- Culinary walks
- Our Story
|12 people||2020 Dates:||US $3,530/adult|
For millennia, Istanbul has been the connection point for a vast web of places with distinct cultural identities, landscapes, and, of course, cuisines. These disparate influences form the great mosaic that is modern-day Istanbul cuisine, which is so much more than simply “Turkish food.”
Question the origin of any dish in a typical neighborhood restaurant and you’ll find yourself falling down a rabbit hole that may lead out to Albania or maybe over the peaks of the Caucasus to Chechnya. As they have for centuries, people come to this city with their own tastes from home; food in Istanbul these days often bears the fiery hallmark of the largely Kurdish southeast and the myriad of flavors of the Syrian kitchen, brought to the city by refugees who now call it home. Filter this through the older urban traditions of Ottoman Turkish, Armenian, and Greek cooking, and something very uniquely Istanbul—bewildering, fascinating, in perpetual motion—comes into focus.
Curious about Istanbul’s culinary history and hidden corners.
Ready to walk 4 to 6 miles a day, whether wandering food bazaars or strolling amid the historic mansions of the Princes’ Islands.
Eager to make the most of each day—when you’re meeting and eating with chefs and home cooks, delving deep into the city’s history, and experiencing the flavors (and sights and sounds and smells) of Istanbul’s most vibrant markets, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground.
On this seven-day culinary experience in collaboration with Atlas Obscura, we’ll be studying the city of Istanbul through its kitchens. We’ll use the simple ritual of a tea break to access ancient crafts still alive throughout the city. We’ll meet and eat with chefs dedicated to documenting and preserving Anatolia’s rich and varied rural cuisines, endangered by the migrations that continue to this day. We’ll cross the Bosphorus, visiting food bazaars on both continents and eating in private homes along the way. We’ll also witness cooking demonstrations in working restaurants and have a hands-on lesson in a private home. We will finish our trip with a taste of the “new Turkish kitchen” at one of the city’s most talked about restaurants to see how Istanbul’s cuisine continues to evolve.
There will be much more than food, though. Along one of our walks, we’ll stop by a Greek Orthodox Church that is a pilgrimage site for Muslim women praying to get pregnant, and stop again to visit a former Byzantine church now functioning as a mosque. We’ll also take a trip to a worship center of the Shiite Alevi minority to join the community’s weekly lokma lunch. We’ll have a chance, behind closed doors, to probe contemporary Turkish taboos—both political and otherwise—with an accomplished journalist. We’ll climb up to rooftops for spectacular views and have tea breaks among the workshops of craftsmen carrying on medieval traditions. After a few days of the chaos of the city, we’ll escape to the nearby Princes’ Islands, a traditional retreat for Istanbul’s religious minorities. There, we will board horse-drawn carriages for a tour of one of the island’s remote corners and visit a historic Greek Orthodox Seminary, embroiled in a long-standing political controversy. We’ll also have a leisurely stroll down the tree-lined lanes of the car-free island, passing examples of its unique architectural treasures and historic mansions.
From morning to evening, it will be a week of constant collision and natural synthesis between the many cultural currents that make Istanbul so special—and so deserving of the title, “City of the World’s Desire.”
This trip is limited to a small group of 12 travelers.
A Panoply of Flavors: Sample the many flavors of Istanbul in a staggering variety of places—at vibrant bazaars and outdoor markets, in a local home, at a family-run candy shop, at an Alevi Muslim house of worship, and at some of the city’s most exciting restaurants.
Local Perspectives: Sharing, tea, meals, and stories, we’ll get a range of perspectives on the city as we meet with chefs, home cooks, writers, religious and cultural figures, and many others along the way.
Delving Deeper: In addition to eating well, we’ll delve deep into Istanbul’s cultural traditions by visiting churches and mosques with fascinating living histories, meeting a pigeon trainer on a rooftop in the bustling Fatih neighborhood, exploring a beer-factory-turned-contemporary-photography-gallery, and much more.
Benoit “Selim” Hanquet
Originally from Belgium, Benoit (a.k.a. Selim) has been living in the heart of Istanbul for more than 20 years. He left a career in the textile business to focus on his passion for Istanbul, its history, street life, and cuisine. Benoit is a professional guide to Istanbul’s backstreets and spends most of his free time on long-distance hikes throughout Turkey.
Born in Hamburg and raised on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, Gonca studied translation and interpretation at Hacettepe University in Ankara. Afterwards, she continued her studies in Florence, Italy, before she became a professional guide in Turkey. She loves cooking, painting watercolors, and working in her garden.
We’ll begin this trip with a brief introduction to the city by boat, cruising the Golden Horn to our welcome dinner, where we will get to know each other in classic Istanbul style, around a table filled with meze and rakı. Here we will lay out the plan for the week and introduce the subjects we’ll be exploring.
This day will be our first plunge into narrow alleys, bustling markets, and the hidden, living monuments of the Old City. We’ll be visiting food shops, restaurants, bakeries, and grill joints throughout the day, so bring your appetite and skip breakfast at the hotel.
At a fourth-generation family-run candy shop, we’ll sample some of the city’s finest lokum, Turkish delight. We’ll have pide in the style of the Black Sea region, an unforgettable döner kebab, and Turkish coffee among many more edible delights.
We will also witness the rituals at a Greek Orthodox shrine, where mostly Muslim women visit the priest and light candles in hopes of getting pregnant.
After heading back to the hotel in the late afternoon, you’ll have the evening free to explore.
We’ll start with breakfast in a most unusual setting: a decommissioned Greek High School now cared for by an Arab Christian family from Hatay, a Turkish region neighboring Syria known for its superb cuisine.
We’ll get a quick crash course on the construction of Istanbul’s weekly outdoor neighborhood markets—which are, miraculously, set up and broken down each day like a traveling circus—before visiting one of the most elaborate and bustling ones, in the Fatih neighborhood. There we will have a quick lunch of stewed white beans, a staple of the Black Sea region, before visiting fragments of Byzantine-era frescoes hiding beneath flaking whitewash.
Finally, we will climb up to a rooftop to meet a pigeon trainer and witness his birds dance in the sky with the Old City skyline as their stage.
Return to the hotel for a rest before meeting up for mezze and drinks with an accomplished international journalist who will lead a discussion on present-day Turkey, how it got here, and field questions on everything in between.
We’ll escape the city’s traffic and chaos for a relaxing day in the Princes’ Islands, the traditional retreat of Istanbul’s religious minorities.
On Heybeliada, long a center for the city’s Greek community, we’ll board horse-drawncarriages and work our way up to the top of the island to visit the historic Orthodox Seminary, caught in a legal limbo that threatens the future of the Patriarchy itself. Since the 1970s, this centuries-old institution has been closed to religious education by order of the government, as classrooms and dormitories remain moth-balled and a small cadre of monks tend to the grounds, waiting for the day that it is permitted to again accept students. We’ll meet those priests to learn about the controversy and visit the Seminary’s church, where rare Byzantine-era icons are kept.
On our way to lunch, we’ll stroll through a pine forest, passing fine examples of the gingerbread house-style architecture for which the island is known.
After ferrying back to the hotel, the rest of the evening is free.
After a morning of free time, we will meet after lunch and head over to the former Bomonti Beer factory, now a cultural center and home to a collection of photographs by the recently deceased Ara Güler. His record of 20th-century backstreets Istanbul is second to none.
After a quick snack, we will make our way to Kurtuluş, one of Istanbul’s most diverse districts, where our host will show us the neighborhood’s speciality food shops. There, we’ll gather up some ingredients before returning to her home for a cooking lesson and our evening meal.
After breakfast, we will head to Üsküdar on the Asian side of the city to explore some of the different forms of Islam practiced side by side in the same neighborhood. We’ll visit an Alevi house of worship for a communal lunch to understand a bit about their more liberal community and traditions. While we are there, we’ll visit the tomb of a saint’s horse as well.
Next, we’ll head to the mausoleum and pilgrimage site of a saint venerated in Sunni Islam on the way to an ultra-modern mega mosque, designed by Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, a leading female architect.
We’ll then head into the Kadıköy market for some free time to explore the shop-lined streets.
Our early dinner is at the culinary pilgrimage site of Ciya, where the famed chef Musa Dağdeviren collects and preserves obscure Anatolian recipes, many nearly lost to migration from the countryside.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without a pleasure cruise on the Bosphorus, passing by the palaces and iconic wooden houses that line this historic waterway. We’ll get a dose of Ottoman history onboard as we cruise toward lunch at a no-frills waterfront fish restaurant, where we will enjoy the simple pleasures of life on the Bosphorus.
For the daring, there will be a chance for a quick dip in the water separating the two continents, so bring your swimsuit if you like.
We’ll have a few hours of free time before our farewell dinner at one of Istanbul’s most famed, contemporary restaurants, where we’ll get a taste of where this city’s cuisine is headed.
Today, depart for home or onto your next destination—or, if you’d like, spend a few more days exploring Istanbul. Our guides will be happy to provide additional recommendations.
Until the next adventure!