Istanbul has a rich timeline of different cultures that have conquered its territory throughout history. These cultures are greatly represented in its culinary landscape. Colours and smells will hit you when you arrive, wherever you are going to stay, harking back to the oriental Ottoman period but with a touch of something European in the careful presentation of the dishes or fine pastries. Keep reading for some Istanbul food tips!
Don’t Miss Turkish Breakfast!
Imagine an Alibaba cellar but instead of gold and jewels, you find a buffet with hundreds of different dishes displayed in front of your eyes. The difference between a Turkish breakfast and the usual American breakfast is that it contains unexpected delights that range from spicy egg dishes (Menemen) to honeycombs, several different kinds of cheese, olives, fresh tomatoes and spicy sausage (sucuk), as well as much more. These are all typical of the Mediterranean diet.
In the Fatih district in the old city, try Akdeniz Hatay Sofrası in Ahmediye Caddesi 44a. You can reach it via tram 1, hopping off at Yusufpasa station. The price is around TL 50 per person (around £8) but is an all-you-can-eat option that might be enough to fill you until dinner time! For a regular breakfast, try the Lades Restaurant or its neighbour the Lades Menemen Restaurant in Taksim. They are located in a narrow street just a few steps away from the famous Istiklal Caddesi Avenue. You can drink a strong or light tea (no milk) with your breakfast and will roughly pay around TL 25 per person for a Pantagruel breakfast!
Mouthwatering Turkish Snacks…
After some sightseeing, you’re ready for more tasty treats. If you want to sit, then it is time to stop for a meze. They offer a choice of starters served with a typical flatbread quite similar to the Indian naan. You will find these dishes in special restaurants called meyane. They are a selection of snacks that may include: hummus, tahini (a crushed sesame seed paste), baba ganoush (cooked aubergine), haydari (a yogurt paste with mint), ezme (a hot tomato based paste), zeytinyağlı enginar (artichoke hearts), fava and barbunya (both bean dishes). All these dishes are flavoured with olive oil, garlic, parsley, coriander, cumin and lemon. If you want to dine like a local, drink raki (an anise-flavoured drink).
Here are some great restaurant suggestions, in terms of price and quality, located in the Beyoglu-Taksim area: Boncuk Restaurant, located on Nevizade Street, next to Istiklal Avenue. You will spend around TL 30-50 per person for a meal with soft drinks included. Krependeki Imroz Restaurant is located on the same street as Boncuk, and the price is around the same. Finally, Ney’le Mey’le Meyhane is well worth a visit and is also on the same street, with similar prices. All of these places are popular and located in a crowded part of Istanbul. Be open-minded but careful about what you order and everything will go smoothly. But if you want to order a beer, be aware that it can cost the same as your dish.
If breakfast is still heavy on your stomach at lunchtime, you could go for a street snack rather than a full meal. The king of Turkish street food is the doner kebab. Kebab is a term that you will see over and over again during your stay. All restaurants have kebab, which is made of grilled meat. Doner Kebab is special though: it is made from a large cylinder of meat on a skewer that is rotated in front of a grill, sliced and then served in pita bread. One place worth checking out is Zümrüt Büfe on Sabuncu Hanı Sk.12 in Eminönü; the price ranges from TL 10 to 100, depending on the quantity of meat you order.
Among the lighter food street is a kind of pretzel called simit; the difference is in the circular shape and the covering of sesame seeds. They are sold all over the city in carts and are very cheap (around half a TL). Another tasty treat is the içli köfte better known as kibbeh, which is a fried or boiled meatball with bulgur, spicy herbs and onions (there is also a vegan version). Sabırtaşı Restoran is a great place to try this speciality. It is located in the Galata area and again is cheap in price (with prices around TL 6). More tasty street food snacks to sample are Kokoreç (a meat roll) and çig kofte (raw meat). All these meat snacks are usually served with lettuce and bread.
Dining the Oriental Way
After a refreshing nap or a shower, it is time to go out again for dinner. Meyane restaurants are again a great place to go for a delicious treat. Sofyali 9 is a classic restaurant in the Beyoglu-Galata area of Asmalımescit Cad. Apart from the usual appetizers and kebabs, they also serve seafood (such as grilled octopus, fish and calamari). You will spend around TL 80 per person for a starter, main dish, dessert and drinks. Asmalı Cavit is another excellent choice in Taksim, on Asmalımescit Caddesi, very near İstiklal Avenue. The owner likes to greet his customers and recommend dishes based on your preferences. The restaurant is frequented by local artists and intellectuals. One of the specialities is a dish made of spiced sliced liver, seasoned with herbs.
Another great restaurant worth visiting is Topaz, which offers a breathtaking view of the Dolmabahçe Palace and the Bosphorus Strait. It is located in the Beşiktaş area. They serve Ottoman-style and international food, and one of the most recommended dishes is the grilled octopus. Don’t expect a great quantity, as it is a gourmet restaurant, and be prepared to spend more than usual between TL 200 and 400 per person.
Turkish Delights and Coffee
To conclude this blog post, we have chosen to look at some must-try Turkish specialities. To start with, there’s Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is basically made of ground, loose coffee. This is boiled in water with added sugar in a special porcelain double pot. You should never drink to the bottom of the cup or you will end up with a mouth full of coffee grounds! One of the most popular coffee shops in Istanbul is Mandabatmaz on Olivia Geçidi 1, which leads to Istiklal Avenue. You will probably have to drink your coffee while standing as the place is very small but also affordable with prices around TL6 for a pot of coffee.
Together with your Turkish coffee, you can sample any one of the hundreds of Turkish delights. At the top of the list and most famous around the world is the famous lokum. It is an explosion of colours and flavours. Originally flavoured with rose, lemon and orange, nowadays there are dried fruit flavours. Some are even spiced with cinnamon, mint, ginger or coffee. You can buy a box and take them home. Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir is a proud traditional shop in Istiklal Avenue, in the Beyoglu-Taksim area. If you are not a lokum fan, then check out Şekerci Cafer Erol, in Kadıköy on the eastern side of Istanbul. It is easy to find near the docks. There you will be able to taste all the other varieties of sweets like baklava, akide şekeri and much more.
Header image courtesy of Pedro Szekely, via Flickr