Istanbul is a fascinating city combining the opulent romance of the East with the grandeur of the Roman Byzantine empire. Situated on a peninsula flanked by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and a safe harbour, the Golden Horn, it stands astride Europe and Asia at the only entrance to the landlocked Black Sea and has been the capital of three great empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. For more than 1,500 years over a hundred emperors and sultans ruled the world from here and they have left modern Istanbul a fascinating heritage.
There is almost too much to see – the lovely Blue Mosque, magnificent Hagia Sophia, glittering Topkapi – these are names to conjure with . But this magical city also stirs the imagination and the narrow streets seem to echo with the footsteps of janissaries and crusaders. In the tiled courtyards we hear the whisper of silken girls bringing sherbet and the splashing fountains suggest the plaintive sounds of the tanbur, or lute. Come and be enchanted.
Istanbul is a feast for the senses with its vibrant colours and aromas, and this brings us to food and my feet back on the ground ! In Istanbul there is a variety of cuisine and we shall try them all – carefully researched Ottoman court, Sephardic Jewish, Armenian, Greek, Hatay province, Black Sea and Kebabs. Surrounded by sea it is inevitable that fish plays a leading role and it appears in many guises.The shopping is legendary and we will come back laden like the old camel trains !
Lawrence Roullier White, a guest on the 2012 adventure, wrote:
As I stood outside the Sirkeci Terminal, the former destination of the world’s most glamorous train line – The Orient Express – I wondered what the arrival must have been like for the intrepid, inaugural passengers back on that magical June evening in 1889. Paris must have felt every inch of the 1700 miles away, as the steam-shrouded train drew into Platform Number One at Istanbul; the gateway to the East and the start of the Silk Road, the trading route into the eponymous Orient. Here where the two continents of Europe and Asia collide, where the world’s major religions co-exist in mutual tolerance in what was the centre of the ancient world and the capital of four empires, the sense of history and mystery is palpable and as tangible as the spice-laden air wafting from the Egyptian Bazaar. Unlike the cosseted tourists of the late 19th century, or the present-day cruise liner day-trippers, I was here to immerse myself in the true Turkey and, as Diane Seed’s Gourmet Adventures have shown me, the quickest way to get to the heart of any culture is through its stomach.
I was not to be disappointed. As ever Diane Seed’s considered and well researched itinerary was to show me a city that would elude the independent traveller. From the freshest fried fish imaginable – purchased from a street trader one would walk past without a second glance – to a five star Ottoman dining experience, the city slowly gave up some of its secrets. One of the many highlights of my week was the privilege of having breakfast ‘back of house’ at the Spice Market where the traders have had theirs prepared for them for generations and later being ushered into a tiny kiosk which claims to be home to the best Turkish coffee in the country.
The cooking classes were relaxed and informative, but don’t expect passive demonstrations, as the old Turkish proverb goes; ‘if skill could be gained by watching, every dog would become a butcher’. Expect to get up close and personal with the ingredients. From a school in a Bohemian Istanbul apartment, another in a professional catering kitchen, lunch in the home of a renowned Turkish food writer and recipe archivist to a delightfully laidback and cheery chef in a restaurant on one of the picturesque Princes Islands, classes were varied but always inspiring.
Food is a fantastic leveller and whether travelling as a couple or alone everyone immediately felt at their ease with their fellow travellers. Diane’s enthusiasm is as infectious as her wit, and the smiles she induced during the welcome drinks remained long after the farewell dinner. As I said my goodbyes to my lovely new-found friends, with whom I had laughed so much over the week, I realised that I would not really be leaving Istanbul as a part of it would stay with me forever, Diane Seed Gourmet Adventure had truly left an impression on me.
May 18 – 26 2013
8 nights, 6 lunches or dinners, 7 breakfasts, 2 cooking lessons with lunch or dinner, 2 walking tours to explore street food and a day on the Bosphorous on a private boat.
Price 2300 euros per person. There will be a small single supplement.