Cooking (and dining) in Istanbul

I had always considered France the food mecca. But that was before I went to Turkey.

It says a lot about the cuisine of a country these days when even its national airline has good food. Economy class on Turkish Airlines, even for a short flight, comes with a full meal—kidney beans marinated in olive oil, white cheese, herbed sautéed chicken with ratatouille, fresh bread, almond cake, cherry juice, and coffee.

In case you couldn’t tell, I could eat my way through Turkey. And I did. But sadly, that fantastic pottery kebab, which cooked for three hours prior to my arrival at the Dibek restaurant, I couldn’t bring home with me. Nor could I take home the spinach and cheese stuffed pancakes at Otantik. Or the Turkish ice cream and fresh pomegranate juice that was available on just about every Turkish street corner. But I could take home the recipes I learned how to make at Cooking Alaturka in Istanbul.

At a half-day cooking class, which was taught in English by Eveline Zoutendijk, a Dutch-born, Cordon Bleu-trained chef, who has made Istanbul her home, I learned how to make red lentil and bulgur soap, green bean salad, zucchini patties with herbs and cheese, lamb stew, and walnut-stuffed figs. After cutting, stuffing, stirring, and baking for over two hours, our 10-person class then sat down to eat our creations, which were accompanied by red and white Turkish wine as well as good conversation.

Classes at Cooking Alaturka cost about 60 Euros and include the 5-course meal. The school is conveniently located in the historic district, Sultanahmet, behind the Blue Mosque. For those without much time, or prefer eating to cooking, the school also has a small restaurant, which is open for lunch. And before you leave, don’t forget to visit Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar to pick up some ingredients you can take home with you.