Turkey is known around the world for the variety and quality of its food. Because of the city’s diverse population, the cuisine of Istanbul benefits from a wide range of influences. While in Turkey, avoid multinational (fast food) chains in favor of authentic local cuisine. But there are so many options for meals, where do you even begin? That’s where my brief listing of things to eat in Istanbul can come in handy.
Turkey’s Morning Meal
Turks have somewhat different breakfast customs compared to Europeans. For starters, tea can substitute for coffee. Similarly, sliced tomatoes and/or cucumbers are an essential part of every traditional Turkish breakfast. The remaining components are also comparable. White bread dominates the bread market by far. People looking for healthier alternatives to white bread can now easily find rye bread.
The usual suspects include feta-like white cheese, aged kaşar peyniri, black and/or green olives (zeytin), butter, thick cream (kaymak), honey, jam, an omelet, or boiled eggs (yumurta).
The pleasantly unexpected additions are sucuklu yumurta and börek. These are the two meals that hosts most often use to lavish on their guests. Sucuk is a dry sausage consisting of ground beef with garlic and a variety of spices including red pepper, cumin, and sumac. And when fried in a skillet with eggs as the main ingredient, it turns into a greasy yet tasty fiesta. Börek is a kind of Turkish flatbread created by rolling out thin sheets of dough and stuffing them with cheese, minced meat, and/or vegetables before baking or cooking them.
Bebek and Rumelihisar are great places to have a traditional Turkish breakfast while overlooking the Bosphorus. There is fierce rivalry among businesses, and consumers benefit. The location is foolproof.
The Turkish omelet, or menemen, is wonderful. Eggs, herbs, parsley, pepper, and ground red pepper are added after the tomatoes and roasted onions and peppers have been fully cooked. a basic, inexpensive, and quick-to-create food, but with an irresistible flavor. This is a common breakfast item in Turkey.
The Menemen district of Izmir in the Aegean Region inspired the dish’s name. The major component, the tomato, was first cultivated commercially in Izmir in the 1920s. This provides some context for the antiquity of the renowned meal. Because it is so ubiquitous, it naturally has several variations that include things like cheese, ground pork, mushrooms, sucuk, sausages, poultry, or even eggplants.
Ladies Muhallebi (Beyoglu), Sütiş (Beyoglu), Bebek Kahve (Bebek), Mehtap Cafe (Emirgan), and Kale ay Bahçesi (Rumelihisar) are just a few of the restaurants where you can get your hands on this tasty delicacy.
As opposed to a complete meal, meze consists of small, cold appetizers. Meyhane is a restaurant specializing in mezes. Methane is a typical restaurant that offers alcoholic drinks alongside mezes and traditional cuisine. Most restaurants will offer mezes as a pre-meal snack or starter.
Typically, the waiter will bring out a large platter filled with all the different kinds of mezes and let you pick and select what you want to eat. It’s expected that each guest at the meal will choose one or more. The assortment of mezes is then placed in the center of the table for everyone to enjoy. The toasted bread goes well with everything. Among the most well-liked mezes are:
- Paste with Chilies and Tomatoes (Ezme)
- Eggplants marinated in yogurt and grilled
- Patlcan Salata, or Grilled Eggplant Salad.
- The Turkish dish of fried eggplant in tomato sauce is known as akşuka.
- Dip Made with Minty Yogurt (Haydari)
- Beans with a Mexican Twist, or Pintos (Barbunya)
- (Zeytinyal Engineer) Artichoke.
Eat at Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi (Beyoglu), Refik Meyhanesi (Asmalmescit), Kör Agop Meyhanesi (Kumkap), Giritli Restoran (Ahrkap), or Münferit (Beyoglu) for some of the greatest mezes in Istanbul.
Tender / Kuyu Kebab
In the western Black Sea Region, the town of Kastamonu is known for its tasty kuyu kebab. The term “kuyu,” meaning “well,” is where the kebap gets its name from. The plan is to hang the uncut male lamb in a well or a properly built hole and roast it slowly over a charcoal fire. Pine tree branches are essential to the taste of kuyu kebab.
In the Fatih neighborhood, Siirt Reef Büryan Kebap Salonu serves the genuine stuff.
Skender Kebap is döner meat in disguise. Döner is a Turkish cuisine consisting of skewered, seasoned, and vertically grilled beef cubes that have been battered and seasoned with suet and local herbs and spices. Döner is served on pide, a flatbread similar to a pita, wrapped in a leaf. Butter and tomato sauce are spread on pide slices.
You can make it even more delicious by adding some yogurt on the side and, if you want, some more tomato sauce and butter. This delicious pork dish is originally from Bursa, as is its accompanying sauce. Atif Yilmaz Street in Beyoglu is home to my favorite Bursa Kebapçss, which is a tiny and unassuming establishment. The restaurant’s sign has the master’s name—Kazm Erdem.
If you’re a meat eater, you have to try this kebap. The southeastern city of Adana inspired the river’s moniker. The designation “Controlled Designation of Origin” for Adana kebap was first introduced in 2009. Only businesses that pass a special on-site inspection by the Adana Chamber of Commerce may claim to provide authentic Adana kebap.
While there aren’t a ton of ingredients, the cooking and preparation steps are rather detailed. The lamb and the fat from the tail are the two most important components. Traditional preparation calls for the flesh of a male lamb that is less than a year old. The animal has to be raised in its native habitat and fed native plants. When the meat has rested and been well cleaned, it is kneaded with dried red and green hot peppers and fresh local red peppers, brochette, and cooked over charcoal before being served on lavaş (a pita-like thin bread) with grilled onion, tomato, and green pepper.
The restaurants Adana Sofas Cier ve Kebap Salonu (in Beşiktaş), Adana Yüzevler (in Etiler), Kebapc Enver Usta (in Beyolu-Tünel), and Zübeyir Ocakbaş (in Beyoglu) all provide authentic kebap from Adana. The restaurant goes by the name Adrenal Yusuf Usta, and its proprietor also goes by that name. Even though the Avclar neighborhood is 30 minutes outside of the main tourist attractions, any real meat lover will agree that the trip is well worth it.
Fish will almost always be among the top 5 foods recommended by a local if you ask them what they recommend eating in the city. Relaxing with a glass of raki and some fresh fish by the Bosphorus is almost like a weekly tradition. You’re free to use whatever alcoholic beverage you choose in place of the traditional anise-flavored raku. The question of which fish to get remains, however. Personally, I think lüfer is the best option, but that’s just my opinion.
The Pomatomidae are the family from which Lüfer hails. A large fish that is not only delicious but also simple to prepare. Sarkanat, the younger version of Lüfer, is an excellent choice. If you’re a fish fan, you absolutely must read our ranking of the best 10 fish restaurants in Istanbul.
Mant is a hot meal traditionally made in Turkey and eaten with cold yogurt and garlic. It is also sometimes referred to as “Turkish ravioli.” The dough and filling of many are similar to dumplings in concept. The dough is prepared from water, flour, and salt in the traditional Anatolian (Kayseri) method. Some people add eggs to boost the taste. The greater the skill of the chef, the thinner the dough and the more miniature the wrapped portions. Ground beef or lamb, onions, salt, and pepper make up the stuffing.
Mantu is now available with a variety of toppings, including salmon, spinach, and even chicken. Mant is traditionally served with garlicky yoghurt, buttery tomato sauce, and a tangy tomato condiment called tahini. The use of seasonings is ubiquitous. Typically, I’ll use a blend of ground red pepper, mint, and sumac.
A few of the best locations to get mant to include Casita Mant Nişantaş (işli), Fccn (Beyolu), Emek Mant (Yeniköy), Bodrum Mant (Arnavutköy), and Aşkana (Ulus).
The Arab Künefe pastry is a classic cheese pastry. The secret is in the unsalted cheese sandwiched between the kadayif’s two layers. Kadayf are strands of dough that are just water and flour thick. Because it is freshly made and drizzled with syrup, it is best served warm.
This Turkish delicacy gets its golden hue from ground pistachio that is sprinkled on top. When you take a mouthful, you’ll experience contrasting sensations from the melted cheese and the crusty bread. I really like how the cheese balances out the sweetness.
The Turkish love of sweets is best shown by baklava. Though just phyllo dough, almonds, and syrup are needed, a high level of skill is necessary in order to make them. It’s essential that the dough layers be very thin. Nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, or pistachios are grown in different parts of Turkey.
The nuts are interleaved with the phyllo dough layers. The dough is layered with butter and sugar, cooked, and then doused with syrup. You should be selective about where you eat baklava since it is best when it is freshly produced and well prepared. Güllüolu and Köşkerolu are two of the best baklava restaurants in Istanbul. Learn more about baklava by reading this article.
Kuru Fasulye, a bonus!
Why are haricot beans so exceptional? You’re right; it doesn’t make for a very joyous aural picture. But it’s on the way. When this simple food is made right, with high-quality ingredients like butter, tomatoes, and tomato paste, it becomes as smooth as silk. It may be prepared vegetarian, with meat, or even with pasta, thin slices of beef that have been dried, seasoned and preserved.
Having kuru faculty with pilav (plain rice) and pickles makes me feel like I’m participating in a time-honored custom from another society. The eateries beside Süleymaniye Mosque are ideal for such an outing.