Istanbul Food and Drinks guide

When you visit Istanbul, you get the impression that the city is one big store or, even better, one big restaurant. There are thousands of cafes and bakeries on virtually every street. Therefore, finding a place to eat is not an issue.

Turkish cuisine is famous for its history. We can trace culinary traditions back many centuries ago thanks to nomadic Turkic tribes. 

In Istanbul, as in all of Turkey, there are specific rules around food that can’t be broken. They slaughter animals in a special way, there must always be bread on the table, which comes in all shapes and sizes. Turks love their soups, appetizers and sauces. And their sweet treats are so tasty, they’re famous worldwide. 

You’ll also find out soon that food is very affordable, so get to know as many local culinary delights as possible. Here are my favorites.

1. Kebab

This is a traditional Turkish dish that will take meat-eaters to heaven and back. Skewers of layered chicken, beef or lamb flavored with aromatic spices are roasted in a vertical broiler. The cooked meat is then sliced and wrapped in thin pita bread and sprinkled with herbs. It is customary to top your kebab with tomatoes, onions, peppers and lettuce (and sometimes eggplant). The result is a juicy and hearty meal that will keep you satisfied all day.

Kebabs can look quite different from one place to another, but they’re all basically the same. You can’t leave Istanbul without trying them, and since they’re found everywhere, it’s hard to recommend one. It’s hard to go wrong, though, just follow the locals. Large crowds mean tasty and inexpensive kebabs!

2. Adana kebab

A Turkish classic you just have to try. Named after the city of Adana, where it was created, Adana kebabs are minced lamb mounted on a long skewer seasoned with spices and grilled on a wire rack. The skewers are traditionally served with pita bread, lemon and various vegetable salads; there are always 4-5 types to choose from!

Of course, in the crowded tourist places, the quality in restaurants and cafes is far from perfect, but you can find family-owned restaurants with 20-30 years of tradition. They specialize in cooking only kebab or iskender (sliced and breaded döner meat) and usually offer no more than two main dishes. Try one of these eateries, and you’ll immediately become a Turkish cuisine admirer.

If you are not a fan of spicy food, the thick natural yogurt served with almost all meat dishes and an integral part of Turkish cuisine will always smooth out any pungency.

3. Fish

Here are the best fishing restaurants and spots in Istanbul for all seafood lovers. 

If you’re craving good fish, then you must visit the Galata Bridge that crosses to the ‘The Golden Horn’. Ready-to-eat seafood is everywhere in Istanbul. You’ll find great food even in the smallest and inexpensive establishments, and all menus are varied; they offer everything, whether you want to try national cuisine or more familiar European. The city also offers unique fish restaurants specializing in all kinds of sea-scented dishes. 

Numerous Turkish fish restaurants are located on the Bosphorus, that is, in an area located close to the sea. It is here, because of the massive number of berths, or docks, that you’ll find freshly caught fish at all hours.

Blue mackerel, flounder, trout, sea tongue, sea bass and swordfish are common and always fresh. Besides their unique design, prices and services, fish restaurants in the Upper Bosphorus are known for the Black Sea hamsa (the European anchovy), red mullet, and sultanka (the European salmonete). Regarding other seafood specialties like shellfish and oysters, I should note that choices are limited despite the proximity to the sea. However, some restaurants will offer oysters, octopus, squid, shrimp, mussels, and lobsters.

The Chapariz Lane, in the Kumkapi area, is today Istanbul’s hotspot for fish, quality is overall high, and prices are the same everywhere. It is here that you can try local delicacies at an affordable price, without worrying about the freshness of the food. All seafood is delivered from the neighboring harbor in the morning and evening.

Note: In fish restaurants, where you yourself choose the seafood, pay attention to the weight and price of what you have chosen – everything should be weighed in front of you.

Istanbul food and drinks :

Drinks

You can’t talk about Istanbul without mentioning the variety of drinks available. Here are the most popular.

1. Turkish tea 

Istanbul locals drink tea all day: in the morning, afternoon, evening, and possibly at night, and, as we noticed, it’s always sweetened with sugar. Tea is usually strong and extremely hot. It’s served in tulip-shaped cups, with a few pieces of sugar or sweets. I can’t imagine the locals sitting at a table in a cafe without a glass of tea, and if you are in Turkish company, you’ll undoubtedly be offered a glass of tea more than once. 

Tea is a symbol of Turkish hospitality and has a special meaning. The Turks want to express their respect by treating guests with tea, and I mean sincere respect and wishful health and longevity.

There is a particular tradition around tea drinking. People serve tea in special pear-shaped glass cups. They are called bir bardak. According to classical canons, Turks present these glasses with white porcelain saucers with hand-painted roses on the border. 

Istanbul has places specially designated for tea drinking; they are called tea gardens. We visited a famous tea garden during our walk along the Asian side of Istanbul – Kadikey. Here you can enjoy aromatic Turkish black tea and a view of the promenade by the Sea of ​​Marmara. 

2. Salep 

Now about salep, what is it? Real salep is made from a special flour obtained from the root of a wild mountain orchid (Orchis mascula and Orchis militaris). It’s mixed with milk and cinnamon, and sometimes ginger. The drink has been widely popular since the Ottoman Empire and has even been exported; however, because of the large volumes of flour production, the wild mountain orchid is endangered. For the most part, the salep in street stands is made from artificial flavorings; it’s still worth trying. It’s a lesser known Turkish drink but definitely worth trying.

Turks claim that salep helps with common cold symptoms, sore throats, and has an excellent warming effect.

For added sophistication, some salep vendors add crushed nuts, cocoa or coconut flakes, and sprinkled cinnamon it’s madly popular. The result is a drink with a somewhat viscous consistency, which must be drunk hot. You can try salep both on the streets of Istanbul and in cafes, and it’s mainly sold in winter.

3. Turkish coffee 

Everyone has heard about Turkish coffee, and you should definitely try it in Turkey. It is here that it’s prepared most traditionally. Turkish coffee is made, according to the original recipe invented over 300 years ago, in copper Turkish cezve, served in small cups, always with a glass of water. Turk coffee is tart, powerful, and half the cup is sediment. Turkish coffee is not a drink, but the method behind it. They boil coffee in a cezve from ground grains, sometimes with sugar or cardamom.

Among the most common variations of Turkish coffee, you’ll find coffee with milk, which has nothing to do with cappuccino or latte. Coffee on charcoal and coffee on sand enjoy the love of many. Over the fire, coffee is deep and rich. When brewed buried in scorching sand, the liquid heats evenly until it bubbles, it’s quite a show! 

4. Fresh juices in Istanbul (pomegranate juice)

For me, the second yummiest drink in the country after the coffee is pomegranate juice. Without it, the impression of Istanbul would not be complete. 

Visit the old city’s center (Sultanahmet district) and find brightly colored pomegranate and orange stands every hundred meters. Buy 5 liras (2.5 dollars) of fruit, and they’ll turn them into juice using a specialized fruit press. Pomegranate juice is special: delicious and packed with antioxidants. It energizes you, and you’ll need that extra energy if you’re planning on viewing the many attractions in the city. Trying fresh pomegranate juice is a must in Istanbul, and you won’t have trouble finding a juice stand.

Final Thoughts

Tasty, authentic, and inexpensive, that’s Istanbul’s food and drinks scene. The country is an obligated visit for foodies, and if you’re not already a food-obsessed traveler, you’ll become one in the ancient Constantinople. Street food is varied, colorful, and exceptionally clean. Meat dishes are juicy, spicy, and very hearty; fish and seafood are as fresh as seafood gets; desserts and sweet treats are world-class; and fruit is ripe and flavorful. Enjoy this culinary experience with tea, coffee or the orchid based salep, and don’t forget to get yourself teased by an ice cream vendor, Istanbul’s got it all!