Istanbul's Irish foodie secret
Food, glorious food
Pól Ó Conghaile discovers a foodie tour with a difference in Istanbul... and the difference is Donegal.
I'm sitting in the middle of a cobbled back street in Eminönü, Istanbul. The Spice Bazaar is teeming just a few hundred yards away. On the table is a breakfast spread of olives, cheeses, simit (Turkish bread), honey, clotted cream and more. It's a delicious start to the day in one of the most intoxicating cities on earth.
I'm taking an Istanbul Food Walk, and this truly is a small world, because one of the guides sitting opposite me is from Donegal. Terre Duffy moved to Turkey several years ago and has set up Istanbul Food Walks (istanbulfoodwalks.com; €98pp). She loves food, loves Istanbul, and wanted to find a way to bring visitors like myself beyond the stereotypes and into the city's bustling back streets.
She's certainly done that. Instead of eating some over-priced mezze on a fancy rooftop (not without its charms, admittedly), I'm immersed in a five-hour tour of the city's most authentic neighbourhoods. We dip into markets and mosques. We taste pistachio-laced baklava, steel our stomachs for kokorec (made from the intestines of sheep - yum, right?), sup the obligatory cup of thick Turkish coffee, and much, much more.
That's the thing about a good tour. It gives you both gastronomic and geographical bearings. Terre will return home soon, but she'll continue to be involved, and has ace operations and local guides in place. One for your little black book. Bon appetit, or Afiyet olsun!
Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) now operates two direct flights daily from Dublin to Istanbul. Prices are advertised from €189 return, though you'll be lucky to get that. Going to press, Cassidy Travel (cassidytravel.ie) had flights and three nights at a three-star on the Golden Horn from €345pp, based on travel in September. Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) also had four-star city breaks from €318pp in October. Whenever you go, make sure to check the location of your hotel vis-à-vis the sights you plan to see. People grow old commuting in Istanbul.
Istanbul's Spice Bazaar
Istanbul is a fascinating city. But it can also be a frustrating one - due to its size, sprawl, crowds and infamous traffic congestion. For a guided introduction, check out Travel Department's five-day escorted tour (traveldepartment.ie). Its itinerary includes the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the Asian side, with lots of free time to explore. Prices including flights, tours and four-star hotels start from €599pp, based on an October departure. The five-star price is where the real value lies, however - at €659pp.
NB: Prices subject to availability.