Without doubt, one of the best ways to explore a city is through its culinary offerings, and in Istanbul you could hardly have more options to explore. From high-end eateries to street vendors, traditional Turkish dishes to world food, the city offers something delicious at every turn.
The fine-dining scene in Istanbul is by no means new. Ulus 29 is an established favourite that has been delighting locals and visitors alike for more than 20 years. Located off Ahmet Adnan Saygun Caddesi, the restaurant is famous for its view across the Bosphorus strait. The food here is modern and refined, with a mix of traditional Turkish flavours. We recommend the sütlaç, a creamy rice pudding.
The freshest fish
For a totally different experience, head to the Beyoğlu end of the famous Galata Bridge, where you will discover an amazing fish market. It is dotted with cosy restaurants, thronged with locals, which specialise in fresh fish served very simply. Be sure to sample lüfer, also known as bluefish, which is an Istanbul delicacy.
Healthy and delicious
This is a city that enjoys natural, healthy foods. Meg Café is one of our favourite places for tasty yet virtuous dishes. Freshly prepared food is available all day, including homemade granola for breakfast, pancarlı kısır (tabbouleh with beetroot) for lunch, and levrek (seabass) ceviche in the evening. For something more indulgent, Meg’s owner Merve Güleç recommends mantı. Also known as Turkish ravioli, this is a dish of small dumplings usually filled with spiced meat and served with a refreshing yogurt sauce.
Fıccın restaurant in Beyoğlu offers excellent mantı, and it has a range of tasty mezze options, too. Bilge Eroğlu, assistant general manager, recommends köpoglu (fried aubergine with tomato sauce and yoghurt) and acuka (mashed red peppers and walnuts), and we love çerkez tavuğu, a dish of chopped chicken, puréed walnuts, garlic and butter.
On the go
Istanbul is renowned for its street food and there are a few specialities you mustn’t leave without trying. Lahmacun, often referred to as Turkish pizza, is a round of thin flatbread topped with spiced ground meat. Tatbak on Akkavak Sokak in the Nişantaşı district is known to offer one of the best versions. Döner kebab is also popular – and a world away from Western European interpretations. For the best we’ve ever tasted head to Karadeniz Pide ve Döner Salonu on Mumcu Bakkal Sokak in Sinanpaşa. Your kebab will be served in homemade pitta.
Late night treats
When you want something quick, indulge in an ıslak, a Turkish-style burger served with tomato sauce. The best are found on Taksim Square, as you’ll see from the queues of locals. Pick up a cup of tea from a street vendor, too; the Turks are said to drink more tea per person than any other nation. Make like a local and order çay, black tea served strong and sweet.
Istanbul’s love of food can also be seen in the city’s malls, and a day of shopping can go hand in hand with great eating. İstinye Park has an extensive food hall and also an indoor food market inspired by traditional Turkish bazaars. City’s Nişantaşı takes the food court concept to the next level with the Mahalle (which translates into English as ‘neighbourhood’). From formal dining to snacks, cafés and more, this top-floor food hall presents a stylish and comfortable range of options. It is also host to an impressive market, so you can pick up something tasty to take away, too.
A food tour of Istanbul should include the city’s sweets, particularly baklava. Established as a favourite during the Ottoman Empire, these sticky treats are made from layers of filo pastry, chopped nuts and syrup or honey. Karaköy Güllüoglu patisserie, founded in 1820, is the perfect place to sample these classic confections. Another much-loved specialist is Pare Baklava Bar in Nişantaşı, which offers some of the city’s best baklava in a relaxed and friendly environment. Sample the şöbiyet, another classic Turkish sweet; also made from layers of crisp filo pastry and chopped nuts, this dessert is filled with a delicious creamy centre and is not to be missed.
If you’re craving more sweets, why not top off your day with a square or two of Turkish delight? Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir, on İstiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu, has been run by the same family since it opened in 1777. Its traditional rose-flavoured Turkish delight is delicious. Make sure you try the cream-filled variety – you will taste the expertise of more than two centuries in every luscious bite.