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 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-focussed walking tours are on offer. Here are five of our favourites.
1. Cooking Alaturka
Multilingual Dutch chef Eveline Zoutendijk established the first cooking school in Istanbul in 2002, kick-starting a craze for culinary tourism that shows no sign of abating. Drawn to the city by its history, culture and – you guessed it – food, Eveline ran a boutique hotel when she first arrived and offered her guests the chance to take a Turkish cooking class in the hotel kitchen during their stay. These original classes proved so popular that in 2008 she closed the hotel and moved into a new purpose-designed cooking school in Sultanahmet, where she now offers hands-on half-day classes focussing on traditional Anatolian dishes. Each class has between six and 10 participants and the delicious results are enjoyed over a five-course lunch with drinks.
Akbiyik Caddesi 72a, Sultanahmet; www.cookingalaturka.com; 130 Turkish lira 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 (http://fikirsahibidamaklar.blogspot.com, in Turkish), she runs an excellent walking tour of the Spice and Kadıköy markets that introduces participants to staple ingredients and delicacies before culminating in a huge lunch at Çiya Sofrası, a restaurant specialising in dishes from southeastern Anatolia. Selin also conducts small-group cooking classes that include lunch in her elegant Nişantaşı home. If requested, the course can focus on a kosher Sephardic menu.
Apartment 3, Vali Konağı. Caddesi 14, Nişantaşı; www.turkishflavours.com; tours 125 euro per person, cooking course 80 euro per person.
3. Istanbul Food Workshop
Based near the shore of the Golden Horn, in the conservative Western District suburb of Fener, this small Turkish/Australian partnership runs cooking classes focusing on both Turkish and Ottoman cuisine. For a full culinary immersion, why not combine the class with a walking tour of the Çarşamba Pazarı (Wednesday Market), held in the streets around the Fatih Mosque. This is the most popular market in the Old City, selling everything from pots and pans to tursular (pickles), and it is a wonderful introduction to the local culture. Alternatively, spend the morning exploring the Spice Bazaar and surrounding streets in Eminonu before cooking and enjoying a feast fit for a sultan in the afternoon.
Yildirim Caddesi 111, Fener; www.istanbulfoodworkshop.com; three-hour Turkish cooking class/market visit 100 to 145 Turkish lira per person; six-hour Turkish and Ottoman cooking class and market visit 160 to 235 Turkish lira per person.
4. Istanbul Culinary Institute
In addition to operating one of the most popular European-style brasseries in the city, this outfit offers two half-day walking tours, one focussing on street food and the other visiting the Spice Market and Beyoğlu Fish Market. Led by local food professionals, the tours can be conducted in English on request.
Meşrutiyet Caddesi 59, Tepebaşı; www.istanbulculinary.com; tours $60 to $70 per person.
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 nargileh (waterpipe) cafe.
Istiklal Caddesi 53, fifth floor, Beyoğlu; www.istanbulwalks.net; 60 euro per person.