Istanbul is the only city in the world that encompasses both Asia and Europe. Enveloped in a history where the skyline is filled with palaces and mosques, dotted with glittering rooftop nightclubs, this majestic city also straddles the ancient and modern worlds. It is this duality that has placed Istanbul in the center of a culinary revolution.
Any visitor to Istanbul knows that there is no shortage of places to eat. With an ever growing influx of travelers to the city each year, there are literally restaurants popping up all over eager to serve up modern twists on mezes, kebabs, and fresh fish—to be consumed with raki of course, to hungry tourists on every corner. But there is more to Turkish cuisine than the seemingly endless kebab variations. Gone are the days when privileged Turks would only deem a restaurant worthy if it served Cordon Bleu style dishes. Today the people of Istanbul are realizing that they have been eating one of the world’s finest cuisines all along, their own. Local chefs and restaurant owners have salvaged dishes that seemed lost to history and resurrected ancient Ottoman, regional, and home cooking. Restaurants like Asitane with its fodula, a beefy stew in puffed bread laced with sage, Osmani and their yuvalama, a yogurty soup from south Turkey and mumbar—sheep intestine filled with rice and lamb from Çiya Sofrasi, are examples of Istanbul’s mission to revive traditional Turkish fare.
If the hustle and bustle of restaurants isn’t your thing, but your palate still longs for the comfort of authentic dishes, then Olga Irez is your woman. Olga may have the blood of a Russian, but her taste buds bleed Turkish and it shows in the culinary delights she cooks up daily in her adopted home of Istanbul. Olga introduces travelers from near and far to the wondrous world of Turkish cuisine through her cooking classes and food tours, appropriately titled, Delicious Istanbul. Your journey begins on the Asian side of Istanbul in the bustling markets where you will get up close and personal with shop owners, get to know spices, sample local treats from sweet masters like Bilgeoglu Baklava and Sekerci Cafezade before showing off your cooking skills by preparing local foods like Bulgur Salad, Sigara Boregi with Swiss Chard, Pastirma and Feta Cheese and Turkish Sponge Cake in Olga’s very own kitchen.
There is no denying Istanbul is a city on the fence. A place where the sounds of new building construction play a constant counterpoint to the centuries old call of the muezzin. Yet when it comes to food it is clear which side Istanbul’s feet are firmly planted on. When you come to Istanbul you don’t just come to eat. Each bite is a connection, a historical journey and an imprint left on the soul. Family, tradition and the preservation of culture is where the culinary heart of Istanbul lies and when you have that, how can life be anything but delicious.