Saturday, 11 August 2012

Istanbul: Culinary Secrets of the Old City: Part 1

Spices

We decided to book the Istanbul Eats Culinary Secrets of the Old City walking tour while we were in Istanbul. Run by a group of bloggers they promise to take you off the beaten track and show you some of Istanbul's gems that the ordinary tourist won't find.

It's the sort of thing that I absolutely love, which makes it all the more odd that I woke up that the morning in a bit of a grump.

We met our friendly guide, Megan, and fellow walkers near the Spice Market. Our first stops were a cheese shop, a place selling olives and butchers located just outside of the market. It was in one ear and out of the other as I was silently harrumphing that this was neither secret nor a back street. I'm not quite sure what my problem was!

After the shops we headed to a coffee warehouse tucked away just off the Spice Market. The entrance was almost hidden and the type of place thousands of tourists would walk past every day without even noticing. Small plastic stools were pulled up round a low table, newspaper laid out and breakfast placed on top. It was dark, authentically Turkish and a little bit grubby. This was more like it!

Simit and kaymak with newspaper as our tablecloth

Once thing you notice in Instanbul is that shop keepers, in fact virtually everyone, is permanently drinking tea. Tucked under the stairs of the warehouse, near our makeshift table, was a small tea house. Orders were being shouted in and bells ringing. All the time the men in the tea house were unhurriedly making drinks and calmly carrying them out to their customers on trays. I had been wondering where all the tea came from and now I had the answer.

As I tucked into our breakfast of simit and kaymak, Megan explained what was in store for us during the rest of the day. We were going to be a meeting group of ustas (master craftsman) who were all real characters, passionate about what they do and some of the best cooks in the city. The other thing that was clear we had a lot of food heading our way. My grey mood was definitely gone and I was excited.

Simit is the breakfast of Istanbul. Shaped like a bagel, the best ones are crunchy on the outside and fluffy in the middle. Dipped in grape molasses and covered in sesame seeds simit are a good morning filler. What really bought these simit alive was the dreamy kaymak that we dipped them in. Cream made from the milk of water buffalo the kaymak had been doused in honey. The taste came from the beautifully scented honey, but the texture was all from the clotted like cream. Kaymak is the sort of thing you want to eat every day of your life, even if it will take you to an early grave.

Balancing out the cream (?) we had some Balikesir cheese. A firm and salty cheese without a lot of flavour (which seems to be how the Turkish like their cheese).

 Gorkem the kokorec usta

Our first stallholder of the day was Gorkem the kokrec usta. Gorkem gave up the opportunity to go to university to learn how to become a master of the kokorec sandwich. The kid certainly has some flair with his shiny black shoes and pink shirt. Not your usual scruffy street stall vendor look. He apparently drives a suped up Corvette imported from the US too.

Kokorec cooking over wood

Kokorec is offal wrapped in an intestine and cooked over wood. Once cooked the kokorec is finely chopped and fried on the grill with some wild thyme, chilli and salt. It is finished in a roll with some fresh tomato.

Eating the sandwich I had an upfront hit from the wild thyme with chilli building as I ate more. I found that the offal was a (pleasant) textural element and I didn't get a strong taste of the sweet meats. The bread had a soft crust and chewy inside. A great snack beyond my expectations.

Kokorec sandwich

After the kokorec I was already full and it was only our second stop!

After a short walk through an area known for selling sacks of all description we stopped in a cave like locanta for a red lentil and bulgar soup similar to the one I made on my cookery course.

The soup is a popular Turkish dish, but one that is a little lost on me. It requires a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon to bring out the flavours of the soup. I'm not sure if it is traditional but I added some hot paprika too.

We ended the first leg of our tour with the best pide in Istanbul.

1 comment:

  1. OK, a little envious about this tour that I didn't know of, or maybe it didn't exist, when we were in Istanbul. I couldn't help but chuckle at your negativeness at the beginning of the tour and how your mood quickly turned around. The tea place at the back of the market sounds great, as does the food you tried.

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