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What to Eat in Istanbul, Turkey

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Mouthwatering meatballs, tempting Turkish delight, piping hot coffee & meze plates galore: this is a culinary journey of what to eat in Istanbul!

what to eat in istanbul

I can’t tell you how much I love Istanbul. It’s a city I’ve been to a few times now, and I always leave wanting to discover more.

Sitting on the cusp between Europe and Asia, Turkey’s Istanbul is a fabulous city to lose yourself in. The blend of cultures, combined with the city’s rich history, creates a destination like no other, and one you definitely need to visit.

One way to really get to know more about this vibrant city and its multicultural history is through the food. So, if you’re planning your first visit and you’re wondering what to eat in Istanbul, this post has got you covered. I’ll take you through the best foods Istanbul has to offer, and where to find them.

Trust me, you need to be very hungry when exploring Istanbul in Turkey!

istanbul what to eat
I’ve definitely eating my way through Istanbul

The flavours of Istanbul are as varied as they are mouthwatering. From the strong coffee that energises your day, to the succulent köfte in rich tomato sauce, and the sweet syrup from baklava running down your chin. I can taste all those flavours now!

If you’re inspired to learn more about the food culture, I highly recommend you take a Turkish food tour or even book yourself a spot in a Turkish cooking class. Not only will you learn all about Turkish cuisine, you’ll also get more hints on some of the best places to eat in Istanbul.

I did this food tour in Istanbul and I absolutely loved it – it’s definitely one of the best things I’ve done in the city.

If you’re looking for more inspiration on things to do in Istanbul, check out my breakdown of the best tours on offer. This is a great when planning your holiday here!

Are you a fellow foodie who likes to get to know a place by their taste buds? Check out my food guides of Bangkok, Hanoi, Prague, Rome and Tel Aviv!

Are you planning an amazing holiday to Istanbul? If so, you may want to book your hotels and tours asap to ensure availability. Here are some links to quickly help plan your trip!

Best hotels and apartments in Istanbul:

  1. Cronton Design Hotel (top rated 5* hotel)
  2. Motto By Mula Hotel (top rated 4* hotel)
  3. Galata Greenland Hotel (top rated 3* hotel)

Best activities and tours in Istanbul:

  1. Bosphorus Dinner Cruise & Show with Private Table (top rated tour!)
  2. Mevlevi Sema and the Whirling Dervishes Show (this is so cool)
  3. Istanbul: Guided Food and Culture Tour (I loved this tour)

What to Eat in Istanbul, Turkey

Iskender Kebap

where to eat in istanbul
Everyone needs at least one iskender kebap while in Turkey

First on your list should be an Iskender kebap.

Served in the traditional pita bread, the Iskender kebap filling is comprised of thin slices of grilled lamb, spicy tomato sauce, yoghurt and melted butter. This is one of the most delicious kebaps in Turkey.

Named after the man who invented it, this kebap was first created in Bursa, just a few hours away. Look out for ‘Kebabci Iskender’ restaurants, which are owned by the creator’s family. These are some of the best places to eat in Istanbul if you’re hungry for Iskender kebap!

Turkish coffee

turkish coffee
Turkish coffee is turbocharged

Regardless of whether you’re a regular coffee drinker, enjoying a good Turkish coffee is a must do during your stay. The drink, and preparation thereof, are so embedded in the Turkish culture that it was recognised by UNESCO.

To make a Turkish coffee, fine coffee powder is mixed with water and sugar in a single serving metal pot then heated on an open flame or even through hot sand. Once poured, it is important to leave the coffee to sit to allow the coffee grains to settle.

Drink slowly and enjoy the rich, delicious flavour. However, leave the bottom portion as this is full of thick coffee sediment. I always get this bit wrong and end up with my mouth full of coffee sediment – yuk!


dishes to try in istanbul
I could eat 10 lahmacun in one go they are so food

If you’re in need of a quick snack to keep you energised for adventures, grab yourself a lahmacun. This popular Turkish street food is the perfect thing to keep you going.

Similar to pizza in their form, lahmacun are comprised of a thin dough base with toppings. The basis of the topping is lamb mince and chopped tomatoes. Depending on the style extra toppings can include a mixture of onions, garlic and herbs.

For a fresh, zesty flavour, squirt some fresh lemon juice on before consuming. Delish. If you’re looking at what to eat in Turkey, lahmacun needs to be on your list.


turkish food
These are Turkish meatballs

Köfte, often described as Turkish meatballs, are mouthwatering. These tasty grilled meatballs are often served with a simple tomato sauce, salad, or as a kebab filling.

Though the traditional ingredients are simple, just ground beef, onion, cumin, the result is succulent and tasty. Over the years, a number of variations to the recipe have been created, including different herbs and flavours.

If you’re on the hunt for köfte, one of the best places to eat in Istanbul is Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi. Established by a Bulgarian migrant in 1893, the restaurant and recipe have been passed down through the generations.


what is the local food in istanbul
Simit is a great snack when out and about

Similar in size to a bagel, simit are soft, white loops of bread, covered in a coating of sesame seeds. Best enjoyed warm, this popular Istanbul street food is typically consumed plain as an on-the-go snack.

With origins back to the Ottoman Empire, simit, and their vendors, are an integral part of life in Istanbul. Throughout the day you’ll encounter the iconic vendors carrying perfectly balanced stacks of simit on their heads, or pushing simit carts. Be sure to grab yourself one!


what to eat in turkey
Weirdly, I can’t get enough of knafeh

What do you get when you mix rich, stretchy cheese, cover it in filo pastry and melted sugar, then sprinkle it with crushed pistachios? The oh so decadent künefe!

Served straight from the oven, this delicious desert originated in the south eastern part of Turkey, and can be enjoyed widely across Istanbul. You’ll find künefe in most kebab restaurants; save room for one when you visit. Whatever you do, don’t think of the calory count, it’s just not worth it.


best food in turkey
How good are baklava though?

On the subject of sweets, another one you must try during your Istanbul adventure is baklava. Sold in Turkish shops worldwide, you’re probably familiar with this popular desert. However, take it from me, none that you have tried to date will compare once you try fresh baklava in Istanbul.

Baklava is the incredible combination of layers of filo pastry, filled with chopped nuts and covered in sweet syrup. Prepared en mas in a giant pan, this bite sized desert is packed full of flavour and texture.

Turkish delight

turkish delight
This is definitely must eat food in Instanbul

Of course, you cannot come to Turkey without trying the iconic Turkish delight. Turkish delight are known as lokum in Turkish, which translates to mouthful, and is actually group name for a whole range of sweets.

While you may be familiar with the rosewater flavour, there are many more available including bergamot orange and lemon. Some even come with pieces of crushed nuts or fruit. I recommend getting one of these delicious morsels from Haci Bekir, which has been perfecting them since 1777.


turkish food istanbul
These are stuffed ravioli with a yoghurt sauce

Manti are the Turkish answer to ravioli. Typically made from lamb, these bite sized pockets come served with either a garlic, mint, and yoghurt sauce, a caramelised tomato sauce, or both!

As the creation of this dish is a meticulous process, it is said that the smaller the manti, the more the host respects you. Make sure you order a portion during your trip!


traditional food in istanbul
For me, this is one of the best foods in Turkey

Karnıyarık is what to eat in Istanbul when you’ve reached your kebab quota and are looking for something filling and tasty. Simply put, karnıyarık is eggplants stuffed with a well seasoned blend of mince, onions, and chopped tomatoes. Consumed warm, this dish is generally served with rice.

For vegetarians, there is a meatless version of the dish called Imam bayıldı. This version is generally served cold. Both options are equally delicious!

Meze Plates

turkish meze
Meze is a great way to start any meal

Traditionally served at the beginning of the meal, meze plates are an excellent way to discover the wide range of flavours of Turkish cuisine. Imagine multiple small dishes, designed for sharing, filled with an array mouthwatering delights, both warm and cold.

Typical meze components include olives, bread, dips, pickles, cheeses, stuffed vine leaves, fritters and so much more. Definitely worth trying a full range while you’re here!

Craft beer

craft beer turkey
The craft beer revolution has exploded in Istanbul recently

If all of this adventuring and eating has worked up your thirst, it’s time to check out some of the incredible craft breweries that Istanbul has to offer. Enjoy a pint on location at Bosphorus or The Populist breweries, or enjoy the wide range of craft beers on offer at Craft Beer Lab.

Due to the high taxes on alcohol in Turkey, the prices for beer may seem relatively high compared to other consumables. But trust me, the beers on offer at these craft breweries are worth it. Cheers!

Izgara Balik

turkish dishes
Balik ekmek is best enjoyed down by the water

If it is seafood that you’re after, prepare yourself for a feast of izgara balik, grilled fish. There are many great options, here are two of my favourites.

Caught in the Aegean Sea and farmed in saltwater lagoons, gilt-head bream is a staple of Turkish cuisine. When grilled, this becomes the meal of izgara Çipura. For the full experience, enjoy alongside a meze plate.

Another great seafood snack is balik ekmek. Literally translating to fish bread, balik ekmek is a grilled fish sandwich, plain and simple, but full of flavour. You can buy these straight off boats near the Galata Bridge.


best street food istanbul
Yes, more Turkish kebabs!

Cooking on an open grill, the smell of kokorec will tempt you as it wafts down the street. However, while this is a beloved dish among many locals, it is definitely among the dishes reserved for those with adventurous appetites.

Served on a bun, kokorec is a combination of hearts, kidneys and lungs, stuffed inside a goat’s intestine, and mixed with plenty of seasoning: the result is an intense meaty flavour. There are no fence-sitters with this one, you’ll either love it or hate it! For me, this is among the best street food in Istanbul.

So have I awoken your appetite with this list of what to eat in Istanbul? I know my stomach is rumbling. Let me know your favourite Turkish treats in the comments below.

If you’re heading to Istanbul over winter, then check out my guide to Istanbul which is packed full of useful advice and information. You can also check out the coolest hotels in Istanbul too.

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14 Foods You Have to Try in Istanbul, Turkey

About the Author

  • Chelsey Knott

    Chelsey has lived, worked and studied across 9 countries, and has travelled in 40+. When she is not laying on a beach in Thailand or eating her way across India, she can be found discovering hidden corners of London.

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