What to eat in Istanbul

Typical Turkish Food

You’ve probably read a hundred times that Istanbul is the door connecting Asia and Europe, whose former rulers included the Roman, Latin, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. And while the Turkish capital is the great city of tourist guides that never disappoint, after hours of exploring the city, you’re soon hit by an acute attack of hunger and the million-dollar question: what can you eat in Istanbul?

Visiting Turkey without knowing what you can eat in Istanbul and missing out on its impressive dishes would be classed as an incomplete holiday.

Keep our top picks of Istanbul’s typical dishes handy, dishes you’ll be able to try as you wander around this exotic super city’s top sights.

Have a kebab in Istanbul

Give in to the pleasure of trying as many roasted beef, lamb and chicken kebabs as there are on offer.

Which kebab should you order?

You’ll notice that kebabs sold by street vendors, closest to the fast-food style we know, are everywhere in Turkey. The döner kebab is simply a round pita bread filled with meat, vegetables and a delicious yoghurt sauce. This differs to the dürüm kebab, which has the same filling but uses a flour tortilla wrap instead of pita bread. Then there’s the ekmek kebab, also with the same filling, but packed inside torpedo-shaped bread.

Aside from fast food, you can also try a kebab on a plate. Enjoy the show as you watch a testi kebab being roasted in a clay pot over an open fire before the pot is broken right in front of your eyes allowing you to savour the meal.

Another unforgettable dish is the iskender kebab, stewed meat in a delicious tomato sauce.

You can’t forget to try the amazing skewered spicy meat, the adana kebab, perfect for those who love stronger flavours.

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Where to go for a kebab in Istanbul?

You’ll find kebabs in all corners of Istanbul, but our favourite spot for a good street kebab is the bustling Taksim Square and surrounding area. If you’re lucky enough to have your meat roasted over a wood fire, all the better!

If you’re looking for a plated kebab, choose from the restaurants in the historic centre of the Sultanahmet district, or opt for the authenticity of the local restaurants, called lokantasi in Turkey, offering home-made style food found all around the famous Grand Bazaar in the Eminönü district.

Street food in Istanbul

Yes, the kebab is the king of the street, but there is even more Turkish street food scattered around hundreds of spots all over the city, infusing it with spicy and roasted notes.

What street food should you try?

Something as simple as fried rice-stuffed mussels with lemon, called midye dolma or midye tava.

You’ll also find other classics in the little red carts, such as chestnuts, toasted breads, corn on the cob, and simits, a savoury circular sesame-encrusted bread.

However, if you’d like something more consistent, look no further than boreks, tart-like puff pastries stuffed with greens or meat, the kumpir, baked potatoes with the filling of your choice, or even a lahmacun, commonly known as Turkish pizza.

Where to get street food in Istanbul?

Discover a paradise, allowing you to truly appreciate the culinary street spirit of Istanbul all along the busy İstiklal Avenue and its surrounding streets, in the Beyoğlu district.

Drinks and appetisers

Just like we couldn’t even imagine the idea of going out without a few appetisers to make our drink that little bit better, snacks in Istanbul are also very important. Known as meze, the dishes are brought to your table so that you can choose your favourites and enjoy them with a drink.

Which ones should you choose?

You can’t turn down hummus, nor the dolma with its vine leaves or tomatoes and peppers stuffed with rice and meat. You also won’t be able to resist the delicious variety of aubergine preparations, or seasoned beef pastrami, known as pastýrma in Turkish.

Enjoy them with a raki, an aniseed-based drink which is more common than beer, or even a strong çay tea or Turkish kahve coffee. But if it’s really hot, the perfect choice is an ayran yoghurt drink.

Where should you go for appetisers?

You’ll have the chance to try a large range of meze in any restaurant, but if you’re heading out at night then you should opt for a meyhane pub close to the Galata Tower in the Karaköy district or a lokanta bar in the modern Beşiktaş district.

Eating fish in Istanbul

While lamb and beef dominate the typical Turkish menu, fresh fish can also be found in this city, an exceptional enclave between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

What fish should you eat?

We’re betting that you didn’t know that a fish kebab existed… well it does! Known as the “fish kebab” to the tourists, it’s actually called the balik ekmek.

The other fish that you have to try is the lüfer, bluefish from the Bosporus.

Where to eat fish in Istanbul?

The best place to eat fish in Istanbul is in the restaurants under the Galata Bridge, with sunset backdrop included, or from the boats sitting in the Eminönü docks.

The second place we’d recommend is the fish market in Kumkapi, or you could even take a trip to the Asian side of the Üsküdar district.

Istanbul’s typical goodies

Even if the abundance of food leaves little room for desserts, you can’t leave Istanbul without trying its one-of-a-kind Turkish goodies.

What Turkish goodies should you try?

First and foremost, you have to try baklava, a sweet pastry with nuts and syrup, and we can’t forget the gelatinous Turkish delights known as lokum, made from starch, sugar and nuts.

Where to get Turkish goodies?

The Grand Bazaar, in Eminönü, is teeming with them, whether in packs or in bulk, you’ll be sure to find what you’re looking for!

So there you have it, your gourmet list of what to eat in Istanbul. Now all that’s left to do is awaken your senses and prepare yourself for what is set to be one of the most satisfying gourmet experiences of your life.

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