Recently, I tagged along on a business trip with my husbandy to Istanbul. He spent most of his days and evenings in meetings and conference sessions while I set off exploring the city. Before this trip, I’d only been to Istanbul once on an unplanned and very gritty layover, so it was time to change my impressions of the city. And, did I ever! I packed in the sights and an Istanbul cooking class all in two days!
We arrived on Thursday night so I spent most of my Friday working, but I took Saturday and Sunday to explore what I could in two short days. On Saturday, I booked myself a day tour via Viator to see some of the major sights in Istanbul. The tour covers Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar all in one day. If you are short time time in Istanbul, I highly recommend the “Istanbul in One Day” tour. It is jam-packed with the must-sees.
I’m not normally a tour person because I like the freedom and autonomy of exploring on my own agenda, but as a woman going out on my own, the tour was perfect. I liked having the company of conversation with other travelers and with the current security situation in Turkey, I especially appreciated the convenience of point-to-point transportation. The tour also provides a knowledgable English-speaking guide and with his escort we didn’t have to wait in any lines. No lines, no map fumbling, and no fumbling with cash? Perfect.
My Splurge Meal
After my day of sightseeing, I was hungry(!)–and tired. Our hotel was very close to Taksim Square and I didn’t quite have the energy to stray too far for dinner, but I did not want to settle for room service. With a little internet searching and a short conversation with the hotel concierge, I made a reservation at Topaz Istanbul. It was just a 10-minute walk from our hotel.
The restaurant was fantastic. Walking into the restaurant I was immediately welcomed with expansive views of the Bosphorus and seated at a small table in the middle of the restaurant. The restaurant had a warm ambiance decorated with impressive bouquets of fresh flowers. While I was looking over the menu, I sipped a glass of wine and took a minute to appreciate the fact that the restaurant was NOT (1) blaring loud music, (2) smoke-filled, (3) over-perfumed, nor (4) overly-lit with florescent lights. It was a nice change from the restaurants in Tunis which have most of the above.
Topaz offers what appears to be a delightful tasting menu, but since I was dining alone, I couldn’t bring myself to commit to so much food. I started my meal with a selection of seasonal vegetables, followed by a roasted lamb shoulder.
I finished my dinner with a trio of lemon, green apple, and passion fruit sorbet. The sorbets were served in the hollowed fruit, which I found charming and refreshing. My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to enjoy this delicious meal with my husbandy.
Ok, ok, I know Turkish delights are what immediately comes to mind. And, yes, I did purchase and eat Turkish delights in rose, pistachio, and plain flavors. But you know what? Turkish delights just aren’t my thing. #sorrynotsorry. To me, they are cloyingly sweet and too sticky on the teeth.
Instead, we brought home some pistachio milk chocolate bars from Meshur Beyoglu Cikolatacisi, a family-owned chocolate stand on Istiklal Cadessi that’s been run by the family for about 40 years.
The Highlight – Istanbul Cooking Class!
My favorite part of my weekend in Istanbul was the cooking class I took with Melis at Learn to Cook Istanbul. (All views are my own, and I did not receive any compensation for this review).
I found Learn to Cook Istanbul purely by luck. I love to look for cooking classes in the cities I visit, but often cost or scheduling conflicts prevent me from taking a class. Lucky for me, all of the stars aligned for this class. It was centrally located and easy to find. Melis hosts classes every day so scheduling was a breeze.
The class started at 3pm, and Melis welcomed me with candied chocolate almonds while she set up our cooking stations with cutting boards, utensils, spices, and a quick run through on kitchen safety. Then we were off! We started our class by prepping and making the dessert first, which was a candied fig pudding. While the figs poached, Melis gave me a short lesson on two of her favorite Turkish wines.
As we sipped the wine, we made 3 meze dishes: haydari (a yogurt dish), warm hummus, and a sun-dried tomato salad.
After the meze, we turned to the main course, Karniyarik–a traditional Turkish stuffed eggplant that is easy enough for weeknights, but special enough for dinner guests.
As we pulled the eggplant out of the oven, we set the table for a feast!
Melis started us out with a healthy pour of Raki, an anise-flavored liquor made of grapes. Below you can see the Raki mixed with water, causing it to turn into this milky white color, giving it the nickname “lion’s milk.”
We ate, drank, and laughed to our heart and belly’s content. I’d only known Melis for 4 hours, but by the end of the course, I felt like we’d been friends for years. I can’t wait for another excuse to go back for another lesson. If you are in Istanbul and love to cook, do not miss an afternoon with Melis! Stay tuned for some of the recipes we made!