Several weeks before we left, I emailed the Istanbul Cooking School to see if there were any openings during our trip. Although Oguz couldn’t confirm anything until about a month before, everything worked out in the end and the later start time enabled Eric and I to explore both the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque before my class started at 4pm.
We started out with brief introductions to get acquainted then a walk through the flower passage and samples from a variety of local vendors including smoked fish (yum), Turkish Delight (surprisingly good, the rose was my favorite), various pickles and fresh strawberries. Oguz even got us all the popular evil eye charms to help ward off bad thoughts.
The market tour was very informative — we learned that nearly ALL of the fish found in Istanbul is local, don’t eat the mussels from the myriad of unlicensed street vendors (likely a given), Ottoman spice mix is not something used in Turkish cuisine despite seeing it in every spice shop, and beware of fake Iranian saffron. We were all starting to get peckish, but before we started cooking, Oguz gave us the option of purchasing a bottle of wine or beer to enjoy with the meal at a convenience shop near his place. I made sure to select one with a screwcap so I could easily get the rest home to share with Eric!
- Classic Turkish Humus – made with cumin and a chunkier texture than the middle eastern version
- Kisir – a spicy and tangy wheat bulgur dish, lots of fresh veggies and pomegranate syrup
- Çerkez Tavuğu / Circassian Chicken with Walnuts – shredded chicken with a thick walnut sauce
- Peynirli Sigara Böreği / Smokin’ Cheese Pastry – fried phyllo dough filled with cheese and parsley
- Irmik Helvasi / Semolina Halva – cooked semolina with milk, sugar and pine nuts
We had a German woman who was allergic to nuts (good luck in Turkey!) so the instructor also added a roasted eggplant dish for her.
The group did most of the chopping and prep work while Oguz’s assistant replaced our utensils, fried the cheese cigars and cleaned up after us in general. My favorite part was learning about food traditions in Turkey — kebob, fish culture and ottoman cuisine — including what spices to bring home!
The 5-hour class went a little long, by the time everyone left it was nearly 10pm(!), but I found the course to be great value for the money ($65USD) and would highly recommend Istanbul Cooking School if you want an informative and entertaining introduction to Turkish cooking.