I highly recommend a food tour your first day in Istanbul.
Get several guidebooks and read reviews to find the best one for you, and don't be put off by an all day tour with a price tag around $125--it's well worth the price both culturally and culinarily. It will give you a sense of some of the neighborhoods of Istanbul that you are unlikely to visit otherwise. The firm we booked with in 2015, Culinary Backstreets, was exceptional in every way. I don't know if they are still in business or rebranded by some other name, but the guide was college educated, a brilliant source of history, current events, and all things Istanbul. We have taken foodie tours all over the world and found this one to be, arguably, the best ever. Below is a review I wrote of the experience:
Review of Culinary Backstreets -Tours
Reviewed January 2, 2016
Fish, mezzes, markets, foaming salty yogurt drinks, pistachio-laced baklava, nuts, dried apricots, "Turkish pizza", a ferry across the strait, and 7 people lead by the marvelous and amazing Remziye, it was an Istanbul experience that thrilled us.
The Two Markets, Two Continents "tour" was everything we could have imagined and lots we could never have dreamed of, all under the azure skies of a fabulous October day. From the water buffalo cheese with honey and rose petal jam (beyond incredible)to the sheep's head soup (totally delicious) and tea in an ancient han, (maybe my favorite stop) it was an extraordinary view of Istanbul we would not have had otherwise. And we had been to Istanbul more than a decade ago, and loved it.
Remziye was a remarkable guide. I wish she were my neighbor, my friend. She spoke perfect, colloquial English, and had a marvelous sense of humor. Witty, vivacious, and energetic, she was an exceptional ambassador for Istanbul.
The meeting place was easy to find, and we sampled more Turkish food than I can even remember. From fancy restaurants to street food to tea in an ancient caravanseri (han) it was a view of Istanbul ,its people, and its culinary traditions that left us wanting more and more and more of Turkey.
Take this tour your first day in Istanbul which will give you a great view of everyday life in Istanbul, and then take in the many many wonders of this city and its ancient monuments.
Well done, Culinary Backstreets and Remziye. We had an exceptional experience.
Date of experience: October 2015