The Istanbul Hidden Beyoğlu food tour explores the cosmopolitan European Quarter neighbourhoods in the district formerly known as Pera. From the steep narrow streets of Cihangir to the covered lanes and markets of Istiklal Caddesi and the adjacent streets, we explored the food culture in Istanbul.
Although many of the immigrant communities have long left the city, the aromas of regional cuisines from the Black Sea in the Northeast to Hatay and Gaziantep in the Southeast fill the air as one walks along the narrow streets and lanes.
If this is your first trip to Istanbul then you may want to read my Istanbul travel guide and about the other food tours I have taken in the city in my Culinary Backstreets food tours roundup. I fell in love with city nearly 20 years ago during my first visit and have returned on numerous occasions over the years.
There is so much culture, history and incredible cuisine within the city limits that you will have much to do whether you are on a 3 day stopover or a longer visit. One of my favorite activities in Istanbul and one of the best Istanbul tours is a walking food tour with knowledgeable tour guides.
How to book an Istanbul Hidden Beyoğlu food tour
The Istanbul Hidden Beyoğlu food tour was the second tour that I booked directly on the Culinary Backstreets website for our family trip with my brother and Simone. The tour cost cost US$ 125 per person at the time of booking but we received a 10 percent “Welcome Back! Discount” available for return customers.
The website indicates that the tour lasts for 5.5 hours but it may take a bit longer if the group is small and the tour leader shows you their favorite places to purchase authentic Turkish products.
Where does the Istanbul Hidden Beyoğlu food tour take place
We were staying in Beyoğlu at the Nuru Ziya suites and the meeting place for the tour appeared to be a short walk from our hotel. Check rates and availability.
This Istanbul walking tour covers the neighbourhood of Cihangir and the backstreets, alleys and covered passages on either side of Istiklal Street. The meeting place for the Istanbul Hidden Beyoğlu food tour was by the side of a very popular mosque (Firüzağa Cami) and restaurant in Cihangir.
It took much longer than expected to reach the meeting point because the terrain on the route was sometimes downhill and at other times uphill. The final stretch was all uphill and really tested my endurance and resolve as my knee joints felt as if they were going to break. My brother was counting down the meters until we reached our destination and reminded me that I had pushed through worse pain and discomfort over the years.
Highlights of the Istanbul Beyoğlu food tour
Özkonak Lokantası – Kılıçali Paşa Mh., Akarsu Ykş. No:46, 34433 Beyoğlu
Our first stop on the Istanbul Beyoğlu food tour was not the large cafe where we met our Tour leader Benoit, but a smaller lokanta or tradesman’s restaurant further down the road.
Here we enjoyed our first bites of the day consisting of a typical Turkish egg breakfast of bal kaymak (clotted cream with honey), Turkish bread and eggs Menemen (scrambled eggs with tomato, onions and chili). It was nearly 10 am and we were famished so this was a very good start to the day. Had we known what was to follow we would have been less enthusiastic.
Home breakfast hosted by Hanni Karadaş – Beyoğlu Central Greek High School
As we made our way up a steep hill, Benoit informed us that he had a surprise stop for breakfast. This was not a standard stop on the tour as the family who hosted the breakfast were sometimes in their home city of Hatay in the South. Just that morning he was able to reach the hostess, Hanni Karadaş.
We found our breakfast spot at Beyoğlu Central Greek High School, a private school established in 1850 that ceased operations about twenty years ago. The school became unviable due to falling numbers of residents of Greek ancestry and could no longer operate as a viable institution. To prevent the building becoming derelict, the administrators appointed Enver and his wife Hanni, as custodians and caretakers.
Over the past two decades the building has become increasingly dilapidated with rotten ceilings where the rain has poured in, peeling walls and a crumbling exterior. Estimates to rehabilitate and restore the property are in excess of 200 million Turkish lira. Inside, Enver has transformed a few of the ground floor classrooms into a warm and cosy residence with a kitchen, bedrooms, a bathroom and living room.
It was in the kitchen / dining room where we tasted the fruits of Hanni’s labour over the summer. Plump home made preserves, pickles, spicy dips and flavorful spreads made with pomegranate molasses made with fruit from their own orchards, served alongside olives from their own grove in their home town of Hatay. Their city is located in the far south of the country very close to the border with Syria. I was quite surprised that the mother tongue of our hosts was not Turkish or Greek, but Arabic, and that many of their specialities were similar to those of the Arabic speaking countries of the Middle East.
Suat Usta Mersin Tantuni – Katip Mustafa Çelebi Mahallesi, Tel Sk. No:1, 34433 Beyoğlu
We walked to the end of the block and turned down a charming narrow street before reaching this casual takeaway restaurant that specialises in Tantuni. Tantuni is a speciality spicy dürüm or wrap consisting of yufka or lavash flat bread filled with sliced or chopped meats fried with onions, green peppers, tomatoes and fresh parsley. It is finished off with pickled chilis and a squeeze of lemon juice.
I had never heard of or tasted it before and was transfixed watching the cook behind the shop window as he cut and fried strips of meat for the filling. In this chain they use only the best quality steak for the filling and bake their lavash in a wood burning tandir oven every day.
Hayvore (Karadeniz Mutfağı) –
I had tasted a breakfast dish called Kuymak from the Black Sea region on the Uskudar leg of the Istanbul Born on the Bosphorus food tour on my previous trip and could not get enough of it. It was a buttery, cheesy hot cornmeal concoction into which we dipped chunks of corn bread. I salivate even now remembering how simple yet delicious it was. Kuymak is not to be confused with Kaymak (buffalo milk clotted cream) that is also served for breakfast.
At Hayvore we were treated to a variety of unique Black Sea specialities including gooey Kuymak with slices of corn bread, Kaygana (a herb and anchovy studded omelette), dolma (stuffed grape leaves) and pickled fava beans and anchovies.
The owner, Hızır Keskin, worked and managed restaurants for 15 years before he decided to open his own place specialising in Black Sea cuisine. He realised that was not very well represented in the Istanbul hospitality offerings.
By the time we left Hayvore we felt stuffed to the gills and looked forward to taking a long walk to İstiklâl Avenue to recover.
İstiklâl Caddesi – Independence Avenue
This elegant pedestrianised avenue stretches for 1.6 km’s from Karaköy in the South to Taksim square in the North end. It is lined with boutique hotels, churches, cafes, restaurants, museums, art galleries, theaters and covered passages and shopping galleries.
The most famous is Çiçek Pasajı (originally called Cité de Péra) and known as the Flower Passage after the flower shops that occupied it by the 1940’s. In 1988 it was restored to it’s former glory and re-opened as a galleria of high end restaurants. Benoit, our tour leader, warned us to steer clear as it was an expensive tourist trap with very mediocre offerings.
Our next stop was at a food cart in front of one of the buildings where we sampled roasted sheep head. The meat was still warm, beautifully seasoned with herbs and expertly carved by the cart owner.
We walked in the covered lanes and narrow pedestrian streets around the block housing Çiçek Pasajı smelling the grilled meats and freshly baked breads, and salivating over counters full of freshly made salads. Regrettably we were still too full to eat any of it.
Midyetik – Hüseyinağa Mahallesi, Kamer Hatun Cd. D:no 12, 34435 Beyoğlu
Our next few stops were all in the Hüseyinağa neighbourhood. Located on a corner of a building was this colorful small kiosk / shop that specialises in Midye Dolma or Turkish style mussels stuffed with spiced rice, pine nuts and currants. Every mussel was one perfect bite; spicy, flavorful, aromatic with a crunch from the pine nuts and a touch of sweetness from currants.
Arıoğulları Petek Turşuları – Hüseyinağa Mahallesi, Dudu Odaları Sk. 1/D, 34435 Beyoğlu
Around the corner from Midyetik in an alley connecting Galatasaray to Balik Pazari (the fish market), was this pickle shop that seemed to have every vegetable or fruit that could be pickled on it’s shelves. We tried the crunchy carrots and piquant small peppers. The shop is frequented by locals who stock up on their pickles, preserves and pomegranate molasses.
Sakarya Tatlıcısı – Hüseyinağa Mahallesi, Dudu Odaları Sk. No:3, Balik Pazari, 34435 Beyoğlu
This dessert shop is on the same block as the pickle shop and was the location for a welcome afternoon pick me up. We savored the chocolate baklava, walnut baklava and a rolled pistachio baklava. They had a wide variety of traditional Turkish sweets from desserts to small cakes and phyllo pastries soaked in sugar syrup. The beautiful desserts were fresh and not sickly sweet and we washed them down with cups of Turkish tea.
Kibbeh cart from Sabirtasi Restaurant – near Passage Hazzopulo entrance in İstiklâl Caddesi
The restaurant specialises in icli köfte and manti (spicy stuffed meatballs encased in bulgur and ravioli like pasta) and is located inside the passage. We sampled the kibbeh from the cart outside on the main road. It was much larger than Middle Eastern kibbeh and had a wonderfully tender yet crispy bulgur shell and minced meat filling. It was hands down the best kibbeh I’ve ever had and more spicy than I expected.
Mandabatmaz – Asmalı Mescit Mahallesi, Olivia Geçidi 1/A, 34430 Beyoğlu
I actually saw this place in a travel show on tv and was pleasantly surprised when we entered the small shop with cosy seating along the walls and framed artwork and decades old newspaper articles lauding it’s Turkish coffee.
Their brewers follow a slow and deliberate ritual for brewing the best cup of Turkish coffee every single time. They don’t boil it for too long to ensure it doesn’t get bitter and never reheat cold coffee.
We sat and chatted for a while and Benoit told us a bit about how he came to be in Istanbul. I discovered that his wife was related to Iris, the chef / guide who led the Turkish cooking class that I participated in on my previous solo trip. After coffee he showed us a few of the shops in the area selling authentic artisanal Turkish products.
This was my fourth food tour in Istanbul and there were still regional specialities to discover like Tantuni from Mersin and Kaygana from Trabzon on the Black Sea coast. The visit to the home of Enver and Hanni Karadaş at the old Greek school was the highlight of the tour. Even though she spoke little English and we spoke no Turkish, her genuine warmth and hospitality were heartwarming. Her smile lit up her eyes when she saw how smitten we were with her home made organic pickles, preserves and cheeses. She allowed me to buy some of her prized pomegranate molasses, that she made in huge cauldrons over open fires during the summer in her home town, and fresh sumac powder from the shrubs on their property.
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