David Califa, organiser of luxury food tours in several countries and cities including Istanbul, was among the injured in a March 2016 ISIS suicide attack in Istanbul’s popular Istiklal Avenue. He has since partnered with a Turkish foodie-slash-businessman to continue the tours, Wendell Steavenson wrote for the Guardian.
The explosion where Califa was injured was one of several terrorist attacks that shocked Turkey throughout 2016. Three Israeli-nationals and one Iranian man lost their lives in the attack, and 36 people were injured. Twelve of them were foreigners.
“I heard a bang like a metallic slam,” Califa told Steavenson. He said a Turkish shopkeeper rushed to the injured, using scarves he was selling in his shop to administer first aid.
Califa told Steavenson that he also saw the body of the attacker, a Turkish citizen born in 1992 who was associated with ISIS, according to the then-Interior Minister Efkan Ala.
Califa’s 12-person group with his Hungry Tourist tour were walking from a Turkish speciality restaurant to another when the bomb went off, wrote Steavenson.
Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue, where the attack took place, has been the heart of the city throughout Turkey’s history. Many of Istanbul’s most popular hangouts were on Istiklal, or its side streets, as well as many NGO offices, several churches by various Christian denominations, a mosque, centres for arts and culture and iconic shops.
Many of the most significant protests in Turkey also occurred on this street and in Taksim square at the end of it, from the infamous May Day of 1977, to the decade-long protests by Saturday Mothers, to Istanbul’s LGBT pride parades, to the huge anti-government protests of 2013 centred in the Gezi Park just off the square.
Some landmarks were lost to gentrification, some to shifting preferences of denizens. Under increasingly strict security policies, almost all protests were pushed out as well. Locals have grown wary of the touristification of the district in general, and have taken to frequenting the Asian side of the city for their entertainment needs. Tourists still prefer Istiklal and its surrounding neighbourhoods, as the area is close to many sights and historic sites in the old city.
Califa is a one-man band who organises the luxury food tours and posts on the Hungry Tourist’s social media accounts constantly, wrote Steavenson, who met with Califa in Istanbul in June 2019.
After retirement, Califa started the food tours in Istanbul with his girlfriend in 2015, wrote Steavenson. He wanted to make a small change in how citizens of Turkey and Israel viewed each other, he told her. “It was going great. Until we got hit,” Califa said.
Califa said he was determined but afraid to go back to Istanbul after the attacks. “I started dreaming at night I was in Istanbul, and terrorists were attacking from every corner,” he told Steavenson.
In August, after more terrorist attacks and a failed coup attempt resulting in the declaration of a state of emergency in Turkey, Califa decided to return to Istanbul. He wanted to confront his fear, as he told Steavenson, despite warnings from his family, friends and therapist.
When he went back, he was showered with love by his Turkish friends and business acquaintances, Steavenson wrote.
Steavenson toured Istanbul with Califa, visiting the restaurant the group had left just before the attack and a fish shop they were supposed to visit. “Terrorism is no good,” said the shop’s owner Ahmet Yazgüneş to Steavenson as he recalled how he searched for the tourist group on the day of the incident. “He’s Muslim, I’m Israeli, but we are human,” Steavenson quoted Califa as saying.
The Hungry Tourist’s Istanbul tour for the summer of 2019 had only three participants, but the autumn tour has already been booked solid, wrote Steavenson. One participant, a winemaker from California, told Steavenson that he wanted to join the tour because he read about the attack and wanted to meet the man.
It is not clear whether the suicide bomber deliberately targeted the Israeli tourist group. Turkish authorities at the time had stated that the attacker detonated the bomb early, and his actual target was most probably different.
Califa and Steavenson were joined by Califa’s Turkish business partner Sinan Hamamsarılar, who met him during one of the several tours of Califa he had joined in Israel. Califa proposed a partnership when he saw Hamamsarılar’s enthusiasm for Israeli food and culture. “It’s huge because I was trying to do this, and I lost friends doing this,” Califa told Steavenson.
Califa is determined to bring more Hungry Tourists to Turkey, Steavenson wrote.