Culinary Tour in Istanbul with Georgia Kofinas

Tour code: OPUS3412
04 Nights / 05 Days


Georgia Kofinas is a food historian, food writer and culinary arts teacher. She was born and raised in the United States where she obtained her BA degree in history. Her interest in food history began when she moved to Greece where she began researching traditional cuisines of the Eastern Mediterranean. She has co-authored a cookbook on vegetarian cuisine which has sold over 85,000 copies. She is a contributor to the Greek version of the BBC OLIVE magazine where her recipes are based on traditional Mediterranean cuisines.

For the past 13 years Georgia has been teaching in the culinary arts department of Alpine Center, a Swiss-based private school for hotel management and tourism in Athens. Her theory classes include Food History, Gastronomy, Nutrition and Menu Planning.  She is also a chef instructor in practical kitchen classes in Mediterranean Cuisine with a focus on Eastern Cuisines.

Georgia’s interest in Turkish cuisine stems from the fact that her maternal grandfather was a Greek who immigrated to Istanbul with his sons at the beginning of the 20th century and worked in a restaurant in the Beyoglu area. Many of the dishes she grew up with were common among the Greeks who had come into contact with the multicultural cuisines of Istanbul and had brought them back to their homeland.

For many years Georgia has travelled through Turkey including the regions of Cappadocia, the Aegean coastline, in addition to its southeastern and northwestern regions. She has taken part in various food festivals in Turkey where she headed a Greek cooking team that shared the kitchen with their Turkish counterparts.  She travels to Istanbul regularly spending most of her time exploring the culinary treasures of the city.

Turkish Cuisine
Turkish cuisine stems from the amalgamation of the various cultures that have inhabited the land from centuries past. Istanbul, in particular, has its own peculiarities since it has hosted a multi-cultural population from the time of Byzantium even up to its modern history. Greeks, Armenian, Italians, Jews and Turks from Anatolia and native Istanbul lived together in the dense neighborhoods of the city for centuries with an exchange of gastronomic tradition that lingers on even in today’s cuisine of the area.

Opus 4 invites you to join them in a culinary odyssey of Istanbul where you will be exposed to the city’s most famous food markets, traditional Turkish street food, eateries and sweet shops. You will be able to explore the back streets where the locals procure their favorite delicacies.  You can experience the ritual of drinking Turkish tea—the natives’ favorite pastime.  Savor the one-pot meals of the tradesmen’s eateries which have been in existence since the late 15th century. A short boat ride across the Bosphorus on the Asian side of the city will take you to Kadikoy’s food market which also hosts eateries serving an array of traditional dishes from regional Turkish cuisines.

The culinary odyssey includes discussions with well-known food writers and special tours to exclusive workshops that produce Turkish delicacies such as lokum (Turkish delight) and baklava. 

This is a 5-day program where the culinary tours will begin in the morning where access to the markets and food shops are within the hours of operation. Most tours will end with either lunch or teatime where participants will be free until dinner. The specific restaurants for dinner have been arranged to ensure participants of an optimum meal experience.

Participants will be provided with a pamphlet containing detailed information about the tour and a glossary of culinary terms.


Day 1: Beyoglu area and cooking school

Istiklal Avenue and  Street Food

A walk down one of the city’s most famous pedestrian streets located in the Beyoglu (Pera) district. Istiklal is a showcase for Turkish street food that is either displayed in small open shops or offered by vendors pushing carts of food. Some of the typical street foods are crusty sesame bread rings and other baked goods, “pide”(boat-shaped open sandwiches), fried mussels, “dondurma” (ice cream), pickled vegetables, chicken with chickpea pilaf and various juices and other drinks.

Tradesmen’s  eateries (esnaf lokantası)

Originally, these were cook shops that catered to the special needs of the merchants and craftsmen in the late 15th century. They have developed into today’s most frequented eateries displaying their daily specials on open counters through large glass storefronts. Specialties served in these simple cook shops include such dishes as meat stews ( “yiahni”), soups, casseroles, and stuffed vegetables. These one-pot meals are especially nutritious and filling rich in ingredients from the fresh vegetable, meat and fish markets of the immediate area.

Fish market (Balik Pazar)

This lively colorful quarter halfway down Istiklal is home to Beyoglu’s oldest fish market. It is a labyrinth of loaded fish stalls offering the freshest catch of the day while colorful stands of vegetables and fruit, pickle stands, spice and dried fruit booths and bakeries complete the kaleidoscope of food shops. The food market includes a number of curbside eateries serving the daily offerings of the marketplace. Here you can savor the favored fried mussels or a spicy chopped meat sandwich.

Sweet shops

Beyoglu is dotted with numerous sweet shops offering a wide variety of delicacies from milk puddings and profiterole to Turkish lokum and rich syrup pastries. No sweet lover leaves the city without visiting the famed  Saray Muhallebicisi. While the shop is noted for its milk pudding desserts (tavuk göğsü, kazandibi, su muhallebi), it offers syrup pastries and fruit tarts as well. You can also get quick savory dishes as well such as cheese pie, chicken soup, döner and pilaf.

Istiklal also is home to the oldest pastry shop in Beyoglu. İnci Pastanesi specializes in profiterole which was introduced to Turkey over 50 years ago. In the same area is the famous Hacı Bekir which specializes in a rich variety of flavorful lokum. Further down the street on the way to the Tünel is a confectionary shop called Koska which mainly produces “helva” (pulverized sesame bar) as well as sesame cookies and other Turkish candies.

Culinary Institute of Istanbul

Hande Bozdoğan, owner and director of the Culinary Institute of Istanbul invites us for a “hands on” experience in the school’s kitchen. She will talk to us about traditional Turkish cuisine while allowing us to participate in cooking our own lunch!

Day 1 tour will finish with dessert and tea at the Saray Muhallebicisi
Dinner: Hünkâr restaurant in Nişantaşı. Serving fine Ottoman and traditional dishes from various regions of Turkey.  Specialties include an assortment of appetizers, meat stews, an array of vegetarian dishes and traditional desserts.

Day 2: Galata and Karakoy docks.

Lower Beyoglu quarters and the docks under the Galata Bridge. While its narrow streets are pegged with hardware shops and street peddlers, the area offers an amalgam of eateries and sweet shops. 

Breakfast at Namlı Delicatessen

This is a gourmet’s paradise as the large shop displays its specialties of sucuk (spicy sausages), pastirma (salted beef) and a vast selection of cheeses, olives and mezze (appetizers). Breakfast is a treat here as you can make up your own menu from the buffet of delicacies and order piquant combinations of eggs and meat or cheese.

Güllüoğlu Baklava
workshop and patisserie
Turkey’s most famous baklava producer is the Güllüoğlu family who hail from Gaziantep, a city in southern Turkey close to the Syrian border. The family has been making baklava since 1871 and in 1949 they opened their shop in Istanbul run now by the fifth generation of the family. Here we will be invited see the actual process of making baklava and savor its various versions with pistachios, walnuts, almonds and cream.

Karakoy fish market and Galata

On the way out of the docks is a large fish market where natives of the area get their catch of the day brought in by the early morning fishing boats. Depending on the weather and season you can see the numerous species of what the sea has to offer from large turbots from the Black Sea to the smaller shellfish and cephalopods.

Lunch: Tarihi Karaköy Balık Lokantası. A favorite spot for fish lovers, this old-style fish restaurant just behind the fish market near the Galata Bridge serves the catch of the day in two tiny upstairs rooms and an even tinier one downstairs. Standard fish dishes include their special fish soup and sea bass baked in paper. The restaurant closes around 15:30 or until their supply of fresh fish runs out.

Day 2 tour finishes with the walk back through Galata taking us to the famous Galata Tower whose large square houses many food shops. We can enjoy tea on the terrace of the Anemon Galata hotel opposite the tower where the view of the entrance to the Bosphorus and surrounding area is breathtaking.

Dinner: Refik Restaurant. This is a favorite Beyoglu meyhane (an eatery that also serves alcoholic beverages) often visited by Istanbul’s politicians, artists and literary figures. Refik specialize in flavors from the Black Sea with excellent mezzes and seasonal dishes.

Day 3: Fatih Neighborhood

Kadınlar pazar
(“Ladies’ market”) is a long mall-like street northwest of the Aqueduct of Valens lined with the culinary riches of the eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey. Grocery shops fill their stalls with various cheeses of goat, sheep and cow’s milk in various sizes and shapes; spices , seeds and herbs unfamiliar to the western world; yogurts and other milk products ; unusual grains and cereals. Butcher shops display every part of sheep and cows: floppy tripe, shiny livers and hearts, glaring flayed heads, shiny "rams' eggs" (testicles), trotters. The Kadinlar Pazar comes to a peak on Wednesdays when the streets are lined with stalls of products from Anatolia and Kurdistan.  Kurdish- and Arabic-influenced dishes from southeastern Turkey are prominent in the numerous eateries of the pazar featuring such food as büryan kebab, a kind of Turkish version of the Texas pit barbecue. A side of a small lamb is slowly cooked over coals in a deep hole in the ground, resulting in exceptionally tender meat covered in a thin layer of crackling, crunchy fat. Another tasty dish is the perde pilavi, a fragrant peppery pilaf made of rice, chicken, almonds and currants wrapped in a thin bread shell and baked until the exterior turns golden and flaky. You will have ample time to shop around and purchase whatever food items you wish. This will take us up to lunchtime where we will dine in one of the traditional Siirti eateries.

Lunch: Siirt Restaurant in Kadinlar Pazar. Most of these eateries serve the same type of food more or less. Some focus more on the large joints of meat baked in a pit while others serve other main courses and small plates of mezze as well. The flavors here can be quite spicy and therefore meals are accompanied by ayran, the yogurt drink which not only quenches your thirst, but also helps in the digestion of spicy food. 

Day 3 tour finishes with the Zeyrek hane tea room
This is a short walk from the Kadinlar Pazar leading up to the magnificent Zeyrek Mosque, formerly a Byzantine monastery built in the 12th century as a hospital and hospice for the elderly. Next to the mosque is a renovated structure from the Byzantine complex that serves delightful light meals and beverages. Both traditional and nouvelle delicacies are offered here with a splendid view of the bridges and lower Beyoğlu area with the Bosphorus in the background. 

Dinner: Eleos Restaurant. A newer addition to the list of Beyoglu restaurants, Eleos enters the scene with an Aegean flair. They specialize in fish and seafood where the dishes are heavily influenced by Turkey’s western neighbor, Greece. This is just an example of how the various bordering countries continue to influence a country’s developing cuisine. There is a magnificent view of the Bosphorus from the restaurant’s light airy dining area adding to the delight of diners as they feast on the delectable menu items.

Day 4: The Bosphorus and Kadikoy (Asian side)

Kadikoy  Market

A historical market on the Asian side of Istanbul just a ferry-boat crossing away from the Eminonu harbor. Its winding streets and small alleys are packed with specialty food shops of local merchants and traditional goods. Many hard-to-find ingredients can be found in this market such as rare cheeses, herbs and spices, various teas and condiments from all regions of the country.

Eateries with regional dishes

Kadikoy offers numerous eateries that specialize in the various regional cuisines. The most well-known are Ciya and Yanyali which have established a reputation for their quality and authenticity of their menu items. Ciya has two eateries within 20 meters of each other. The one specializes in kebabs (even vegetarian kebabs) and the other in the regional specialties of Anatolia which include soups, hot and cold mezzes, one-pot meals, pilafs and stuffed vegetables. Waiters can accommodate plates from both restaurants. Yanyali has been around longer, since 1919, established by emigrants from the northeastern region of Greece known as Yiannena .

Day 4  tour finishes with lunch at the Ciya restaurant and the boat trip back to Eminonu.

Dinner overlooking the Bosphorus at kebab restaurant in Yenikoy.
The Kasibey restaurant in Yenikoy on the Bosphorus is the ideal place to enjoy traditional Turkish food with a magnificent view of the Bosphorus. Watching the boats riddle through the Bosphorus Straits  is indeed a treat for visitors to Istanbul and coupled with the excellent food, it will be a memorable experience. The restaurant specializes in the traditional Turkish cuisine from Gaziantep near the Syrian border known for its kebabs, pides, spicy ground meat dishes, legumes and, of course, baklava!

Day 5: The Old City

Egyptian Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarsısı)

Situated in the heart of the city near the Eminonu harbor, this 17th century edifice houses the city’s famous spice bazaar. Originally designed to accommodate the fares of travelling merchants, it gradually developed into the spice market for which it is now known. As a tourist attraction the bazaar has now added all kinds of touristy wares, but the smell of the spices still wafts throughout the crossroads of the arcades beckoning ardent food and spice lovers to bargain for their treasures.  The spice merchants are very friendly and can accommodate you with a special spice blend right on the spot once you tell them where you’d like to use it. The main entrance from the Eminonu harbor houses above it on the second floor the famous Pandeli Restaurant. This famous eatery has fed many a celebrity as its walls lined with photographs will reveal.  Pandeli was named after its owner, Pandeli Cobanoglu, son of a Greek family from the Anatolian city of Nigde. It was established in 1901 right outside the bazaar, but later moved to the second floor. Almost seventy different dishes grace the menu with poultry, fish and meat dishes from Ottoman and French cuisine.

Outside the bazaar on the back streets winding up to the Grand Bazaar, there are numerous shops that sell fresh ground coffee and teas. The famous Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi brand of coffee can be found here for those who would like to venture drinking such a strong coffee. Further up the streets are shops will all kinds of house and kitchen wares with some interesting pieces made from copper and brass.

Inside and outside the Grand Bazaar

All the way up the winding road from the Egyptian Bazaar to the Grand Bazaar are shops mostly with clothes, scarves, linen and wedding attire. However, the picturesque streets are often dotted with fresh fruit juice vendors and bread trolleys. Once inside the Grand Bazaar with its multitude of arcades and alleys you can capture the atmosphere of its significance both to the 15th century when it was built and on up to today. Amid its sprawling labyrinth are some very well-known eateries, mostly of the tradesmen’s style, while numerous smaller eateries accommodate shop owners and shoppers with small plates of doner, pide, salads and drinks.  The small hans (originally a large caravansaray for travellers) off the beaten track behind the arcades also furnish “fast food” for those in a hurry.

Visit to the Nar Gourmet and lunch at Nar Lokanta

This is a newer food company that specializes in natural Turkish-produced products such as various types of olive oil, a wide range of organic vinegars, ekşiler (sour condiments), several varieties of molasses, organic spices, organic teas, soaps, hazelnut and pistachio oils, dried fruit, honey, traditional Turkish Delight, hard candies, jams and marmalade. Here we will be taken on a tour of the premises housed in the building of the famous luxury goods retailer, Armaggan, located close to the Grand Bazaar’s Nuruosmaniye Gate. The YESAM Culinary Arts Center is also housed here on the fourth floor whose mission is to preserve Turkey’s rich culinary heritage by reviving lost dishes and cooking styles.

We will then have lunch on the fifth floor at the Nar Lokanta which features Turkish classic dishes covering those from the Ottoman palaces dishes to the humble village food. There is a wide choice of mezzes with a focus on lamb and beef for the main courses. An extensive wine list features wines from Turkey’s boutique vineyards. While we are having our lunch we will be honored by one of Turkey’s well-known food historian and cookbook author who will inform us about traditional Sufi cuisine.

Day 5 tour finishes with lunch at the Nar Lokanta

Dinner: Hanedan Restaurant. This 2-story restaurant is in the Besiktas area of the city on the European shore of the Bosphorus. The second floor specializes in kebabs and meats with an array of mezzes and main courses with a mixture of Ottoman and nuveau Turkish cuisine. The first floor houses the fish restaurant whose cuisine consists of fresh fish simply grilled and accompanied by fresh vegetables. The view from either floor is captivating as the night boats of all shapes and sizes sail up the Bosphorus.
Contact Us
Adress: Carsi Agasi Sok. No:8 34347 Ortaköy-Istanbul-Turkey
Tel: + 90 (212) 327 3400
Fax: + 90 (212) 236 6180
GSM: + 90 (552) 322 3369

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