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Though we’ve witnessed changes, many things remain intact. The city is still a simmering synthesis of delicacies and delights from all over, many of which are within a convenient arm’s length. If we have an inkling for Erzurum’s çağ kebabı, Trabzon’s kuymak, Adana’s bicibici, Mersin’s tantuni, or Hatay’s humus, we know where to go, and we can be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the person making the object of our desire in that particular moment isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
By publishing the stories of our local heroes, visiting them on culinary tours, or directly fundraising for them when they are in need, we attempt to honor their work and their essential role in maintaining the fabric of the city. Our purpose is twofold. Yes, we want to get travelers to some good places to eat. But we also want to make sure that some of these spots and the artisans making food there find a new audience and get the recognition and support they deserve. They are holding back the tide of globalized sameness, which is not easy work – even if it’s done unknowingly. But we believe that every meal counts and, with the help of our audience, they will add up. We are committed to their perseverance and hope that our modest efforts encourage them to keep at it. Our work is also guided by a belief in: Honest Tourism: The places where we eat and craftsmen that we feature on our culinary tours are all selected with this purpose in mind. We’d never accept a free lunch or consider a discount for our tour groups, because that would contradict our central goal, to support them. Nor do our guides receive any commissions from shopkeepers. Honest Journalism: The same principal is applied to the publishing of stories. There are no sponsored posts or even advertising on CB. The writers and photographers are paid fairly for their work on stories that we all believe in.
The cities we are drawn to all have a culinary tradition of untold richness as well as a certain tension, be it political instability, the tug between East and West, the clash between modern and ancient identities, migration, rapid gentrification, bankruptcy, or a post-colonial hangover. Our decision to get started in a city is always the result of a trip filled with many meals where we are given in intimate view of that tension, right there on the table. By getting lost in this warren of independent food purveyors struggling to preserve or adapt tradition in fast-paced urban life, we start to discover the deep complexity and true flavor of the city. At present, you’ll find our regular dispatches from Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Marseille, Mexico City, Naples, Porto, Queens (NY), Shanghai, Tbilisi and Tokyo.
As travel to most of the cities where we work has resumed, Culinary Backstreets is working with a new set of safety guidelines designed for the physical well-being of our guests, guides and members of the local community that we encounter. These guidelines have been developed in line with the best practices published by governments and health officials in the countries where CB works with regard to restaurant and tour and trip operation. With these procedures in place, our guests — led by our team of professional guides, who are being trained accordingly — can explore with peace of mind. The new procedures we are instituting include:
Culinary Backstreets’ mission has always been to preserve, protect and celebrate local culinary traditions and the unsung heroes of the kitchen. Now, more than ever, we remain focused on this goal. These days, we are paying close attention to the physical, economic and psychological well-being of the local communities and the people who keep them fed. We view this as an opportunity for cities to develop a tourism model that makes sense for them and that avoids the mistakes of the past, and for companies like Culinary Backstreets to be part of that process by renewing our commitment to a more sustainable way of traveling and working. By joining our tours and trips, you are contributing to this effort, which includes:
Culinary Backstreets is offering maximum flexibility for our guests, as we realize that travel this summer and fall might involve unexpected cancellations or postponements. So that our guests can book with confidence, we are putting in place the following cancelation policies:
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Tour the Backstreets of Istanbul With Us
Beyond Kebab: Neighborhood by Neighborhood, Bite by Bite
The Istanbul Eats® Envoys, Always Searching for the Next Hidden Gem
Anna Maria, Istanbul Walk Leader
Born and raised in Istanbul’s funky Beyoğlu district, Anna Maria has been exploring Istanbul’s culinary backstreets all of her life. As a professional tour guide she’s trained on the classic attractions but she’d rather wax about the charms of grilled liver kebab. When she is not leading culinary walks, Anna Maria unearths and translates forgotten manuscripts from old Istanbul from Greek to Turkish for a local publishing house.
After graduating from the Faculty of Management, Aysin realized that working in an office was not for her. She was trained as a professional guide and started leading tours all over Turkey. On the side, Aysin worked as a chef in her own restaurant, honing her meze skills. She has trained cooks and chef’s apprentices who are currently working in the most distinguished restaurants of Istanbul and now brings this experience to leading cooking classes in her own home.
Benoit, Istanbul Walk Leader
Originally from Belgium, Benoit (a.k.a. Selim) has been living in the heart of Istanbul for more than twenty years. Though he was in the textile business for many years, he now focuses on guiding in Istanbul’s backstreets and on long distance hikes throughout Turkey. His favorite dish is ‘patlıcan dolması’ (eggplant stuffed with rice and spices served as a cold starter), a typical dish of southwestern Turkey.
Esin, Istanbul Walk Leader
Esin was on her way up the corporate ladder, seven years into a marketing career for Toyota, when she realized that this was not the life for her. She longed for a slow glass of tea streets of Istanbul, family wedding feasts in her father’s hometown of Kayseri, markets filled with fresh fish and produce in Alanya, where she grew up. She had to get out of that office job and that is just what she did to become a professional guide. Extensive world travel and a passion for her home country gives Esin a special point of view when leading tours on her favorite subject, Turkish cuisine. She’s not so much a guide as your friend in town. In addition to Turkish and English, she speaks Japanese.
Geoffrey, Istanbul Correspondent
Geoffrey is a writer, translator and eater based in Istanbul. Originally from the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, he discovered a love for food, language and culture through travel and has been hooked ever since. When not writing dispatches for Culinary Backstreets he spends his time improving his Turkish and scouring neighborhood eateries and food history books for the secret to the perfect yaprak sarma.
Gonca, Istanbul Walk Leader
Born in Hamburg, Gonca studied translation and interpretation in Turkey and Florence, Italy. A long career in as a professional guide has led her into every corner of Turkey, but now she sticks to the Backstreets of Istanbul. She lives on the Bosphorus, tends to her garden, cooks for her friends and takes care of her cats, a life she always dreamed of leading.
Jennifer, Istanbul Correspondent
Jennifer, one of CB’s Turkey correspondents, is a freelance journalist originally from San Francisco and based since 2008 in Istanbul, where she writes about arts and culture, the environment, food and drink, politics and society, travel, and urban issues while exploring the many corners of the city. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic’s CityLab, The Christian Science Monitor, Cornucopia, Discover, GOOD, The National, Sierra, Wired, Women’s Running, Yale Environment 360, and Zester Daily, among many other publications. When she’s not writing, you’ll likely find her hiking, running, cooking, gallery-hopping, or taking the night bus on a new adventure in Turkey.
Katerina, Istanbul Walk Leader
Katerina was born in Istanbul to a family of Greek and Russian roots. Though she studied French language teaching and worked as a teacher for four years, she now focuses on another passion – guiding visitors through her home city, Istanbul. Her favorite dish is karnıyarık, fried eggplant, split in half lengthwise and filled with ground beef and vegetables.
Lorenza, Istanbul Correspondent
Lorenza is an Istanbul-based news producer for Italian national television. After leaving her home in Italy, she lived in Austria and Thailand before coming to Turkey, where she has been located since 2015. In Istanbul she has worked as an Italian teacher, translator, and food writer, as well as a delivery (wo)man for a pizzeria and a chef’s assistant in an Italian restaurant.
Paul, Istanbul Correspondent
Paul Benjamin Osterlund is a freelance journalist and writer based in Istanbul.
Remziye, Istanbul Walk Leader
In the Turkish diaspora community in Germany where Remziye lived for decades, traditions were kept alive in the kitchen. The smell of melted butter and garlicky yogurt poured over fresh bread crusts summons strong memories of her childhood home in Eastern Turkey where they call this simple dish by its Kurdish name, targac. Remziye’s passion for her culture and home country led her away from a career in textiles to a new life, in Istanbul as a professional guide and avid home cook.
Senem, Istanbul Walk Leader
Senem was born in Istanbul and raised in the nearby city of Bursa. After graduating from university, she spent almost a decade abroad, experiencing food and culture in many corners of the globe. She first had a scholarship in Florence, where she met her husband Giovanni, an engineer and a cook. She has also studied in Brazil, Mexico, and France. She traveled from Mexico to Patagonia by bus (which took one year!) and some of her other favorite trips include India, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Syria, and Jordan. With a mother of Greek and Bulgarian origin, a father of nomadic Turkic heritage, and an Italian husband, Senem is kind of like Turkish lentil soup – you think it’s just made of lentils but discover there are many more ingredients inside!
Ugur, Istanbul Walk Leader
For Uğur, having guests over for dinner meant içli köfte, a friend visiting for an afternoon tea was mercimek köfte. Winter meant boza, summer was sour cherry compote. Bosphorus offered the most delicious fish, aunts in the east sent the spices, and olives came from the uncle living on the Mediterranean. A native of Istanbul, Ugur (a.k.a. Adam) shares his enthusiasm for this city with his guests. Despite receiving a B.A. in Business and working in the business world for many years, he found his passion to be for history, people, different cultures, and most of all for food, and decided to become a full time professional tour guide where he could utilize his interests and knowledge by sharing with others. He’s one of the few lucky in this world who makes a living by not working a single day. He has the incurable and contagious disease of always smiling, and enjoys spreading it to others.
Born in Istanbul, but living in Izmir for more than 20 years, Nuket’s world of food is heavily informed by the distinct Sephardic Jewish cuisine that thrived in these two cities. She co-authored a recipe booked entitled “Izmir’s Sephardic Cuisine” and is constantly collecting recipes from aging members of the community who still speak the Spanish-based language, Ladino. In the mornings, she can often be found treating herself to dezayuno, boyos and a glass of subya like a true Izmirli.
Kadir was born and raised in the melting pot of Istanbul, with a unique blend of cultural experiences from the United States and Germany. As a passionate tour guide, he brings his expertise through years of professional guiding and a teaching position at a local university. Aside from being a food enthusiast, he also holds university degrees in Business, Political Science and History, providing a rich context for the delicious flavors sampled on our tours. As a resident of Istanbul, Kadir has witnessed the city’s culinary evolution and is excited to introduce visitors to the diverse and delectable dishes that represent the many regions of Turkey.
Dilek’s background is in art history and archaeology, which she studied first in Turkey and then as a graduate student in the United States. After participating in several archaeological excavations, Dilek worked for a number of years as a TV journalist and as a part-time university professor, before finally discovering her true passion: tour guiding! Besides being a devout worshipper of Turkish culinary arts, she is also an eternal student of the historical and mystical heritage of her home country. Dilek believes that meeting people is akin to discovering a new land, but that through sharing a meal together, one uncovers that land’s true soul.
CB’s work was started in 2009 by Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer as a humble food blog called Istanbul Eats. The following year we published a book of our reviews, now in its fifth edition. That year we also launched our first culinary walk in Istanbul, a route we are still using today. In 2012, we realized that what we built in Istanbul was needed in other cities we knew and loved. We started CB that year with Athens, Barcelona, Mexico City and Shanghai as pioneering members of our network. In 2013, we added Rio and also launched our iPhone application in Istanbul. In 2015, Tokyo and Tbilisi came into the fold. That year we published mini-guides to Barcelona and Athens and also launched an iPhone application in those cities. Our Eatinerary service, which provides travelers with tailor-made culinary travel itineraries, was also launched in 2015. In 2016, Lisbon – the latest city to kindle our curiosity – joined the CB network. In 2017 we added Naples and Queens, NY – two places with very compelling stories to tell – to our roster and also published full-size eating guides to Athens and Barcelona. In 2018, Porto joined the list of cities we cover.
Visual Dispatches from the Frontlines of Local Eating
Istanbul Eats®: Exploring the Culinary Backstreets®
Now in its eighth edition, “Istanbul Eats®: Exploring the Culinary Backstreets®” is the definitive guide to eating locally and authentically in Istanbul, written by the co-founders of Culinary Backstreets®.
Where is Istanbul?
Istanbul is located in northwestern Turkey and straddles the Bosphorus Strait, which provides the only passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, via the Sea of Marmara. It is Turkey’s most-populated city, with around 15 million people. Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, is known for its ideal geographic position between Europe and Asia, which has become a common metaphor for describing both its history and culture.
What are the best things to do in Istanbul?
A historic capital of great empires and civilizations, Istanbul is rich in arts, history, culture and cuisine. The best things to do in Istanbul can be as glamorous as chartering a Bosphorus boat cruise to visiting the city’s most iconic sites – such as the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace and Galata Tower. We suggest starting each morning with a long Turkish breakfast before setting off to sightsee. Stroll through the Spice Bazaar and its surrounding chaotic streets, cross Galata Bridge into Karaköy for baklava and a fish wrap, scour shops for Turkish towels and ceramics as you climb Galip Dede St to arrive at Istikal Ave and Taksim Square. The city’s dining scene has much to offer, and we’ve chronicled much of it here. Istanbul makes a great base for trips to the Princes’ Islands as well as a launch point for other wonders like Cappadocia and Ephesus.
When is the best time of year to visit Istanbul?
The best times to visit Istanbul are from March-May and between September-November. That’s when crowds at the city’s attractions are manageable, room rates are average and daytime temperatures generally sit in the high 60s and 70s F.
What is the weather like in Istanbul?
In Istanbul, the summers are hot and humid with clear skies and generally no higher than 90 F. Winters are mild, though often rainy, with temperatures rarely below 30 F. Snow may fall one or two days in a year. Spring and Fall are beyond pleasant, with temperatures in the high 60s and 70s.
Is Istanbul expensive?
When compared to many major cities in the world, especially in Europe, Istanbul is quite cheap. You can have a full Turkish breakfast for one person from €5 to €10, and many of our favorite eateries serve meals at less than €8 a person. The average price for a three-course meal for one person at a mid-range restaurant for lunch & dinner would be around €10. A cup of coffee is €1.5 and a draft beer about €2.5.
Is Istanbul safe?
Compared to other cities of its size, Istanbul is very safe. Turkish people are known for their hospitality and are extremely welcoming of foreigners, though we encourage reading up on accounts from travelers of different minority groups. Violent crime in the city is rare, though petty crime such as pickpocketing can be a nuisance in high-tourist areas.
What is the best food in Istanbul?
From street food stalls to sit-down restaurants with a view, there is no shortage of options for every palate and budget. While many may already know about Istanbul’s famous kebabs (like döner and Iskender), other classic dishes include lahmacun, simit, meze and an array of phyllo-based desserts like baklava. Turkish breakfast is an institution in its own right, and should never be passed over.
Where is the best place to stay in Istanbul?
Istanbul is a big city and it has plenty of different areas to choose from, each of them with its own charm and advantages. The best area in Istanbul for first-timers and families can be the historic old town of Sultanahmet, with easy access to sites like the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. For those hoping to be in walking distance of restaurants, bars and nightlife, Beyoğlu or Karaköy are ideal.
What is the COVID-19 situation in Istanbul?
Turkey’s vaccination rate is at about 62%. Masks are no longer required and no specific mandates are in place, but be sure to check on vaccination requirements for international arrivals.
Can Americans travel to Istanbul?
Turkey does not require American passport-holders to have a negative PCR test if they can provide proof of vaccination and are not arriving from a high-risk country. American passport holders can obtain a 90-day visa to Turkey on arrival at the airport, or an e-visa online at: www.evisa.gov.tr/en/apply.
Can I fly directly to Istanbul?
You can fly directly to Istanbul from many locations worldwide, either into the new Istanbul Airport (IST) on the European side or Sabiha Gökçen (SAW) on the Asian side. Turkish Airlines is among the top five airlines with the highest number of destinations in the world.
What is the best restaurant in Istanbul?
Istanbul has a very diverse dining scene from the traditional to the trendy, and it changes daily. You can check out our Top 10 essentials list for our tips. But the hearty dishes at Çiya Sofrası and the classic, consistent baklava at Karaköy Güllüoğlu can’t be beat.
Are there beaches in Istanbul?
Istanbul is surrounded by both the Marmara and Black Seas, which are linked by the Bosphorus. Even though Istanbul is not known as a beach city, there are a number of public beaches: Florya, on the European side of the city; the Caddebostan area, on the Asian side; Kilyos, on the Black Sea coast; and each of the four Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea. These beaches are free to use, though chaise lounges can be rented at private beach clubs.
Is Istanbul suitable for children?
Istanbul is a diverting city with much to do, and eat, for children of any age. Though the city’s cobblestone streets and crowds can make walking with a stroller difficult, there are a growing number of wide, paved pathways for meandering along the Bosphorus. People in Turkey love kids and babies, and you can easily find restaurants with a designated “aile salonu,” or family room, with a small area for children to play.