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Istanbul and Past: First cease, Hatay



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Quick Bite: With author Robyn Eckhardt and photographer David Hagerman, we’ll take you on a week-long culinary journey from Istanbul to Hatay, learning about the people and places behind the tastes featured in their acclaimed cookbook Istanbul and Beyond. We’ll tour urban markets and village bakeries, meet homecooks for hands-on demonstrations and experience much more.

For millennia, the city of Istanbul has connected a vast web of diverse lands with distinct cultural identities, landscapes and, of course, cuisines. These disparate influences form the great mosaic which is modern-day Istanbul cuisine. Question the origin of any dish in a typical neighborhood restaurant or follow a smell through an open door and it may lead you all the way to Albania, or maybe, down to Syria. In the years of research for Istanbul and Beyond, Istanbul was the springboard for Robyn Eckhardt’s and Dave Hagerman’s explorations deeper into Anatolia as they chased those flavors and stories to their source.

In the years of research for Istanbul and Beyond, Istanbul was the springboard for Robyn Eckhardt’s and Dave Hagerman’s explorations deeper into Anatolia as they chased those flavors and stories to their source.

Istanbul and its stunning diversity was a place that always whetted, but never quite satisfied, their appetite for what lay beyond. We are pleased to be working with Robyn and Dave on the first unique culinary adventure in a series inspired by their cookbook, Istanbul and Beyond, that will lead us across Turkey’s diverse regions, bite by bite.

On this 7-day culinary experience (with an optional 2-day Photography Workshop led by David Hagerman; see description below) we’ll take you to some of our favorite places in Istanbul and the Hatay region, an area that plays an important role in Robyn and David’s book and in the cuisine of Turkey. We’ll meet the people who opened their homes and shared their recipes. The trip will begin as the book’s research trips to Turkey always did, in Istanbul, where we’ll investigate region’s cuisine and learn how it melds into the complex culinary culture of that magnificent city. From there, we’ll fly to Antakya (also known as Hatay), capital of Hatay province — subject of an entire chapter in Istanbul and Beyond — following one of Turkey’s most exciting regional cuisines to its source.

For those lucky enough to have visited Hatay, the south eastern Turkish city’s recent UNESCO listing as a “City of Gastronomy” comes as no surprise. Set in a province bordered by the Mediterranean on the west and Syria on the east, Hatay – home to a mix of Muslims, Christians and Jews since ancient times, when it was known as Antioch – boasts a rich cuisine shaped by its mixed Arab and Turkish history, by its position at the northern tip of the Levant, and by its fertile topography and forgiving ocean climate.

In this portion of our tour we’ll dive deep into Hatay mutfagi – the Hatay kitchen – over several days to sample local dishes ranging from tepsi kebab (oven-baked kibbeh-like patties) and katikli ekmek (spicy cheese- and herb-topped flatbreads) to iconic desserts like the cheese-filled crispy pastry called künefe and haytali, jellied milk pudding and ice cream doused with rose syrup. We’ll experience first-hand the specialties turned out in landmarks of Hatay’s unique culinary landscape: the symbiotic butcher cum wood-fired bread oven dining establishments known as firinli kasap; baklaci, hole-in-the-wall joints serving breakfasts of made-to-order hummus and zesty fava bean mash with a side of bread and pickles; and the lively meze restaurants where one whiles away an evening over (usually spicy) small plates and raki or beer. During a visit to the city’s labyrinthine covered market we’ll shop for spices and künefe pans, sample small-batch şalgam and the cream-filled pastries called sohbet, and watch the fine wheat flour pastry known as kadayif being made by hand.

We’ll get out of the city too, to learn about Hatay’s iconic ingredients. After a full-on Hatay breakfast in one of the province’s last Christian villages, featuring a villager’s own olives, fruit preserves, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and cheeses, we’ll forage for fresh zahter, a variety of thyme that looks and smells a bit like rosemary, in season in spring. We’ll learn how that zahter is pickled as well as dried and added to the spicy-funky Hatay cheese called surk. Then, we’ll dive in and make a refreshing fresh zahter salad dressed with pomegranate molasses and olive oil and learn how to shape and and bake local savory pastries in a wood-fired oven or tandir (tandoor).

After three full days in Hatay, we’ll return to Istanbul for a final day of cooking together. We’ll collect ingredients together in the untouristed Kurtuluş district, which inspired some of the Istanbul section of the book. We’ll meet some of the neighborhood vendors who make the area, which still maintains vestiges of its once large Greek and Armenian population, so special and distinct. Then, with the support of our host who will show us her neighborhood and open her home to us, Robyn will lead the group in a hands-on cooking workshop. The tour will end around a table, enjoying the flavors we’ve tracked down in Istanbul and Hatay and even from Turkey’s other regions, places that await us on future trips.

7-day Excursion Includes:

City tours of both Istanbul & Hatay Hands- on cooking workshops
Home visits Guided Market Visits
Farm visit Optional Hands-On 2 day photography workshop
Not recommended for vegetarians, gluten-free diets or nut allergies Some hills and stairs, though punctuated by lots of sitting, it can be strenuous at times.
Some alcohol served during group meals No pork served during the 7-9 day excursion

2-day Photography Workshop

  • 4-12 people $750 pp May 3 &11 Advanced-Beginning to
    ($100 single supplement) Advanced photographers

Adding two days to the trip, we’ve developed an opportunity for photographers to develop their storytelling skills by working alongside award-winning editorial and cookbook photographer David Hagerman.

At least two weeks before your departure you’ll receive a photographers’ packing list from David. After checking into our hotel one day ahead of the rest of the group, you’ll meet David and your fellow photographers in the late afternoon for a bit of golden hour shooting on Istanbul’s European side, then finish the day with with dinner at a casual restaurant.

The next morning, you’ll meet in our hotel for 2 hours of instruction. Using images captured during his 16 months shooting Istanbul and Beyond, David will share his approach to photography, with a focus on visual storytelling. You’ll learn the essential elements of a photographer’s visual toolkit, and how to use them to make better photographs; how to get comfortable photographing people; and how to create a visual narrative — from conception to development of shot list, through execution to editing.

After lunch and a short break you’ll head out with David for a photo trek, taking advantage of special access to a food-related sites around Istanbul to photograph food in its wider context. After a short break back at the hotel you’ll meet Robyn and the rest of the group for our kick-off dinner.

In the following days you’ll photograph as much as you wish; David will be on hand to answer questions and offer advice. On our free afternoon in Hatay you can opt, if you like, to join David for a photo-focused crawl / walk around Hatay’s bustling covered market and the streets around it.

Back in Istanbul, you’ll stay an extra day after other tour participants have departed. On your last morning, after having chosen your ten best photos from the trip, you’ll meet with David and your fellow photographers to workshop your images, as a group and individually with David. Should you choose to hang around Istanbul for another night, you’re invited to join David for one last golden hour photo meet-up, and celebrate afterwards with a cold beer.


The trip was developed and will be led by Culinary Backstreets with Istanbul and Beyond author Robyn Eckhardt, photographer David Hagerman. Logistical support is provided by ITEM Travel and the local host in Hatay will be Shiraz Demir.

Culinary Backstreets is a leader in culinary travel, globally. In Turkey, our team is composed of professional, licensed guides with years of experience. Our work has been featured in The Washington Post, CBS Sunday Morning, CNN, and The New York Times.

Robyn Eckhardt is a food and travel journalist, co-publisher with David Hagerman of the popular food blog EatingAsia, and the author of Istanbul and Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey(Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2017). NPR named Istanbul and Beyond a ‘Great Read of 2017’. The book was also included in ‘Best of 2017’ lists in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Saveur, Rachael Ray Magazine, Eating Well, Fine Cooking and other publications.

David Hagerman is an award-winning food and travel photographer who has worked on assignment in Asia, Turkey, Europe and Mexico for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, The Economist, Travel+Leisure and other publications. His images illustrate Istanbul and Beyond and The Malaysian Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). Between 2008 and 2017 David led private and small-group photography tours in Malaysia; he has designed and led sold-out photography workshops in Turkey and Cambodia as well.

In 1998, while living in China, Robyn and David visited Turkey for the first time and fell in love with the country, its people and its food, igniting an obsession that carried through to 2011, when they began research in Turkey for Istanbul and Beyond. Over umpteen trips to Turkey they spent time in Istanbul and the country’s eastern half in search of hyperlocal cuisines, covering some some 15,000 miles by road. Through their stories, images and recipes in Istanbul and Beyond, Robyn and David demonstrate that Turkish food is more than kebabs, baklava, and meze, and that food in Turkey is comprised of distinct, regional cuisines defined geography and history. Most of all, Istanbul and Beyond shows us that that surprising and delicious specialties await the traveler who ventures beyond, to Turkey’s lesser visited regions.

Shiraz Demir was born in Hatay, to which she returned after spending part of her childhood in Europe.On their farm in a village near Antakya produce pomegranate molasses, olives and olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes and figs, the spicy Hatay cheese known as surk, and other artisan foods. In 2016 Shiraz opened a well-regarded eponymous restaurant just outside Antakya city center, where she serves wood-fired oven-baked breads and kebabs as well as other Hatay specialties.


What is the payment process? When booking you will be asked to leave a credit card to secure the space. We require a 20% deposit to complete the online booking. Then, we will charge your card for the remaining balance 45 days prior to the activity start date.

What is your cancellation policy? 100% (minus bank processing fees) will be refunded if given more than 60 days prior to the start of the activity; after which time, if we are able to fill your space, we will happily refund you but if not, you will be responsible the entire amount.

Is this activity suitable for people with food allergies? This can vary based on a number of factors, including the food item in question. If you have a serious allergy, you are responsible to carry medication and check the food prior to eating. We will do our best to accommodate but are not preparing all of the meals and cannot ensure that they will be free of allergens. Please email us at walks@culinarybackstreets.com to discuss your situation before booking.

Is this activity suitable for vegetarians and pescetarians? We do not recommend this activity for vegetarians; although there will be a beautiful array of vegetables served, there will also be a fair amount of meat prepared.

What’s Included in the Price:

Hands-on workshops

Lodging in boutique hotels

All food and drink included in daily activities (“at least” 3 meals per day)

Internal flights (Istanbul – Hatay- Istanbul)

All ground transportation during the week in a comfortable van/minibus

Expert guides

What’s Not Included in the Price:

International flights to and from Istanbul

Airport transfer upon arrival in Istanbul and departure from Istanbul at the end of the trip

Travel insurance

Expenditures during free time (personal shopping, drinks after the activities are over)

Incidentals at the hotel (laundry, room service, minibar)

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