What to Eat in Istanbul: 13 Treats You Should Not Miss
Istanbul is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Turkey. It is also the country's largest city, with a population of over 14 million people. Istanbul is a city with a long and rich history, dating back to the Roman Empire. Today, it is a modern metropolis with a vibrant culture and plenty of things to see and do.
When it comes to food, Istanbul has something for everyone. There are thousands of restaurants to choose from, serving everything from traditional Turkish cuisine to international dishes. And with so many delicious options available, it can be hard to know what to eat in Istanbul.
Istanbul is a city with a rich and vibrant food culture. Turkish breakfast is a feast for the senses, with an array of colors and flavors to enjoy. Turkish delight is a must-try for any sweet tooth, and the best street food in Istanbul offers up all sorts of tempting treats. Turkish coffee is also a popular choice, and there are plenty of cafes to while away the hours. And, of course, no visit to Istanbul would be complete without trying the famously delicious Turkish kebabs. So whether you're looking for a hearty meal or a sweet treat, Istanbul has something to offer everyone, including vegetarians. The many vegetarian restaurants in Istanbul offer tasty meat-free options, and you don't have to eat outside Turkey's traditional food.
Trying all the treats in the city can be exhausting. Don't make it harder than it needs to be. Make sure you visit a Bounce luggage storage in Istanbul before you head out on your Turkish culinary adventure. There's nothing worse than worrying about your bags when you're trying to enjoy a good meal. Here are our picks for what to eat in Istanbul:
Istanbul Food: Turkish Breakfast
Start your trip out right on the first day and head immediately for a Turkish breakfast. Turkish breakfast typically includes bread, cheese, olives, Turkish scrambled eggs, and jam. Common additions to this basic option are sliced cucumbers, cured meats, tomatoes, and fresh-baked bread. For the bread, you are often provided a sweet butter or a few dips. These dips include things like tahini (made with sesame seeds), ezme (a tomato sauce), or hummus.
Accompany your Turkish breakfast with a cup of tea served hot, and you'll be enjoying this traditional Turkish food like a local. Now, this sounds like a lot of food, and it is, but the amount of each item is generally quite small.
For some of the best Turkish breakfast and Turkish food in Istanbul, visit Cafe Privato Restaurant or Van Kahvaltı Evi.
Istanbul Food: Turkish Delight
No trip to Turkey would be complete without trying Turkish delight, or lokum. This sweet treat is made with sugar, nuts, and spices and can be enjoyed in a variety of different flavors. The entire dessert stems from a gel of sugar and starch. The most common flavor is rose, but you can also find options like apricot, lemon, orange, or pistachio.
You can find Turkish delight all over Istanbul, but for the best quality, head to Hacı Bekir or Goren Baklava.
Istanbul Food: Baklava
Baklava is a popular Turkish dessert made with filo dough, nuts, and syrup or honey. It is often served as a small square or triangle and can be found in many bakeries around Istanbul. While you may not consider this a typical Turkish street food, a little piece of baklava to nibble on while you tour the sights of Istanbul is never a bad idea.
Baklava is a food you eat with your eyes as much as your taste buds. The delicate pastries are cooked to a universal golden brown with a dusting of nuts on top. Be careful with this one, though. A little goes a long way when it comes to sweetness. If the pieces look small, it's for a reason.
Istanbul Food: Turkish Coffee
Turkish coffee is a must-try when you're in Istanbul. This type of coffee is made by boiling water with sugar and coffee grounds, then pouring it into a small cup where the grounds settle. The coffee is then drunk from the cup, making sure to avoid the settled grounds at the bottom.
Turkish coffee is typically served with a piece of Turkish delight or baklava. For the best Turkish coffee in Istanbul, visit Aksular Cafe or Café du Monde.
Istanbul Food: Doner Kebab
Döner kebab is a very popular street food made with meat that is cooked on a rotating spit. The meat is then thinly sliced and served with bread, fresh vegetables, and sauces. If you're only going to try one famous street food in Istanbul, this has to be it.
This dish is typically made with lamb or beef, but you can also find chicken or veggie options. In fact, with all the vegetables and sauces, this is a great vegetarian food to try.
Istanbul Food: Fish Sandwich
Hamsi, or anchovies, are a very popular fish in Istanbul and can be found in sandwiches, fried, or baked. This small fish is usually served as a sandwich on bread with lettuce, onion, and lemon or lemon juice. It's a simple but effective dish that makes for a great quick snack.
For the best hamsi sandwich in Istanbul, visit one of the many street vendors near Galata Bridge or try it at Havuzlu Restaurant in the Grand Bazaar.
Another popular street food in Istanbul is the balik ekmek, another kind of fish sandwich. Vendors line up their grills and offer a sandwich of grilled fish seasoned with crushed red pepper and other herbs, followed by a fresh squeeze of lemon juice. Once cooked, the sandwiches are dressed with a choice of basic toppings like lettuce, onions, and tomatoes.
These balik ekmek street food vendors can be found along two sides of the Galata Bridge and pretty much anywhere along the water of the Bosphorus. You know the fish is fresh when you're this close to the sea!
Istanbul Food: Borek
Borek is a type of pastry made with filo dough and typically filled with cheese, minced meat, or vegetables. It's rolled into a pinwheel shape, making it both appetizing and pretty. This is a favorite breakfast food among locals and can be found in most bakeries around Istanbul. The best place to try borek is at one of the many street carts in Sultanahmet Square, where you can watch the bakers make it fresh right in front of you. This treat is great for both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. You can often find ones filled with spinach or potatoes if you need a meat-free option. Other than a difference in shape, the spinach version of this dish is similar to the Greek spinach pie called spanakopita.
Istanbul Food: Turkish Tea
With the highest per capita tea consumption in the world, Turkey loves tea. More popular than coffee, this is the ideal drink to pair with your Turkish breakfast, a piece of baklava, or to drink by itself when you need a little something. The most consumed tea in the city by locals is black tea. This tea is made by boiling water with black tea leaves and pouring it into a small glass. Like Turkish coffee, do your best to avoid the tea leaves at the bottom of the glass. Turkish tea always has sugar in it, so if you don't like the idea of a sweet tea, you'll have to ask for an adjustment. In a foreign language, it might be better to skip this altogether rather than get into a jam.
Istanbul Food: Turkish Pizza/Lahmacun
This dish is typically served as a quick snack or street food. Turkish pizza, or lahmacun, is a flatbread topped with minced meat and vegetables. Instead of tomato sauce, they use more of a tomato paste. The spice profile on a Turkish pizza involves parsley, paprika, and chili pepper.
This is pretty far from the typical North American or Italian pizza, but that's part of what makes traveling so much fun. There's no thick crust or veggie-lovers option here. When you want to eat street food in Istanbul, make sure you try this one at least once.
Istanbul Food: Meze
Meze is a type of appetizer that is popular in Turkey. It typically consists of a variety of small dishes like dips, olives, salads, breads, and cheeses. It's quite similar to the concept of the Turkish breakfast but doesn't include eggs or sweet jams. This is the best food to try when you want to sample a bunch of things all at once and use some of the famous Turkish pita bread for dipping.
The dips here are often made with nuts, and you will find feta cheese drizzled with olive oil, stuffed mussels, marinated fish, and cured meats as part of a meze menu. Shop around to see which Istanbul restaurant offers the best meze for your tastes.
Istanbul Food: Kofte
Kofte is a type of meatball that is popular in Istanbul. The balls are usually made with ground beef or lamb and seasoned with a variety of spices. They can be grilled, fried, or baked and are often served with rice, salad, and bread.
For the best kofte in Istanbul, visit one of the many kofte restaurants in the city. Or, for a more unique experience, try the kofte at Hamdi Restaurant, where they are served inside hollowed-out bread.
Istanbul Food: Kumpir
Kumpir is a baked potato dish that is one of the best street foods in the city. The potatoes are first baked until they are nice and fluffy on the inside, then they are split open and topped with a variety of different ingredients like butter, mayonnaise, cheese, mushrooms, corn, sausage, and the list goes on.
This is a filling dish that can be found at street carts around Istanbul, but the best place to try it is definitely in Ortaköy, where you can find a whole street dedicated to kumpir. Make sure to get there early, though, as the street closes down by 4 pm!
Istanbul Food: Simit
Simit is a type of Turkish bread covered in sesame seeds and is often compared to a bagel. This type of Turkish bagel is typically eaten for breakfast with cheese or jam but can also be served as a side with soup or stew. Simit is usually sold from street food carts or bakeries and makes for a quick snack.
For the best simit in Istanbul, visit one of the many bakeries in the city or try one of the street food vendors near Taksim Square.
Simply put, traditional Turkish food has something for everyone. Turkish food is full of everything from sweet treats like baklava and Turkish delight to savory options like kumpir, kofte, meze, kebabs, and fish sandwiches. That's not even mentioning the twist that the Turks put on things like coffee, tea, pizza, and breakfast.
Street food in Istanbul is exceedingly common and is a great way to save a few bucks on your trip. This type of dining will always be cheaper than a sit-down meal. The restaurants, street food vendors, and bakeries of Istanbul have you covered whether you want something light or filling or something meaty or vegetarian.
With all the options for delicious food in Istanbul, be careful about putting on a few pounds. You want to leave with the memories of all the fantastic food you just tried, not a larger waist. Why not check out the best hikes in Istanbul to keep your heart pumping? Along with the great food, touring the city and its surroundings on foot is the best way to experience Istanbul.