Across all our travel around the world, we have found Istanbul to be the #1 place for food (tied with Kolkata, India). So we had to write a completely food-based blogpost (our second after London) to rank our top food experiences from our 1-week stay in Istanbul along with restaurant details. It is all about the Kebabs (we chose lamb mostly), Desserts & Caffeine for us so do not expect any vegan food items on this list. All meals costed less than 100 TL for 3 people ($27) so quite affordable by western standards.
Top tip: There are many restaurants in the Sultanahmet area that are tourist traps with the same cookie cutter menu and much higher prices (we compared the menus). The sales people are also a bit aggressive in trying to woo you. So avoid the Sultanahmet area for food.
Tip: We took a lot of inspiration from The Guardian’s post about the best kebabs in Istanbul as well as a 9gag post about Turkish food.
1. Shezade Erzurum Cag Kebabi ( TripAdvisor – 4.5 | Google – 4.4 )
Why is this Kebab place the #1? Because after a week of stuffing our face without repeating a single restaurant, we went back to have one last Cag Kebab on the morning of our flight back. It was that good! The menu has just 1 item, a beautifully cooked lamb kebab made on a horizontal spit. The meat to fat ratio is perfect and it melts in your mouth. Plus the central location (next to Sirkeci station) means there are no excuses to miss this gem.
Best dish: The lamb kebab (also the only dish). Costs 18 TL.
2. Adana Ocakbasi ( TripAdvisor – 4.5 | Google – 4.5 )
The priciest meal we had in Istanbul was here (just under 100 TL for 3) because this place specializes in high-quality lamb dishes. A proper traditional experience, you place your order and the Usta (grillmaster) fires up the coals to grill the meats. The smells swirling in this restaurant are heady and appetizing 🙂 Worth the trek to Sisli in north Istanbul.
Best dish: Lamb chops. Was 40 TL.
3. Hafiz Mustafa ( TripAdvisor – 4.5 | Google – 4.6 )
A dessert lovers dream destination, we got a happy sugar high on our visit here. We did not taste the Baklava here but the Kunefe was to die for. We had an additional traditional (rice pudding) and fun (chocolate & pistachio mousse) dessert and they were good. The Sultanahmet branch is a great place to hang your boots after a day of sightseeing.
Best dish : Kunefe (almost 10 TL per dessert)
4. Siirt Seref Buryan ( TripAdvisor – 4.5 | Google – 4.2 )
The last lamb place we promise, this place has a very specific type of lamb barbeque cooked in a pit. It tasted very different from the typical types of kebab we ate in Istanbul. This place also had a very unique rice dish cooked inside of a pastry shell. Another plus for this restaurant is its location, in a leafy area next to an ancient aqueduct.
Best dish: The lamb of course (so tender)
5. Street food & caffeine
At this point, we’ll talk about some food available easily across Istanbul that we had frequently.
- Simit: This pretzel like bread was our breakfast every day (1 TL per simit). It tastes delicious and we recommend buying it from street stalls than the ubiquitous Simit Sarayi.
- Turkish tea & coffee: Tea (çay) is the elixir which we downed with most meals. It is drunk without milk and is an instant energiser. Where the tea is light, Turkish coffee on the other hand is quite dense. What is common is really beautiful cutlery in which the tea & coffee is served in 🙂
- Pickles in the market: This is a weird “street food” but we came across some selling so many types of pickles, each contained in a drum. What was even more interesting was that they were selling pickle juice (aka brine water) which was super tangy and salty but fun to drink.
6. Baklava & Lokum (Turkish Delight)
Of course any round up of Istanbul must-eat foods is incomplete without the flaky, puff pastry sweet called Baklava and the chewy, nutty treat called Lokum (referred to as Turkish Delight in the west). Both have many fillings / flavours available so you won’t be lacking variety.
We bought Turkish from the famous store called Haci Bekir (the original location near Sirkeci station, since 1777 :O ) and Baklava from Hakki Zade. Our favourite Turkish Delight are the subtly flavoured rose ones 🙂
Other must-eats in Istanbul
This tomato & spice topped bread called Lahmacun and the yogurt and olive oil topped bread pictured below were enjoyed with some excellent kebabs in the Asian side of the city at Ciya Kebap. A culinary treat!
This was our very first meal in Istanbul, just behind the Spice Market is a chain restaurant called Bereket Doner packed with locals. We enjoyed this plate of Iskender Kebap along with Ayran (salty buttermilk).
Finally, this Testi Kebap is a great show to watch but it is not very flavourful. You can actually bargain about the price of this show as you’ll be fleeced if you dont (again everyone is trying to sell their restaurant to you).
Special shout out to the local alcohol Yeni Raki (the local fennel flavoured alcohol) and the local soft drink Sirma Limon.
Note: It has been almost 2 years since we visited Istanbul and the socio-political situation in the city has been shaky at best since. The memories of a lifetime that remain with us from this beautiful city make our heart wrench more than usual when we read of an attack on Turkey.
© 2017 Beyond Our Horizons