an excerpt from

Tiny epics,
     global appetites

a conversation with Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer, co-founders of Culinary Backstreets

an excerpt from

Tiny epics,
     global appetites

a conversation with Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer, co-founders of Culinary Backstreets

an excerpt from

Tiny epics,
     global appetites

a conversation with Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer, co-founders of Culinary Backstreets

photos David Hagerman

Culinary Backstreets, founded in Istanbul, now provides guided tasting tours in over a dozen cities across the world, with an emphasis on celebrating and preserving culinary cultures and traditions.

We talk to Ansel and Yigal about their personal memories of food, the mission behind what Culinary Backstreets does, and — of course — what they’ve been eating lately

PS: Had you always been interested in the intersection of food and culture, or did Istanbul inspire a culinary awakening?

AM: Growing up in Chicago, for me, food was always the excuse to explore the city’s diverse neighborhoods. Hunting down late night tacos al pastor; fried shrimp shacks; the South Side blues club with a home-cooked buffet (and that never checked ID’s) — all of that was my religion and has always informed the way I engage with a city. That sort of juvenile urban food sleuthing eventually developed into a great appreciation for the sort of independent restaurants, cooks, and street food vendors that we celebrate on Culinary Backstreets. Yigal and I both arrived in Istanbul with that nose, but realised that not everyone has the same instinct. We wanted to share our experiences by writing about them and eventually building culinary tours out of them, and through our work pay tribute to the people and places that make the city’s dining scene so unique.

YS: I spent the first part of my childhood in Tel Aviv, where the afterschool snack was falafel from a stand run by an immigrant from Yemen, who served our sandwiches topped with briny pickles and a deeply flavourful mango chutney. From Israel, my family moved to the suburbs of Orlando, Florida, at the time a culinary wasteland dominated by fast food joints and the occasional Olive Garden. Looking back, I’d say my eating (and professional) life since then has revolved around a search for that lost falafel shack and the world of tastes and stories it contained. In that sense, arriving in Istanbul was not so much a culinary awakening as it was a culinary homecoming, again finding myself in a place whose little food spots and the people working in them served as guides to experiences that were deeper than simply having something good to eat. As Ansel mentioned, documenting these experiences and sharing them with others seemed like the best way to pay tribute to Istanbul and its incomparable food scene.


we think it’s really important that culinary travel should be part of a sustainable process that allows local foodmakers to be something more than simply props


we think it’s really important that culinary travel should be part of a sustainable process that allows local foodmakers to be something more than simply props


we think it’s really important that culinary travel should be part of a sustainable process that allows local foodmakers to be something more than simply props

tiny_epics_5-tourist_breakfast_penang

PS: On your website, you describe your mission as the sharing of all the ‘tiny epics’ encountered while eating your way through a city. What do you mean by ‘tiny epics’ and why are they important?

AM: Take the story of vindaloo, originally a Portuguese recipe brought to Goa with the armada of Vasco da Gama. In Goa, the dish was spiced up and eventually adopted by every curry house menu in the world. That’s a big epic that is told and retold. But when we encounter it in a restaurant in Lisbon, we want to document the story of the cook in the kitchen, who left Goa as a boy, and passed through Mozambique before landing in Lisbon where he prepares food his mother taught him to cook. What does the legacy of vindaloo mean to him? Those are the tiny epics, the human stories that we think are really important, but are often overlooked.

YS: One of the things we’re really interested in is the role that food spots — everything from bakeries to corner bodegas and old-time white tablecloth restaurants — play in maintaining the health of neighbourhood life and, in turn, the role strong neighbourhoods play in maintaining the health of city life. So meals at old-school spots can become ‘tiny epics’ in the sense that they are part of something much bigger and much more important. In Istanbul, for example, we often write about the esnaf lokantası, a type of restaurant that provides a home-style lunch to the city’s tradesmen. These restaurants are like an extension of mom’s kitchen and a real backbone of both commercial and neighborhood life. It would be hard to imagine the city functioning without them.



Find the rest of our conversation with Ansel and Yigal, along with more of David’s gorgeous food photography, in Issue One

PS: On your website, you describe your mission as the sharing of all the ‘tiny epics’ encountered while eating your way through a city. What do you mean by ‘tiny epics’ and why are they important?

AM: Take the story of vindaloo, originally a Portuguese recipe brought to Goa with the armada of Vasco da Gama. In Goa, the dish was spiced up and eventually adopted by every curry house menu in the world. That’s a big epic that is told and retold. But when we encounter it in a restaurant in Lisbon, we want to document the story of the cook in the kitchen, who left Goa as a boy, and passed through Mozambique before landing in Lisbon where he prepares food his mother taught him to cook. What does the legacy of vindaloo mean to him? Those are the tiny epics, the human stories that we think are really important, but are often overlooked.

YS: One of the things we’re really interested in is the role that food spots — everything from bakeries to corner bodegas and old-time white tablecloth restaurants — play in maintaining the health of neighbourhood life and, in turn, the role strong neighbourhoods play in maintaining the health of city life. So meals at old-school spots can become ‘tiny epics’ in the sense that they are part of something much bigger and much more important. In Istanbul, for example, we often write about the esnaf lokantası, a type of restaurant that provides a home-style lunch to the city’s tradesmen. These restaurants are like an extension of mom’s kitchen and a real backbone of both commercial and neighborhood life. It would be hard to imagine the city functioning without them.



Find the rest of our conversation with Ansel and Yigal, along with more of David’s gorgeous food photography, in Issue One

© 2018 Perfect Strangers LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Website by Foreign Policy Design Group

© 2018 Perfect Strangers LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Website by Foreign Policy Design Group

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