Welcome to my kitchen in Istanbul!

I’m Vidar. For the past few years, I’ve been exploring the foods of Turkey, the Middle East and beyond from my house in Balat, Istanbul. Let me show you around!
Decorative tile in Turkish colours

Do you like the flavours of the Eastern Mediterranean?

Do you enjoy recipes that are authentic in flavour, but easy to make?

Are you interested in the cultural and historical context in which the food on your table comes from?

If your answer to either of those questions is yes, then you’ve come to the right place.

Vidar Bergum at Misir Carsisi, the Istanbul spice market / A kitchen in Istanbul
At Mısır Çarşısı, the Istanbul spice market, in 2016. (Photo: Mette Randem)

At this blog, I share the highlights of what I’ve learned from years of spending virtually all my time over the past few years eating, making and researching the food of Turkey and the wider Middle East region. Primarily traditional and authentic recipes and stories from the lands which have been my home since I moved to Istanbul in 2015.

I’ve learned from the locals, I’ve learned from books and I’ve learned from writing two bestselling cookbooks on the food of the region in my home country of Norway. On this website, I regularly publish some of the best stories and recipes I’ve collected over the years in English.

If that sounds like something for you, do sign up to my newsletter to keep up with new posts as well as get exclusive recipes and stories from Istanbul.

I’m also on Instagram, if that’s more of your thing.

And if you want to learn more about my story (and my books), do read on.

My story

I wasn’t always a food writer. After a decade working in London’s financial district, sprinkled with a Master’s degree in Global Politics, I left it all behind to start afresh in Istanbul in 2015. After moving into my newly refurbished 19th century house in Balat, a historical and mixed neighbourhood by the shores of the Golden horn, I delved straight into the local food culture.

Sure, I knew a few things beforehand. My partner’s Turkish and he and his friends already taught me a lot. As had my Middle Eastern friends, all of which have in common their love for the food they grew up with. I’d visited the country several times. Yet 2015 was the start of a journey I had no idea where would take me.

All I knew was that it had to be about food. I wanted to learn everything there was to know about the local food, ingredients, dishes, history, culture. Everything.

Vidar Bergum drinking tea on front porch
Photo: Bahar Kitapcı

Unexpected obstacles

The first idea was business like. Learning the language, setting up a lunch restaurant with potential to expand to multiple branches. A deteriorating security situation culminating in a failed coup attempt put an end to those plans before they had a chance to properly materialise.

Instead, I turned my attention to writing. I’d already started a low-key blog in my native language Norwegian. Mostly to keep a link with the country I’d left more than a decade earlier, but also because no one else was writing about or presenting the delicious food that I was surrounded by and eating every day. Surely a few people would be interested in this?

More than a few, it turned out.

In the autumn of 2016, I did two things. I started A kitchen in Istanbul, the first iteration of the website you’re now reading, because my Turkish friends were encouraging me to reach out to a wider audience. And I decided to contact a publisher about writing a book on Turkish and Middle Eastern food.

Not being one to settle for second best, I spent three months developing a proposal, which I submitted to the largest publishing house in Norway only. To my delight, they accepted.

Advertising disclosure: The following contains links to purchase, all of which are affiliate links. This means I may earn a commission if you purchase after following a link. Thanks for supporting my work!

First book

My first book Hummus & granateple: Mat fra Tyrkia & Midtøsten (“Hummus & Pomegranate: Food from Turkey & the Middle East) was published in Februar 2018. It is, I believe, the first book in Norway that aims to make a broad introduction to the best known foods across Turkey and the Middle East.

Norwegian cover. Purchase here (affiliate link).
German cover. Purchase here (affiliate link).

It’s centered around the region’s most famous foods, such as hummus, kebab and baklava. But I also wanted to showcase the breadth of the cuisines. I therefore also included a few lesser known local delicacies as well as glimpses of the modern interpretations of the region’s flavour so omnipresent in many big Western cities. All the while I also try go give context to the various food cultures of the region, the ingredients used and of each of the dishes presented.

The book was an unexpected success, still selling steadily nearly four years after its launch and now on its eight print. It has been translated to German, where it was published by BusseSeewald in 2020.

Second book

The followup, Aubergine & tahini: Hverdagsmat fra Tyrkia, Midtøsten & bortenfor (“Aubergine & Tahini: Everyday Food from Turkey, the Middle East & Beyond”), was published two years later.

Aubergine & tahini - book front cover (Norwegian)
Norwegian cover. Purchase here (affiliate link).

As anyone who’s spent a good amount of time in Turkey or the Middle East knows all too well, the true gems of the local cuisines aren’t the restaurant food, but in people’s homes. This book is therefore a celebration of local home cooking, again interspersed with anecdotes and stories from the local food cultures. Dishes include menemen, lentil meatballs and imam bayildi.

The book also expands the geographic reach to neighbouring cuisines, including a few personal favourites from Georgia, Iran and Central Asia. And while most of the recipes are selected on the basis of being quick and easy to make, I also made sure to include a chapter on social cooking. Because some dishes, like stuffed vine leaves, manti (Turkish ravioli) and ghormeh sabzi (Iranian herb stew), are best made with love and the company of close ones, and I wanted to tell that story too.

Following the success of Hummus & Pomegranate, Aubergine & Tahini debuted at number two on the best-seller charts and remained on the lists for several weeks. It continues to sell well and is currently in its fourth print, but has not yet been translated into any other languages than Norwegian.

In the meantime, my equivalent Norwegian language blog has become one of Norway’s largest, relied on for unique recipes and interesting stories by nearly 100,000 unique visitors monthly.

The road ahead

I’m currently working on my third book for Norway, due out in 2022. Having played a key role in establishing the popularity of Turkish and Middle Eastern food in my home country, however, I couldn’t help but think that I could also make a broader contribution.

In summer of 2020, I therefore re-launched this website, updating or deleting nearly all of the posts from the previous blog, which had laid dormant for years as I focused on the books for the Norwegian market.

On this website, I aim to showcase the genius simplicity, breadth and history of Turkish cuisine in particular, but no doubt, I will occasionally also visit favourites from the Middle East or other neighbouring countries as well as some of my own creations, inspired by the ingredients and flavours I’m now surrounded by on a daily basis.

And who knows where that will take me in the months and years ahead…?

19 responses

    1. Yes, it was the first thing I did after moving here. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, but I get by. I think it’s important to learn at least a very basic level when living in another country longer term. It also enables me to get around and learn a lot more, as people open up more in their own language and I’m not bound to the tourist-y English speaking part of town.

  1. Vidar: I was given a couple of eggplants (not aubergine in English) so I went looking on the internet to refresh my sense of musakka which I’ve lost over the years. I used to make it all the time, after spending five years in Turkey.
    My friends Carol and Michel went with their friend Mehmet to his home in Gaziantep to collect pistachio recipes. Mehmet’s mother made all kinds of pistachio dishes but because Carol and Michel were misafir’s (guests) she would get up early and sneak into the kitchen to make the dishes as a gift to them. Of course they were disappointed and tried to get her to show them how. I don’t know if they ever put a book together. That was in the 1960’s. If you want to talk to Carol in Portland OR, ask me for her number.

    1. How wonderful! Thanks for sharing this story. Antep pistachio traditions are something else altogether! I’ve been lucky enough to visit Gaziantep recently (and the wider region multiple times).

  2. Thank you for posting this wonderful article, i’m a fan of turkish series and movies thats why i’m very happy to found this recipes you made keep it up. I’m looking forward to see more such type of article.

  3. I am Turkish and very happy to see your books, especially in Norsk, since I work for a Norwegian Company and wish to deliver copies to them to meet my local cuisine. How can I do it can I order copies on internet and receive them by mail? Cakata

  4. Hi – I’ve been trying to subscribe to your biweekly updates, but the web site doesn’t seem to work … after typing my name and email address, and clicking “Send me the good stuff”, nothing happens. I’ve tried in both Safari and in Firefox …

    1. I’ll look into why this might be the case! In the meantime I’ve added you manually.

  5. I am curious about your connection to Norway. I am 29% Norwegian, and hoping to travel to Norway soon. I live with someone from Turkey – so I cook Turkish quite a bit.

    1. I was born and raised in Norway, and lived there until I was 23, and all of my family still lives there, so I go back a lot.

  6. I came across your blog when looking for a recipe for Imam Bayildi & haven’t stopped reading now I don’t know what to make first! Definitely something with aubergines, I love them. I look forward to exploring more of your stories & recipes.

  7. Hi Vidar, I was at Moro in London last week and had Syrian Lentils, so so good.
    Today I was looking for a recipe so I could make the dish at home. Imagine my surprise when I saw your recipe and you had eaten those fabulous lentils at Moro too!

    1. Hi Barbara. I’m so sorry, but unfortunately, it’s only available in Norwegian at this point. Thanks for wanting to sign up! Not sure why it wasn’t working for you, but you can also sign up on this newsletter sign-up page.

    2. I would love it if Vidar would publish those cookbooks in English! I expect they’d be highly popular.

  8. Hi Vidar,
    Thanks a lot for this interesting blog. I love Istanbul and Turkish food, I enjoy reading your recipes. Wish you all the best and a lot of success in your future work.
    Warm greetings from ‘the land Down Under’ – Australia. 🙂

  9. I made your delicious Aubergine With the Works. It was simple to make, requiring a wee bit of multi-tasking, but it certainly was worth the effort!
    We had this as a very light evening meal with Middle Eastern flatbread. Everyone loved it and we will make it again asa brunch when all the family come round.
    It’s a keeper!
    Thanks Vidar ?

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Exploring the food and cultures of Turkey, the Middle East & beyond.