For millennia, Istanbul has been the connection point for a vast web of places with distinct cultural identities, landscapes, and, of course, cuisines. These disparate influences form the great mosaic that is modern-day Istanbul cuisine, which is so much more than simply “Turkish food.”
Question the origin of any dish in a typical neighborhood restaurant and you’ll find yourself falling down a rabbit hole that may lead out to Albania or maybe over the peaks of the Caucasus to Chechnya. As they have for centuries, people come to this city with their own tastes from home; food in Istanbul these days often bears the fiery hallmark of the largely Kurdish southeast and the myriad of flavors of the Syrian kitchen, brought to the city by refugees who now call it home. Filter this through the older urban traditions of Ottoman Turkish, Armenian, and Greek cooking, and something very uniquely Istanbul—bewildering, fascinating, in perpetual motion—comes into focus.
On this seven-day culinary experience, we’ll be studying the city of Istanbul through its kitchens. We’ll use the simple ritual of a tea break to access ancient crafts still alive throughout the city. We’ll meet and eat with chefs dedicated to documenting and preserving Anatolia’s rich and varied rural cuisines, endangered by the migrations that continue to this day. We’ll cross the Bosphorus, visiting food bazaars on both continents and eating in private homes along the way. We’ll also witness cooking demonstrations in working restaurants and have a hands-on lesson in a private home. We will finish our trip with a taste of the “new Turkish kitchen” at one of the city’s most talked about restaurants to see how Istanbul’s cuisine continues to evolve.
There will be much more than food, though. Along one of our walks, we’ll stop by a Greek Orthodox Church that is a pilgrimage site for Muslim women praying to get pregnant, and stop again to visit a former Byzantine church now functioning as a mosque. We’ll also take a trip to a worship center of the Shiite Alevi minority to join the community’s weekly lokma lunch. We’ll have a chance, behind closed doors, to probe contemporary Turkish taboos—both political and otherwise—with an accomplished journalist. We’ll climb up to rooftops for spectacular views and have tea breaks among the workshops of craftsmen carrying on medieval traditions. After a few days of the chaos of the city, we’ll escape to the nearby Princes’ Islands, a traditional retreat for Istanbul’s religious minorities. There, we will board horse-drawn carriages for a tour of one of the island’s remote corners and visit a historic Greek Orthodox Seminary, embroiled in a long-standing political controversy. We’ll also have a leisurely stroll down the tree-lined lanes of the car-free island, passing examples of its unique architectural treasures and historic mansions.
From morning to evening, it will be a week of constant collision and natural synthesis between the many cultural currents that make Istanbul so special—and so deserving of the title, “City of the World’s Desire.”
We’ll begin this trip with a brief introduction to the city by boat, cruising the Golden Horn to our welcome dinner, where we will get to know each other in classic Istanbul style, around a table filled with meze and rakı. Here we will lay out the plan for the week and introduce the subjects we’ll be exploring.