until we came to a stop. Benoit disappeared and knocked on the door.

What a pleasant surprise to find that we were having  another lunch at a private home. Fatima is a teacher at the local school teaching history and geography. The table was set with many dishes that she serves to the family…..stuffed eggplant, lentil kofte, cig kofte,

 

A Taste of the Bosphorus

We finished the meal with a special dish that is normally served at Ramadan. Rose Gulloc is made of layers of a white starch sheet similar to rice paper soaked in milk, sugar and rose water. Chopped walnuts  and pomegranate seeds are added on top. What a treat!

A Taste of the Bosphorus

This was a perfect end to a fabulous tour of the suburbs on either side of the Bosphorus.

 

Exploring a culture through it’s food is one of the highlights of travelling and tours that offer an insight into this offer so much. We loved the historical insights, learning of the differences between the suburbs on either side of the Bosphorus and of course, tasting so many delicious bites in the local shops and cafes. Culinary Backstreets are experts at this and even though my tour was complimentary, I can highly recommend it to learn about a side of Istanbul you may not find on your own. You can see all their Istanbul tours here. Thank you Culinary Backstreets.

 

Other food tours you may enjoy:
A Foodie’s Tour in Istanbul
A Culinary Backstreets Food Tour of Athens
Eating In London’s East End

 

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38 Responses to A Taste of the Bosphorus.

  1. Joy @MyTravelingJoys August 24, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

    When we lived in Istanbul, our apt was about 15 minutes east of the the Beşiktaş fish market. I loved this area! And lucky you, the crew at Culinary Backstreets is fantastic! It’s always wonderful to learn more about the food and history of a place at the same time. Afiyet olsun! 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman August 30, 2015 at 10:38 am #

      What a fabulous area to live in Joy! Yes, Culinary Backstreet’s tours are fabulous. I love learning a little bit of history of the area asa well as tasting the fabulous food,…especially in Istanbul where every area has it’s own culture.

  2. Rhonda Albom August 24, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    What a fantastic tour, except for the rain, but you can’t control that. I loved eating in Turkey. I am hungry from just reading this. The food looks fantastic, and exceptionally clean.

    • Jenny Freedman August 30, 2015 at 10:41 am #

      It was fabulous Rhonda. I love food tours because they know the best local places to go…..Culinary Backstreets have some of the best tours and you always learn a lot on them!

  3. budget jan August 24, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    I’d go for the sheep’s cheek! Sounds like a very good tour. This is making me homesick for Turkey – stop it!

    • Jenny Freedman August 30, 2015 at 10:42 am #

      You’re game Jan!! I can’t remember which part I tried but I must admit it was pretty good! I feel the same abut Turkey…I want to go back too!

  4. Anwar August 30, 2015 at 11:59 am #

    This is one of my favorite aspects of Istanbul…the food. I loved your food tour, so thorough and engaging. Gosh this makes me want to go back to Turkey and eat! I also didn’t know about the Turkish delight history, thanks for that!

    • Jenny Freedman September 2, 2015 at 1:17 am #

      Hi Anwar. I love food tours for many reasons….the food is one thing but the little snippets of history that you learn is another. It was great to explore areas of Istanbul that we hadn’t been to.

  5. Nancie August 30, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

    What a fantastic tour! I drooled over everything. The cheese made me laugh. This morning I went looking for some cheese in my Seoul neighborhood, and found even less than I thought I would. Finally ended up with some kind of a cheese spread, which was not very good. I miss cheese, and I know that the cheese in Turkey is amazing. I think in the home lunch is a lovely touch.

    • Jenny Freedman September 2, 2015 at 1:20 am #

      It really was a great tour Nancie. The cheese in Turkey is great…a lot is made at home too. Your cheese search sounded quite frustrating. The home lunch was a fabulous and a lovely way to finish the tour.

  6. noel August 31, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

    Wow, touring three different neighborhoods, what fun. I love all the delicious looking food and purveyors!

    • Jenny Freedman September 2, 2015 at 1:22 am #

      Great fun Noel. It was interesting to learn how the areas differed with the diverse groups living in them.

  7. Sue Reddel August 31, 2015 at 11:41 pm #

    What wonderful food tours. We just adore Turkey, the people and most especially the food. Your post made me long to return sooner than later.

    • Jenny Freedman September 2, 2015 at 1:25 am #

      Turkey is a wonderful country Sue. We keep going back to learn more and more about it and or course to eat more and more. We love the people too…. so welcoming. I hope you return soon.

  8. Carol Colborn September 1, 2015 at 12:00 am #

    Besiktas and Uskudar, I saw them about 15 years ago but from a boat traveling down the Bosphorus. So we didn’t get a taste like you did! How fascinating and heavenly! Time to go back!

    • Jenny Freedman September 2, 2015 at 1:30 am #

      Yes, time to go back Carol! There are so many corners of Istanbul to explore…These three suburbs were fabulous!

  9. Julie Dawn Fox September 1, 2015 at 2:10 am #

    Oh Jenny, I should know better by now than to read your posts on an empty stomach. What I wouldn’t do for some kaymak and honey right now…

    • Jenny Freedman September 2, 2015 at 1:33 am #

      Sorry to start the hunger pains Julie.There’s something about kaymak and honey isn’t ther…..it’s always delicious!

  10. Kay Dougherty September 1, 2015 at 2:59 am #

    Oh boy did this make me want to go back to Turkey! The food there is so amazing – just seeing those beautiful figs brought back good memories. I would definitely check out one of these walking culinary tours if I go back.

    • Jenny Freedman September 4, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

      I agree kay…Turkish food is the best! I can definitely recommend a culinary tour. The insight they provide into the history of the area and the fabulous food stops is certainly worth it.

  11. Jackie Smith September 1, 2015 at 4:28 am #

    Menemem looks fabulous. . .in fact everything looked so fabulous that I could feel my mouth watering and I’ve just eaten lunch! Great post!

    • Jenny Freedman September 4, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

      It was a great tour Jackie and we tasted some delicious food as usual. Menemen is my favourite breakfast whenever I am in Turkey.

  12. Anita @ No Particular Place To Go September 1, 2015 at 4:41 am #

    Sounds like your day was full and you had plenty of fabulous food to fill you up as well! I’d love to do the Bosphorus tour with Culinary Backstreet and your photos showed some delicious looking food. I had to pause over your statement “It’s not easy to milk a buffalo…” Hopefully that’s something I’ll never have to try!

    • Jenny Freedman September 4, 2015 at 2:41 pm #

      I hope I don’t have to milk a buffalo either Anita though it does makes me appreciate the kaymak a little more! We certainly didn’t need to have dinner that night!

  13. Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru September 1, 2015 at 12:33 pm #

    We loved the vintage wooden houses on the Asian side in Uskudar, too. Your Taste of the Bosphorus tour led you to the hidden places that contribute to the charm of Istanbul, which can be a very intimidating and chaotic experience without a focus.

    • Jenny Freedman September 4, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

      Uskudur was a fascinating area Betsy. It’s a shame many people don’t realise that there is so much to do in Istanbul and they should plan for a longer stay to see some different areas of the city.

  14. Judy Freedman September 2, 2015 at 3:33 am #

    I’ve never been to Istanbul. Your pictures look amazing. Definitely adding this location to my “travel bucket list” for my life after 50.

    • Jenny Freedman September 4, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

      You are missing one of the most fabulous cities in the world Judy. An amazing mix of old and new, traditional and modern with some of the best food I’ve ever eaten! Hope you do visit soon!

  15. Jo September 2, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    Your photos as always are superb and have me wanting to visit each and every restaurant you mention. The Taste of the Bosphorous tour sounded a lot of fun and a good way of seeing a lot in a short time in an effective way. Beşiktaş looks lovely too.

    • Jenny Freedman September 4, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

      It was a great way to see a part of the city we didn’t know a lot about Jo. You know me…I love a good food tour and Istanbul eats defintitely do them well!

  16. Shelley September 2, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

    We loved Turkey, and especially the food – breads, eggplant dishes, and sweets. It would have been great to do a food tour such as this one to learn more about what we were eating.

    • Jenny Freedman September 4, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

      I find food tours a great for teaching you about the food of a city Shelley. I always try to do one wherever I go!

  17. Irene S. Levine September 2, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

    I’m glad that the rain didn’t deter you. You saw; you tasted and you conquered the tastes of the Bosphorous!,

    • Jenny Freedman September 4, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

      It would take a lot more than rain to deter me Irene! I could easily go back for more of the same!

  18. Suzanne Fluhr September 4, 2015 at 11:40 pm #

    Thanks for sharing all those photos. They brought back fond memories of our visit to Istanbul earlier this year. We didn’t make it to the Asian side of the Bosphorous. I loved looking in the windows of the sweet shops and a box of Turkish delight delighted people who received one as a present from our trip.

    • Jenny Freedman September 6, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

      A pleasure Suzanne! Hopefully you will return to Istanbul and visit the Asian side.It really is a fascinating part of the city. Turkish delight is always a popular gift!

  19. Kristin Henning September 8, 2015 at 1:07 am #

    Your market photos are really nice and the back stories of food along the Bosphorus enjoyable. I’ll refer to this next time we travel that direction. Is there a link to the tour company here that I missed?

    • Jenny Freedman September 28, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

      Hi Kristin. It was a great tour and one I’d definitely recommend. The link to Culinary Backstreets is right at the end where I mention “You can see all their tours here” Click on ‘here’ and it will take you to their website.

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