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Must Eat Foods In Istanbul And Where To Eat Them

By Dilek Camurcu An expert on Turkish culture with a passion for Istanbul’s vibrant food scene
Edited by Matthew Wears
Must Eat Foods In Istanbul And Where To Eat Them

I’ve lived in Istanbul for over ten years now and since I’ve been here, I’ve began to realise just how important food is to the local culture. If you ask most tourists to name a Turkish food, then I think most people would say kebab, which isn’t really wrong, but we just have so many other dishes! The city is a combination of so many ethnicities, to a point where one half of the city is in Asia and the other half is in Europe, meaning the food is a really nice mixture of both continents. The popular central areas like Galata have a good selection of restaurants, but it’s when you get off the beaten path that you really discover true Turkish cuisine! It’s when you realise that every individual district has its own specialised dishes, you can begin to see just how exciting but also how complex my city is for food lovers! The aim of this Istanbul food guide is to make it a little bit easier for you to find out exactly what to eat in Istanbul and where to eat it, because restaurants can be a bit different over here. It’s such an authentic experience to eat in this city, Istanbul's restaurants are more likely to be a stall on the street selling just one item than anything fancy, but that’s all part of the charm!


Yoghurt And Sugar – Kanlica

Yoghurt And Sugar – Kanlica

If you come to Istanbul and you don’t make it over to the Asian side of the city, then I’m afraid you’re doing it all wrong. The small village of Kanlica is such an undiscovered gem! It’s just a short ferry ride away and it’s where you’ll find some of the best places to eat in Istanbul that’s both authentic and delicious, and nothing is more authentic than Turkish yoghurt! In Istanbul, yoghurt is served with pretty much everything, but in Kanlica, it traditionally comes served on its own with just a light sprinkling of sugar on top, although nowadays, you can get jam or honey as well. Yoghurt has been made here for many, many years, it’s a really good example of how a district in the city has its own signature dish I think. You could honestly spend a full day at Kanlica, it’s a very pretty little part of the city that’s totally different to anywhere else!

Beans And Rice - Süleymaniye Mosque Area

Beans And Rice - Süleymaniye Mosque Area

In the streets surrounding the must-visit Süleymaniye Mosque, there are many little cafeterias that sell some of the most traditional turkish food Istanbul has, with one of the most popular dishes being the simple beans and rice. This is a highly favoured dish amongst locals because it is cheap and really, really tasty, perfect for tourists who want to experience what everyday Turkish food tastes like! The beans are cooked in a tomato sauce that is rich and flavoursome, it kind of resembles British baked beans I suppose, sometimes it can be served with pickles on the side to give it some extra flavour. A few years ago, if you were to look at a list of the best food in Istanbul you would certainly not see beans and rice on there because it was seen to be too simple, but it seems to have made a comeback to become one of my city’s best loved meals!

Kumpir – Ortakoy

Kumpir – Ortakoy

Ortakoy is a neighbourhood on the Asian side of the Bosporus where you’ll find some of the best must eat food Istanbul has to offer, such as the legendary kumpir. This is essentially a baked potato, but don’t think of a normal, boring baked potato, this is Turkish style! When you go to buy your potato, you’ll come face to face with an absolutely huge selection of toppings to add, anything goes here so get as much as you can, even if you think that some of them don’t mix well together! Kumpir is probably the best street food in Istanbul, it’s so delicious and you can make it whatever you want it to be! It’s very popular among the locals too, as soon as you enter the neighbourhood you will see pretty much everyone walking around or sitting with one of these Turkish baked potatoes, you really have to try this alternative Istanbul favourite!

Stuffed Mussels – Besiktas

Stuffed Mussels – Besiktas

Besiktas is an area that is probably best known for its football team, but did you know it’s also got some of the best food in Istanbul too? Near the stadium, just down by the seashore, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Istanbul that serve a really traditional and classic dish; stuffed mussels! The shell of the mussel is opened up and stuffed full of rice, it is then closed back up and cooked to create a really delicious meal that has become one of my city’s most famous dishes. There is one place in particular called Midyeci Ahmet that is probably the best place to get stuffed mussels, it isn’t very fancy and has a very traditional atmosphere, but I guarantee you will always see hundreds of people waiting to get the best mussels in town! It’s one of the best places to eat in Istanbul and you can find it down on the seafront, you really have to go here!

Tantuni – Any Food Market

Tantuni – Any Food Market

To make it they fry the cuts of meat in a huge wok that’s hung over a fire, adding water and oil every so often, until they add herbs such as parsley and then some spices to make it really flavoursome. To finish, it is served with fresh vegetables, mostly sliced tomatoes and red peppers, then it is wrapped inside a Turkish pita bread, which makes it really popular for people on the go who just want a quick bite to eat! Tantuni has to be the best street food in Istanbul, but the secret seems to be getting out and it’s becoming super popular all across the world at street food markets, but the best will always be here! There’s no one place to try this, you’ll find it all over the city although a good place to start might be at an Istanbul food market that serves cooked food. I’d say out of every dish on this list this is the one that nearly every tourist loves!

Turkish Breakfast – Rumeli Fortress

Turkish Breakfast – Rumeli Fortress

To really understand Turkish culture, then I think the best way is through experiencing breakfast, but there are just so many places that you must first know exactly where to eat in Istanbul to get the best start to your day! On the European side of Bosporus, underneath the Rumeli Fortress on the seashore, you will find a handful of Istanbul restaurants that are very famous for breakfast! On Sundays, many Turkish people will go here from 9AM all the way until about 2PM, it’s a real tradition for locals to enjoy a long, slow breakfast where different dishes will be served all throughout the day. You can expect to find many kinds of Turkish cheese, lots of varieties of olives, traditional teas, as well as fried eggs served with authentic Turkish sausage! I think that sometimes they bring too many dishes, so make sure you’re very hungry if you’re going to give it a go!

Meze - Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi

Meze - Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi

So, meze isn’t actually a type of food, it’s more of a way that it is served, kind of like tapas I suppose because there are lots of little dishes that can be either rice, vegetables or meat based. Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi is quite a mouthful for non-Turkish speakers, but I promise that this is absolutely one of the best Istanbul restaurants to enjoy this kind of eating! This is my favourite restaurant in the whole city, it’s a little bit more touristy compared to other places on this list, but I don’t think it matters because the food it just so, so good! The meat and the rice from here is especially good, and if you do order a meat dish, it will come to the table in a huge pot and be cooked right there in front of you which just adds to the atmosphere! If I had to say just one place that does the best food in Istanbul, I think it might just be here!