A Turkish Cooking Class in Istanbul with Culinary Backstreets
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Taking a cooking class in Istanbul is one of the best ways to learn about Turkey’s culinary culture and history.
There is a variety of incredible cuisine in Turkey, and each region has its own local delicacy, which made me curious about the food scene in Turkey and wonder what made Turkish food delicious and unique. So, at the beginning of the trip, I booked a cooking class in Istanbul with Culinary Backstreets. I aimed not only to learn about how to make Turkish food but the culture and the history behind it.
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The cooking class in Istanbul
The class “Shop, Cook, Feast: A Hands-on Istanbul Culinary Adventure” and description was what drew me to have this cooking class idea. When I found all reviews were excellent and the class was rated five stars, I was sold. I booked my class online and headed down to a local neighborhood where the class began.
The class was divided into three parts—market visiting, cooking, and then dessert and coffee. The meeting point was at Osmanbey metro station, which was easy to find.
A trip to the market
It was 10 am in the morning and the streets were lined up with stores and pastry shops ready to welcome their guests.
My guide, Aysin, and I walked down the street and into the alleyway where we purchased meat and vegetables. Most of the stores were run by Mongolia immigrants who have been there for generations. We visited shops where people were making bread in a big roaster oven with a hole on the top. She also took me to her favorite pastry shops and there we purchased simit (a circular bread with sesame seeds).
While walking down the street, Aysin shared her love for Turkish cuisine and explained what made Turkish cuisine what it is today. It turned out that the earliest immigrants to Turkey were Mongolians and that is why I always found most food I had in Turkey has some Asian elements in it.
Aysin also mentioned that most shops sell different food between the morning and the afternoon. The butcher shop we visited turns into a meze in the afternoon. She recommended that I visit it again after the class so I could observe the difference.
The cooking class
Immediately after I entered the cooking studio, I was welcomed by Turkish tea made in a tulip-shaped glass and a plate of simit. I also met Aysin’s sister, Ayun, who joined the class with us. We talked for a bit about my travel plans and their backgrounds and tuned in to Turkish music to add more vibe to the cooking class.
When asked about their backgrounds, Aysin has her own restaurant and she worked there as a chef, She also has extensive experience in the tourism industry and offered me valuable suggestions about places to visit in Istanbul and Kars.
Aysin and Ayun decided not to have large groups for the classes but preferred small classes in order to give students individual attention. As I was the only student that day, it turned out to be a private class.
The cooking studio had a boutique-style décor with warm light. The kitchen had a small stove and the dining room was sparse and clean. The dining table had four tall benches with rows of ingredients and cutleries placed so aesthetically as if we were going on a culinary show. The back of the room had a board listing the six dishes we could prepare for the day.
Circassian Chicken: classic chicken salad made of a variety of spices and bread.
Borecik: a delicious pastry made of stuffed ground meat
Stuffed eggplant: eggplant stuffed with grounded beef meat and/or vegetables in the oven
Baked pumpkin dessert: pumpkin with sugar, vanilla, and topped with walnut.
Artichoke in olive oil: A fresh mix of vegetables added to the bottom of artichoke with lemon juice.
Red lentil balls: Turkish vegetarian meatballs made of red lentils and bulgur and it is served as a meze for social gatherings.
Aysin explained that these six dishes were separated into three categories: Istanbul cuisine, Ottoman cuisine, and Anatolia cuisine.
Istanbul cuisine has dishes native to local immigrants while Ottoman cuisine is dishes for royalty. As for Anatolia cuisine, it is difficult to find authentic ones nowadays. There are only two restaurants in Istanbul offering high-quality Anatolia dishes and they are expensive.
The first dish was artichoke. We chopped carrots, onions, and garlic in small pieces, stir fried them, and put them on tops of the artichoke. Afterward, we put them to simmer in lemon juice and water for 15 minutes.
While we were waiting for the artichoke to be perfectly cooked, we moved on to the salad, the stuffed eggplant, and the desert. Each dish required a strict amount of different spices and cooking time. I also liked the Turkish pinch, which is to grab dried spices like cumin and paprika by using three figures instead of two.
The chicken salad was different from what we usually make in Canada, with boiled chicken breast mixed together with so many other ingredients like grounded bread, pepper, garlic, cumin, walnut, mayo, and yogurt. It tasted heavenly and inspired me to try and attempt to make some at home for a chicken sandwich.
The cooking experience was interesting as well. Aysin and I prepared our ingredients from scratch at the same time. She demonstrated the process and guided me through with simple instructions. I watched it then made my own food. We were all making the same dishes but it appears I also did it independently.
Eventually, all six dishes were completed. We sat together and enjoyed them with Turkish wine and music. Since I ended up making a six-course lunch shortly after a huge breakfast and Turkish delight, I was not able to finish half of what I made during the class. Aysin offered me takeaway boxes so I could enjoy the rest of the food over the next few days. A cookbook is also provided with recipes and simple ingredients so you can recreate these dishes again at home.
Overall, this cooking class was one of my favorite culinary experiences in Istanbul. I learned a lot about Turkish food, got to talk with passionate locals sharing their love of Turkey, and got to know the ins and outs of Turkish cuisine. The best part is that both Aysin and Ayun were super friendly and kept me engaged with Turkey’s history and culinary culture. I also liked the private class size, which allowed me to have personal time with them.
As for the food, it turned out really yummy and I ended up eating it for three days. $110 for a half-day class in Turkey is expensive for some, but having two private guides for five hours, the whole experience of visiting the market, and being in a local’s home, cooking, and sharing is a great deal.
Have you taken any cooking class in Istanbul or Turkey? Share you exprience below!
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