Today we woke up early and walked the half mile (maybe more?) to the Spice Bazaar. We managed to only slip a few times on the cold wet sidewalk.
We got to Hamdi Restaurant, where we were told to meet our guide, right at 9 am. We looked around at the various workers, the guys lighting fires, the guys sweeping the snow off the sidewalk…our guide was nowhere in sight. My heart sank. We’ve been had! We’ve been swindled! We’ve been bamboozled! I thought. I double checked the printout of our reservation, finally realizing that it said the tour starts at 9:30. I let out a sigh of relief.
Our guide showed up just barely after 9:30, but the stubble-faced man in a beanie looked nothing like the short blonde woman the tour office supplied us with.
“Sorry for the last minute change,” G said, “Jen called in sick. But you’re in luck, I’m the only real Turkish guide that works at Istanbul Eats.”
We grazed on pistachios and walnuts encased in a thick chewy casing while G told us about the provinces the various nuts came from. We sampled olives, preserved in ripe plumbs, and gazed at the wonderful sight of preserved meat hanging from the ceilings of the many stalls. We stopped by a mobile breakfast vendor, and G picked up something to try later.
We winded through the market, finally sitting down on plastic stools around a small table. Newspaper was spread out as a tablecloth, and G unwrapped cheese, olives, semit (a bagel-like bread covered in sesame seeds), cured meat, and a buffalo-milk cheesy-yogurty thing drenched in honey (the name of it escapes me right now). It was delicious. My favorite item being the buffalo-milk sweet thing.
From there we ventured to a baklava stand, then a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we got a lentil soup. Pida was next, which is basically a Turkish pizza. The heat from the wood oven slightly warmed our almost-numb hands.
The Turkish delight shop was a treat, and we sampled many kinds of the iconic candy. We carefully climbed a small hill, where we had boza, a fermented wheat drink. To make the drink more tasty, you traditionally add roasted chickpeas to it. While it was delicious, we couldn’t finish our small cup of it.
The cold meatballs were very good, and had quite a kick to them ass well. They are traditionally made with raw meat, but not many places sell them that way now, as it would pose a health risk.
Lastly, we sat down at a restaurant by the roman aqueducts, where we had a rice/chicken dish traditionally served at weddings, pit-roasted lamb, and a light salad. To top it off, they served a shredded wheat dessert.
We discovered, as we stuffed the last few bits of food into our already-packed stomachs, that G, our guide, is a gamer! While he mostly plays other games, he has heard of Chaosium and told us to contact him if we have any questions about turkey.
The one real day we planned for non-work purposes, and we made a professional contact in Turkey! G was a great guide, who told us loads about local customs, the history of the food, and about Turkish politics. There was so much information, it is impossible to write it all down here, But, if you make it to Istanbul, definitely check out Istanbul Eats food tours! And to think, if our original guide had not been sick, it would have been so different!