If you ever experience a few days in Istanbul you will certainly be amazed by its vibrant culture, its endless traffic jams… and its food!
Istanbul food in particular, and Turkish cuisine, in general, are complex combinations of tastes that come from different cultures. With typical Ottoman traits, Istanbul food also proposes core dishes that come from Central Asia, the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans and, of course, the Mediterranean. Having functioned as a bridge between the East and the West, trading routes passed through the city allowing for the arrival of lesser-known, exotic ingredients.
Any trip to Istanbul could prove too short if you intend to bring our your foodie side. Food is everywhere, street vendors sell any type of dish in every corner, from bread to mussels. Bakers and pastry shops pile high skyscrapers of sweets with tons of honey and nuts on them. There are, however, a few staple dishes of Istanbul food that any visitor needs to try. Here are the best Turkish pleasures you need to taste if you ever visit Istanbul.
A dish of Manti (Photo: Gabi Ancarola).
Manti could be defined as the Turkish ravioli, according to their shape, but their taste is completely different. These small dough dumplings are filled with minced meat onion and are served topped with tomato sauce and lots of yogurt on top.
Normally served as an appetizer, it’s a small ball made of rather spicy raw meat served cold. It is sometimes wrapped in lettuce and with lemon.
Cig Kofte (Photo: Gabi Ancarola).
This simple dish to try before you cross the bridge to reach the Galata tower is part of the Istanbul trip experience. No secrets about it, just a plain sandwich with a piece of delicious grilled fish and some lettuce. The bread is very soft and there are several sauces to go with it if you want.
A fish sandwich right on the Bosphorus (Photo: Gabi Ancarola).
Lavaş ekmeği is similar to pita bread and it should arrive hot to your table and full of air inside, like a huge balloon. The popular way to enjoy it is by spreading it with butter and a cheese named Tulum.
These fritters are made of onion and meat (normally lamb or beef), with lots of spices. It’s a rich dish, a bit spicy, but extremely tasty.
This favorite drink of the nation served with any kind of dish, especially meat ones, is a cold type of yogurt that includes salt and water among its main ingredients.
Ayran is a comfort drink that well pairs with comfort dishes. (Photo: Gabi Ancarola)
This thin piece of dough is topped with minced meat, spices and chopped vegetables (onions, tomatoes, parsley) and then it’s baked. Delicate but crispy, it is perfect for lunch or as a starter for dinner. It’s a popular street food bite in Istanbul.
This is what Turkish street food looks like, Lachmachun (Photo by gabi Ancarola).
İskender kebap is a well-known dish made with roasted grilled lamb, served cut in thin slices, with tomato sauce placed, melted butter and yogurt on the side. Locals also call them Bursa kebabı, from the region where it comes from.
Traditional Iskender Kebap (Photo: Gabi Ancarola).
The main ingredients of this super caloric and super sweet pastries is phyllo dough, chopped nuts, and greats amounts of honey or syrup. Even if you prefer pastries that are not that sweet, baklava is a must try in Istanbul.
Kumda kahve (coffee on sand)
This unfiltered coffee made with finely grounded beans that simmer in a special pot called cezve. Once in the cup, the grounds settle and you can taste it. Turkish coffee is an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Turkey confirmed by UNESCO. You can order your Turkish coffee sade (no sugar); az şekerli (half a teaspoon of sugar); orta şekerli (one teaspoon); çok şekerli (one and a half or two teaspoons).
Çay (Turkish tea)
Turkish tea is a variety of black tea served without milk and prepared using two stacked kettles (çaydanlık) specially designed. You can choose your tea strong (koyu), medium (tavşan kanı, “rabbit blood”) or light (açık). The typical tulip-shaped glasses used to serve Turkish tea make the experience a special exotic touch.
Turkish tea. (Photo: Gabi Ancarola)
Sahlep is a type of flower that comes from the tubers of an orchid and it is rich in glucomannan. This flower is the main ingredient of this drink that tastes like vanilla. Locals like to add some cinnamon to it. The perfect choice to fight against Istanbul’s cold winters.
A hot cup of sahlep with Turkish delight in the back. (Photo: Gabi Ancarola).
These delicious bites are just a few options of Istanbul food. Istanbul offers numerous memorable experiences. Ready to book a flight?