13 Dishes To Try In Istanbul
While Turkey’s largest city holds tremendous historical and cultural significance for its unique position of being partly in Asia and partly in Europe, this confluence has made its presence felt in other ways, too. Straddling two continents, the city’s food scene has been inspired by elements of both – so while you’ll find definite Mediterranean influences (the mezze and pide being but two such examples), there’s also a strong Asian influence (read: doner kebaps and icli kofte) here.
For foodies, the city of Istanbul is a haven, offering mouth-watering flavours and tastes to suit every palate. So if you’re travelling to Turkey this season, bookmark this article and refer to it for the foodie experience of a lifetime. And, of course, make sure you go there very, very hungry.
Turkey’s answer to pizza, pide is a flat, boat-shaped bread which can be either had plain or with toppings. Traditionally left to rise for 12 hours, before being baked in a wood-fired oven, the ideal pide (pronounced pea day) should be as soft as your earlobe.
Today, this Turkish delicacy is available everywhere in Istanbul, with toppings including minced meat, spinach, eggs, peynir cheese (made from sheep’s milk), sucuk (spicy Turkish smoked beef sausage) and kuşbaşı (small cubes of seasoned veal meat).
2. Doner Kebap
Arguably Turkey’s most famous food export, you can find doner kebap stalls across Europe. But nowhere is it as delicious as it is in its home country.
In Turkey, doner can come in many forms – dürüm (döner wrapped in lavaş bread) and İskender Kebap (a dish of beaten pieces of meat seasoned with suet, local herbs and spices, skewered on a spit and grilled vertically) being just two of them.
It is typically a sandwich, with slow-cooked meats such as chicken, lamb, or beef, although some places do offer vegetarian alternatives.
3. Lokum, or Turkish Delight
If you have a sweet tooth, you won’t be able to resist lokum, one of Turkey’s most popular sweet dishes. Turkish Delight is basically small and fragrant cubes of jelly dipped in rosewater, orange flower water, or citrus fruit juice, following which it is heavily dusted with icing sugar.
This nougaty dessert is best eaten fresh, as packaged versions tend to get dry easily. The sweets are usually made by boiling sugar syrup and cornflour together slowly for several hours over a low heat, which results in a dense, sticky jelly.
In Istanbul, you’ll find Turkish Delight everywhere, from street stalls and food courts to restaurants and sweet shops.
Turkey’s most famous dessert, baklava is a favourite with adults and kids alike. Its ingredients are simple – just phyllo dough, nuts, and syrup – yet making a delicious baklava is not everyone’s cup of tea.
You require some serious craftsmanship for this one, as the layers should be paper thin, topped appropriately with walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios, and dipped in sugar syrup.
Get your baklava from a well-known place for that soft texture and delightful taste. In Istanbul, you can get some great baklava at Güllüoğlu or Köşkeroğlu. And if you don’t end up having any during your visit, don’t forget to pick some up for back home from the Güllüoğlu outlet at the airport.
5. İçli Köfte
Similar to the Indian koftas (meaning meatballs), icli kofte is the Turkish version of it. Also known as kibbeh in the Middle East, it is primarily a patty of ground beef, lamb, goat or camel meat flavoured with onion, parsley, pine nuts, and Middle Eastern spices.
Icli kofte comes with a delicious crispy shell made from bulgur. It’s common to find these meatballs at street stalls in Istanbul, especially around the Grand Bazaar, where you could do with a hit of energy to navigate through. The best one, however, is at Sabır Taşı, located at İstiklal Caddesi, in Beyoğlu.
Erroneously referred to as a Turkish version of pizza, lahmacun is actually just a thin, crispy piece of dough that is topped with anything, from meat and cheese to even a vegan beetroot spread. Add to this some salad, parsley and a squeeze of lime, and it’s ready to eat.
For a vegetarian version, vendors typically use ingredients such as pickles, tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce, and roasted eggplant. This is a traditional fast food sold across the city, and serves as the perfect lunch or snack that you can pick up on the go.
You’ve probably eaten it at your local Turkish or Arabic restaurant, but the varieties and taste of the mezze that you’ll get in Istanbul is unparalleled. Mezze typically means cold starters, and mezze specialist restaurants in the city are called meyhane.
At meyhanes, mezze is served with alcohol. However, you can also get your fix of mezze at most regular restaurants where they’re served as starters. These can be served as salads, dips, or spreads along with bread to share.
Not very different from the kebabs you’ve probably eaten before, kebaps are the (original) Turkish versions. The dish, which originated from Turkey, is served on skewers and features goat, lamb, chicken, or fish meat. It’s usually served with yogurt, which balances out the spices and provides a cooling effect.
In Istanbul, you’ll get numerous varieties of these delicacies, including adana and urfa (hand-kneaded, seasoned lamb skewers. The former is spicy while the latter is relatively more bland);
beyti (which is usually ground beef or lamb, wrapped in lavaş bread and topped with yoghurt and tomato sauce); and şiş (skewered and grilled cubes of lamb or chicken meat) – all of which originated from different parts of the country but have found adequate representation in Istanbul.
Turkish omelette, anyone? This breakfast dish is basically just scrambled eggs cooked in sautéed vegetables and served hot with bread. Roasted onions and peppers are boiled thoroughly with tomatoes and finally mixed with eggs, herbs, parsley, pepper and grounded red pepper here.
Use your bread to dip in the menemen, or spread it on the bread – either ways, the combination is delicious. Originally from the district of Menemen, in the Izmir region, this dish can include anything from meat and cheese to mushrooms, sausages, and eggplant.
Have your fill of this hearty dish before you leave for a day of sightseeing in Istanbul – your tummy will thank you.
Popular Restaurants Serving Menemen: Lades Muhallebi (in Beyoğlu), Sütiş (in Beyoğlu), Bebek Kahve (in Bebek), Mehtap Cafe (in Emirgan), and Kale Çay Bahçesi (in Rumelihisarı).
To get a context of this delicious dish, imagine a Turkish version of ravioli, but with a yoghurt-y twist.
Manti are dumplings, made out of flour, water, salt, and sometimes egg for added flavour. These dumplings are hand-made and rolled, and can be served in a number of ways. As with dim sum and ravioli, the thinner and smaller the dough, the better the taste and the more skilled the cook.
The Turks traditionally filled manti with meat (beef and lamb), but you’ll now find a variety of fillings, including chicken, spinach, cheese, salmon and mixed vegetables (for vegetarians). Manti can be served boiled with water, baked with butter, and served with yoghurt and garlic on the side; or boiled in tomato sauce and served with yoghurt, garlic, and extra spices like sumac.
No matter how you eat it though, it is just as delicious. If you’re looking to eat some mouthwatering manti in Istanbul, make your way to Casita (in Beşiktaş – Etiler) and Kaşık-la (in Şişli). They might not be in Beyoglu or Sultanahmet, but are well worth the drive there.
A Turkish lasagne if you will, borek is a layered dough dish, where thin layers of dough are interspersed with fillings such as spinach, cheese, minced meat, or potatoes and then baked.
The savoury pastry can be had as a breakfast dish, a quick snack on the go, or as a full meal. The key to having a good borek is its flakiness – the pastry should just melt in your mouth.
Have borek for breakfast before you head out in Istanbul, from one of the many eateries dotting the shore of the Bosphorus – Bebek is particularly famous for its borek.
A Turkish burrito, but without the rice and with oodles of meat, durum is a wrap that serves as a quick meal for those in a hurry. The chicken, lamb or beef inside it is slow cooked, and placed inside a wrap along with some salad and dips to give it some added texture.
The bread used for the wrap is usually lavaş, although sometimes pide may be used too. While you can get it in most restaurants in Istanbul, the best ones are always from street stalls and small restaurants around the city. Vegetarians may find durum with potato or vegetable patties in select places.
13. Turkish Coffee
The Turkish love their tea, known here as cay, but that doesn’t mean that the coffee goes ignored. A staple with breakfast (or at any time of the day, really), Turkish coffee is an evergreen beverage that appeals to one and all.
The Turks don’t believe in using milk – their coffee is strong, thick, and black and usually served along with Turkish Delight, cake or baklava. The Turks prefer to use very finely ground coffee beans that they then leave in.
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The coffee is mixed with sugar and water and boiled in a pot known as a cezve. You can choose to opt for unsweetened varieties too, but with the strength of the coffee beans, we’d advise against it.
Try a cup of Turkish coffee anywhere in Istanbul – everyone, from cafes and restaurants to stalls and shisha joints will serve it.
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