Pasta and pizza come from Italy, tapas and ‘queso’ are the highlights of Spain, lamb and tzatziki make your meal in Greece. It is always the same – I travel to a southern European country, and all I can think about is the delicious food. Obviously, a trip to Turkey is no exception. Istanbul is a culinary paradise, but you have to know your way around. Here’s the Travelettes’ guide to the Turkish way of food.

restaurant istiklal istanbul

Turkish Delight

When visiting Istanbul the Grand Bazar is on everyone’s bucket list – so on mine. It’s easy to get lost on the labyrinth of booths offering leather bags, sunglasses, colorful jewellery or carpets. It’s best not to fall for those, as yery often the exact same products are available much cheaper on smaller markets. Definitely worth checking out are the booths offering spices, cheeses, nuts or sweets. While strolling along the ‘streets of Turkish delight’ the shop keepers lure bypassers with samples of everything. Nonetheless, this is hardly the place to come for a free meal, that is unless you consider sticky sugar and salty pistachios a full meal.

If it’s a proper meal you’re fancying head to Mahmutpaşa gate. This is the large street connecting Grand Bazaar with the harbour. It’s lined up with more shops and stalls but a simple turn right or left into one of the side streets will reveal yummy kebab places.

turkish delight

 

Big Fish

As a consequence of the very crowded markets and streets mentioned above it is definitely no mistake to leave Old Town from time to time. Even though Istanbul is hardly walkable due to its incredible size your feet are a perfect means of transportation for our next culinary destination.

fishermen istanbul

When trying to avoid touristy Old Town for dinner just walk across Galata bridge over to Karaköy, where some great fish restaurants can be found. Once across the bridge turn left, enter the fish market and marvel all sorts of fish fresh from the sea. Unless you want to play chef, just leave those booths behind and find a nice restaurant to dish up fishy delicacies. I can’t recommend the pretty outdoor restaurant on your right (Does anyone know its name?), despite its wonderful garden party atmosphere. The waiters did not speak English and we were unable to choose from the Turkish menu, so we had to see what was left behind the glass counter and in the end we paid what seemed like a 100% tourist fee.
The restaurant on your left – nevermind the tiny grill booth and the pile of plastic furniture – is a much better choice. We sat directly by the water, watched seagulls fight each other over leftovers and enjoyed delicious fish for a reasonable price.

fresh fish istanbul

 

All you can meat

Living in cities like Vienna and Berlin I know my way around tasty kebab and other Turkish dishes. However, this was my first time in Istanbul and I wanted to taste some of the „original“ stuff. Luckily one of my friends spoke Turkish and knew all the secret spots around Taksim and the main shopping street of Istiklal (district Beyoğlu). Soon I got spoiled by the world’s best kebab, köfte and pide (the Turkish answer to pizza). Yum!
Just try any of the side streets is Istaklal, and you will end up with the same! Harbi Köfte & Dürüm at İpek Sok are great choices. Pick anything on the menu – you won’t be disappointed.

turkish food

 

Street Food

It is almost impossible to miss the many, many mobile street food booths surrounding the touristic and non-tourstic corners of Istanbul. Throughout the day I fed on simit (sesame bread) for breakfast from the man around the corner, misir (sweet corn) for lunch in front of the Blue Mosque and kebab for dinner at Harbi.

street food istanbul

But there is one even more interesting dish to be found on Istanbul’s streets – especially at night, to feed the hungry partycrowd a.k.a. a drunk Travelette: midye. For just a few coins you will get a pack of rice-filled mussels and a slice of lemon and there you go. Being grossed out by seafood I was pretty sceptical – but hey, no risk, no fun. And I tell you, it was delicious! Worth a try!

street food istanbul

 

A drink, please!

While restaurant-hopping in Istanbul there are three drinks you should never turn down: Turkish coffee, çaj (black tea) and ayran (a salty milk-based drink).
Traditional Turkish coffee is prepared unfiltered which allows the grounds to settle in the cup. Usually it is sweetened with sugar and/or served with a bite of Turkish delight. Tea is often offered for free or just a few coins and comes in the cutest glasses with tiny spoons.

turkish coffee cafe fes Drinks (3) photo by Kathi

Turkey is the cradle of the European coffee culture as it was Turkish soldiers who brought the drink made of black beans to “coffee nations” like Austria in the 1600s. Drinking coffee and tea is a crucial part of Turkish everyday life. On markets and in shops it is standard to offer a cup to customers and visitors. Enjoying a hot cup of tea together, spending all the time it takes until it cools down, is a bonding experience – almost like sharing the same language. Even when I didn’t understand a word our Turkish landlord said to me, sharing a cup of tea with him and his sons made me a part of his circle.

tea and people in istanbul

Milk-based Ayran is offered at every restaurant or snack bar. This dairy drink is very similar to buttermilk, but has a rather salty taste. Sometimes it’s handmade and comes with a huge foam hat, but often it’s sold in regular yogurt cups. Take a straw, stick it through the aluminium cap, and start slurping!

 

So, next time you visit Istanbul don’t get too caught up with sightseeing and resulting quick meals. The city is a culinary hotspot and taking your time to explore the local specialties like kebab, çaj or midye is a must!

.

*all photos by Katja Hentschel unless otherwise specified

.