The final leg of my culinary tour with Culinary Backstreets was the Shop, Cook, Feast – a hands-on Istanbul Culinary adventure, where I learned to make melt in the mouth borekci and eat Pumpkin dessert with tahini.
The Shop, Cook, Feast adventure took place in the Kurtuluş neighborhood with the very knowledgeable and helpful Iris, an engaging young Turkish chef from Cookistan Turkish Cooking Classes. Also on the cooking adventure were two American couples and an Australian lady.
The Marmaray station in Sirkeci was a four minute downhill walk from my lodgings at Hotel Miniature.
From Sirkeci I took the Marmaray line to Yenikapi and that took all of two minutes. Crossing from the Marmaray line to the metro line required me to go through two ticketing machines for some reason. I took metro line M2 that originates in Yenikapi and ends in Haciosman.
The ride from Yenikapi to Osmanbey metro station took 12 minutes. I took the exit for Pangalti then Dolapdere and the exit brought me out right opposite the Ramada Plaza hotel Istanbul, that was the meeting place for the start of this adventure.
On the way back I noticed that the charge for the trip on the metro was only TL 1.60 while the charge for the Marmaray was TL 2.15 using a rechargeable TL 8 Istanbulkart. The cost of a 1 ride Bilet – Pass is TL 4.0.
PS: it takes longer to ride the elevators from the Marmaray platform to the exit than it does to travel between Yenikapi and Sirkeci.
Shop – The neighborhood food walk
We started with a walk through the Kurtuluş neighborhood that had once been home to religious minority groups during the Ottoman empire and still maintained it’s multi-ethnic soul. During the walk Iris pointed out numerous places of interest and gave a unique insight into the lives of secular Turkish muslims.
Our first stop was a bakery for morning tea goodies when we reached the class venue. A few blocks further and we came to a bountiful deli selling cheese, preserved meats and olives in abundance, amongst other things.
On one of the downhill treks we stopped by a tandir bread baker where a family still shaped the dough by hand and baked it fresh in the deep hot pit of a tandir oven. Any unsold bread was cut into strips and dried for use in soups or salads.
We passed the friendly butcher who offered us tea and visited an artichoke specialist shop where two men sat peeling and cleaning artichokes with lighting speed. Huge vats of artichokes lay soaking in different stages of completion. Apparently, artichokes can be used for various medicinal applications as well.
Our last visit along the downhill walk to the class venue was to a spice and herb shop that catered to clients needing traditional home remedies. This is the place to find cherry stalks (used for kidney stones) and special natural herb blends made up according to folk remedies well known to older generations of Turks.
After a leisurely ‘getting to know you session’ at the cooking class venue with the rest of the group, drinking tea and eating cookies and simit, and learning about the tradition of baby simit cookies baked for the religious festival of Al Isra Wal Miraj, we commenced our 6 course cooking class.
Cook – Cookistan cooking class
We had the opportunity to watch and learn from Iris. She was very patient throughout the walk and class whenever any of the group with mobility issues were slower than others, or when we wished to photograph while she cooked. We did not have the pleasure of meeting Aysin, whom we were told was traveling, but we did meet the gracious Aysun and her assistant.
The recipes were simple but with enough flavor variation to keep it interesting. Kitchen staples were tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, cumin, paprika and chili flakes and loads of fresh vegetables.
At the end of the cooking class, with the fruits of our labors waiting to be demolished, we sat down together at the huge table where we had earlier rolled yulfka and stuffed vegetables. We packed anything we were unable to finish and I enjoyed my leftovers for a late dinner.
If you love cooking as much as eating, then this class is not to be missed. I was amazed by how combining such simple ingredients gave birth to such a wide variety of mouthwateringly delicious dishes.
Now that I have finally found Yufka (the Turkish dough used for borek and baklava) in Dubai, I will attempt my own version of borek soon, in shaa ALLAH.
Last but not least, unless you have a Turkish market near you, I suggest that you stock up on the Turkish staples (tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, tahini, grape molasses) as other Middle Eastern variants may not be quite up to the Turkish standard of flavor.