The food in Istanbul is something that you’ll remember fondly, unlike, say, being woken up at 5 am every day for a praying session you have no intention on joining. Though you might regret staying so close to Istanbul’s biggest mosques, you’ll start missing Istanbul’s food (and sweets!) the moment you get into your taxi to undergo the annoyingly long trip to the airport.
Eating in Istanbul even made our list of the top 10 things to do in the city!
Bellow’s a list of some of the most typical Turkish food and drinks in Istanbul, along with our tips on where to eat them.
The best food in Istanbul can be anything you want it to be—the mix of nationalities in the city make for a wide range of cuisines all co-existing and influencing each other. If you end up craving sushi or pizza, you won’t need to look far before you find what you’re looking for.
But if we’re talking strictly about eating the best Turkish food in Istanbul, get ready for a lot of meat, cheese, vegetables, baked goods and sweets.
First things first, breakfast!
1. Best breakfast in Istanbul: Turkish breakfast is the way to go
If you’re used to grabbing a croissant and calling it breakfast, prepare to be astounded by the breakfasts in Turkey. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for Turks.
Obviously your hotel will likely have a buffet-style breakfast, but if you can, I think it’s worth ordering the true Turkish variety—kahvaltı—at least once.
Tip: If you’re going to a hamam in Istanbul (which I highly recommend), don’t go on a full stomach. Being stuffed isn’t going to make all that sweating and scrubbing feel very good.
When you order a Turkish breakfast, you’re basically ordering your own personal buffet. You’ll get a tableful of fresh pastries (sweet and savory), cheeses, eggs, cured meats, dips, spreads, tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, a variety of jams, and honey. And of course, black tea.
Hotel tip: If you book a good hotel in Istanbul, you might not be able to make yourself leave it to have breakfast elsewhere. But if you stay in a place like AJWA Sultanahmet, that won’t mean you’re missing out. The food, and the views from the restaurant, are incredible! Not to mention the rest of the hotel.
Just so you know, if you decide to use our link to book any of the hotels in the article (or even if you click away and book a different hotel), we get a small commission at no extra charge to you. Thank you for showing your love and keeping this blog free this way!
Where to eat Turkish breakfast in Istanbul:
There are specialized breakfast/brunch restaurants in Istanbul, but many restaurants are open from morning until nighttime, in which case you can eat any meal of the day there. Obviously if they open at noon, don’t go asking for breakfast. Though they’d probably make you one (Turkish hospitality is second to none!).
The lovely Poiká Breakfast & Turkish Cuisine serves not only the best Turkish breakfast, but also any other type of breakfast you could crave, along with good coffee. And that, considering how much I hate Turkish coffee, is a massive bonus. So go ahead, have your Turkish breakfast, top it off with an espresso, and add a buddha bowl if you like.
The interior design is decidedly not Turkish, but I can’t say I mind that.
Our top tips on what to eat in Istanbul: 🍬 Try baklava. I don’t even like sweets and I loved baklava! 💰 If you’re getting served what seems like complimentary appetizers, you’ll very likely be paying for them at the end. 🥞 Turkish breakfast is the only breakfast you should be having while in Istanbul. 📅 If you’ve got your eye on a specific restaurant, make reservations 2 weeks in advance, minimum.
2. Meze: Can we call them Turkish tapas?
Appetizers, or meze, can either be eaten before a meal or as a separate snack, but are normally meant to be shared. Sort of like Spanish tapas.
They come as everything from olives and dips with nuts to marinated fish and stuffed mussels (a gross similarity with Belgian food). Very often, eggplant is the star of the meze show—grilled or fried eggplant will almost always be one of the meze options in restaurants in Istanbul.
Add some delicious mint yogurt dip called haydari and your golden.
Meze can be as simple as some nuts on the table (that you think will be free, but they end up costing you—check out our Istanbul travel tips for details), or as complicated as köpoğlu (fried eggplant with a yogurt and tomato sauce).
What usually happens at a traditional Turkish restaurant in Istanbul is that your server will bring a big plate showing all the available mezes, and every person at the table chooses one or a few. They will then be brought and put in the middle of the table for everyone to share.
Where to eat meze in Istanbul: More like where not to eat meze… you can and will get them in every restaurant.
That said, you could get overwhelmed walking through the tourist area, trying to choose which restaurant to head into in peace while the owner/staff are outside trying to lure you in with their slightly pushy greetings. WHICH ONE YOU SHOULD YOU PICK?!
One of the restaurants in Sultanahmet that we ended up in (and liked!) was Babylonia Restaurant. It’s close to the Blue Mosque and the Mosaics Museum (see our best places to visit in Istanbul article for details on those), but not in a crazy busy street.
The vegetable mezze plate we ordered was very tasty. The atmosphere is lively and the owner calls himself George Clooney. The complimentary tea was really complimentary (you will learn to keep an eye out for anything free in our Istanbul travel tips). You just know you’re in good hands! I mean who wouldn’t trust George?
3. Kebab: Not just the one that’s chopped off with a machete
There are more kebab types than mosques in Istanbul.
Everyone knows the döner kebab—the big cone-shaped stack of meat spinning around slowly by the heated thingamagig like a great-grandma dancing the night away by the fireplace. I don’t know why that’s the image that popped into my mind, but it did.
Traditionally, the meat in on the vertical rotisserie is lamb, but you can find all kinds nowadays. The chef then slices off the grilled parts of the kebab with a large and very sharp knife. If you see them using a shaver, go somewhere else where they aren’t amateurs. Pf. A shaver. Lame!
You’ll get the meat in a pita bread with some veggies and sauce.
A spicier version of kebab is Adana kebab. This type isn’t chiseled off a big stack of meat, instead it is bbq’d already in long, thin, individual portions on a skewer. It’s minced meat mixed with the tail fat of young lambs and served on a thin bread with grilled onions, tomatoes and green peppers.
If you get Iskender kebab (also referred to as bursa kebab), you’ll be eating döner kebab meat on some grilled bread, tomato sauce, yogurt and rice. The magic trick is the hot butter that is poured over the whole thing. Commence mouth-watering!
Where to eat kebab in Istanbul: If you find yourself in Taksim (we think it’s not the best place to stay in Istanbul, but some of you shopping addicts might), stray the 12 steps off of Istiklal and visit a legend in the Iskender kebab world—Bursa Kebapçısı. The owner learned his kebabing craft from the original iskender kebab master in the 1960s. So this is the place to go if you want the real stuff.
4. Baklava: Sweet, sticky, nutty goodness
This is the Turkish sweet that made me love sweets! It’s nothing fancy, heck it’s only some dough, nuts and syrup, but man oh man do they make them to-die-for!
It’s how they are made that makes or breaks the baklava. Basically, the dough has to be the thinnest thing ever in order to make the finest layers of nuts (generally pistachios, but can also be walnuts or hazelnuts) alternating with the dough. Douse in butter, bake.
The final step—soaking in a syrup, will make all your cavities sensitive, but your taste buds will feel happy.
I can’t explain it, it was just so good! Make sure you’re eating fresh baklava and not the stale variety that has been packed forever, waiting for an unsuspecting tourist to buy it as a souvenir. If you see them cutting it up in front of your own eyes, you’re getting the good stuff.
You can get baklava at places dedicated just to the sweet or at restaurants as a dessert.
Where to eat baklava in Istanbul: There has to be so many great places to eat baklava in Istanbul, but we’ll mention two in particular:
Not sure whether our extraordinary hamam experience at Cağaloğlu Hamam just half an hour before had anything to do with it, but we loved loved loved the baklava at Cağaloğlu Baklava just around the corner from the hamam. It’s a dedicated baklava shop and it’s the place to get your baklava souvenirs.
We also ordered and indulged in baklava at the Divella Bistro Restaurant, located right next to Hagia Sophia. Yes, the food we had was amazing—they specialize in seafood and meat dishes—but the baklava we ended our lunch with was ah-mazing!
Check out our other Istanbul articles: 3 Days in Istanbul Itinerary What happens in a hamam in Istanbul 10 Fun Things to do in Istanbul 4 Best Areas to Stay in in Istanbul
5. Lüfer: The blue fish from the Bosphorus
But it’s not all just meat and more meat in Istanbul! Any local trying to give you advice on what to eat in Istanbul will undoubtedly mention lüfer—the blue fish from the Bosphorus. It’s mostly prepared on the grill with just some garlic and a few spices, and it’s so good.
This fish is easy to clean, so you won’t be stuck doing that weird thing with your mouth when you know you have a fish bone in there somewhere but can’t find it.
Istanbulites swear that rakı goes with lüfer like wine goes with cheese.
Where to eat lüfer in Istanbul: For fish of all kinds, you’ll find everyone and their uncle grilling up something that was swimming just five minutes ago around the Eminönü waterfront (more about Eminönü in our best areas to stay in Istanbul article).
If you’d rather your chosen establishment have walls and tables, just head over to Fish Port Restaurant. Located aside many others under Galata Bridge, this restaurant has an informal ambience with professional and extra friendly staff.
The aforementioned walls are almost all glass, so you get incredible views of the Bosphorus and the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. As an added bonus, it isn’t blasting music at levels that force you to yell at whomever you’d having your fish with.
Tip: If you like the Eminönü vibe, consider staying at the 5-star Orientbank Hotel Istanbul, Autograph Collection. It used to be a bank, but not anymore!
6. Pide: A pizza kayak great for a quick meal
Pide is a kayak-shaped flatbread filled/topped with tomato sauce, minced meat, cheese, and some vegetables, baked in a stone oven. I’ve heard pide called Turkish pizza, which is sort of is. The toppings can be with meat or without for you vegetarians out there.
The chef will chop your pide up into more manageable strips, so you don’t have to navigate trying to take bites off the whole kayak. It’s also a good food to share with your travel buddy.
If you’re craving something fast and easy to eat that won’t give you culture shock, pide is a great street food in Istanbul that’ll keep you moving on your sightseeing marathon until you’re ready to sit down somewhere for a proper meal.
The yagli variety of pide is (not always) round in shape and made with butter and an egg on top.
Where to eat pide in Istanbul: You’ll see pide shops all over the place in Istanbul, so you might just have to go with your gut and try it out. You can’t go that wrong with it.
We stopped by an unassuming-looking Özlem Karadeniz Pide Kebap Salonu for a quick bite before heading over to the light show at Theodosius Cistern (more on that fun activity in our best places to visit in Istanbul article) and it was great. Fresh, with tons of cheese, sold by a guy that was smiling. Perfect.
We took ours to go, but there is indoor seating available as well.
They also do a mean pide at the Palatium Café and Restaurant that we mention below in the best restaurants in Istanbul with a view section.
7. Köfte: Turkish meatballs
Köfte are (beef or lamb) meatballs made of minced meat with some spices added, cooked over a fire. Eat them with rice if you want to feel like you’re at your Turkish grandma’s house.
Içli köfte will get you additional crunch as it is a stuffed köfte in a shell made out of bulgur and sometimes nuts, fried to crispy goodness. Can be served with fries for that extra fast-foodness.
Istanbul is home to some of the best street food ever, and köfte can also be bought to-go in many places. Just imagine wandering around Istanbul’s alleys, popping a köfte in your mouth every 10 steps.
Where to eat köfte in Istanbul:
If you want to eat köfte in a real Turkish establishment but are wary about which one to choose, try this one:
Fatih Köfte is located by the Grand Bazaar, and if you ignore my advice to avoid that place, you might just need a little Turkish food to lift your spirits after shoving your way past the crowds in the market.
There is indoor and outdoor seating and some of the best köfte you will try in Istanbul.
8. Pastries: Sweet, savory, bagel-y, and just lovely
Turkey has some of the best baked goods. From sweet to savory (my personal favorite), you can find some really good breads and rolls in Istanbul.
For one thing, your kebab will always be served with or in a wonderful pide (same thing as a pita), a flatbread traditionally cooked in clay ovens.
Simit is a circular bread with sesame seeds and no filling, like a big bagel, and is great when you’re starting to feel the growl but you still have another mosque to visit before lunch.
Similar in shape to the simit is açma, just smaller, softer, and sweeter. You’ll “meet” the açma at any Turkish breakfast. Eat is on its own or with some jam or honey.
If you really have a sweet tooth, it’ll be ready for a dentist appointment after your Istanbul trip. The variety of sweets, cookies and cakes that are on offer in the many (many!) pastry shops almost warrant carrying around a tooth brush.
Giving me churros vibes (I love me some churros! I first fell in love in Mexico and rekindled the romance in Andalusia) is the street food called halka tatlisi. Just like churros, it’s a deep-fried dough, and then not very similar to churros it is dipped in syrup and sprinkled with pistachios and coconut.
Where to eat pastries in Istanbul: Anywhere you can get your hands on them! Seriously, who else here enjoys a good bread? Anyone?
Cigdem Patisserie is one of the many patisseries in Istanbul, and this one even has some nice seating inside. You automatically get sucked in after staring at the window display for 5 minutes, only to realize your mouth is watering.
This pastry shop is over 60 years old! They make their own baklava daily, and they even serve breakfast, so you can just start your day there right before you head out to the sights. It’s located close to Sultanahmet Square, so you won’t have to waddle far.
They do sweet and savory goods, so you’re all set for any of your pastry needs.
9. Turkish tea: Two sugars for me please
Turkish tea (çay) is a staple at any time of day, during any meal, at any restaurant. Sometimes it comes complimentary, like at some breakfasts, and sometimes you pay a premium, like at the overpriced café at Topkapi Palace, but it’s always good.
Just a simple, strong black tea, must be served in a small, typically tulip-shaped glass cup. Made from loose leaves of (ideally) domestic tea, often taken with sugar. That is sometimes already added to your tea, sometimes you get a couple of sugar cubes on the side.
They cups are made of glass so you can admire the color of the tea.
10. Raki: Another thing you can do with grapes
Raki is a clear spirit made of twice-distilled grapes and anise. It is most often mixed with water (because it is something like 50% alcohol!) and ice and then comes out looking white, hence the nickname “lion’s milk”. The taste is… licorice-y. That can be good or bad, depending on who you ask.
Raki is the Turkish alcohol of choice no matter what the occasion—you could be celebrating or mourning, but there will always be a glass of raki nearby.
No matter what the reason, Turks are always eating while drinking raki, and melon and cheese is the go-to snack to nibble on between sipping raki. The preferred type of meal to pair raki with is seafood, and it is also common to have raki on the table at the same time as meze.
11. Turkish coffee: Just don’t
I hate Turkish coffee. It’s just bleh. I was drinking Turkish tea all day every day in Istanbul, but the coffee just didn’t do it for me. Why are there coffee bits floating around? And why is it considered good to have the coffee grounds stay in the water for god knows how long?
Finely ground arabica is used most often, but robusta or a blend is also considered ok. Not by me, but by others. You grind it finely so that it is extra annoying while you try to drink it.
When you order your Turkish coffee, you tell the server how sweet you want it, because it is made with the sugar already in it. A small pot called a cezve is used to made Turkish coffee, and then it is poured into a small coffee cup from there.
Sorry, not sorry, I think Turkish coffee sucks. But no worries, I also hated the coffee in Spain and surprisingly even in Peru (they can grow it, but they sure can’t cook it!), so Turkey is in good company.
12. Best street food in Istanbul: Because sometimes, there’s just no time to sit down
Istanbul is known for its fantastic street food, which is great, because if you want to cram everything there is to do in Istanbul into a few days, you won’t have much time for a sit-down meal!
The best street food in Istanbul should always be your go-to quick meal instead of the typical fast food.
Try a pide, a sort of Turkish version of a pizza (see our list above). It gets cut up into manageable strips, so you aren’t carrying around a huge box and getting tomato sauce all over yourself.
Balık ekmek is a grilled mackerel sandwich that you should try at least once. The only annoyance is the possibility of bones in your fish, but at least you’re forced to eat slow and not inhale it all in one go like my aunt’s dog when he gets a piece of meat. Get your balik ekmek at one of the boats on the Eminönü waterfront.
You can always find great pastries in Istanbul that you can snack on while walking around. Börek is a puff pastry filled with cheese (and sometimes meat or vegetables) that the locals love to grab for a breakfast on the go. Simit is a circular bread with sesame seeds and no filling, like a big bagel, and açma sort of tastes like a croissant if you really put your mind to it.
Need a sweet pick-me-up? Halka tatlisi is your Turkish churros equivalent that’ll have you counting calories in no time.
And of course, the wonderful world of kebab is there to meet all your eat-while-you-walk needs and is the most popular and possibly best street food in Istanbul. See above for just some of the many different types of kebab.
13. Best restaurants in Istanbul with a view: Stare while you eat
Sometimes you’d rather take your time and stare out into the world while you eat instead of walking while you eat (looking at you, Istanbul street food!). Luckily, with all the hills that the city is built on, there’s no shortage of restaurants with a view in Istanbul.
A dinner at the some of the best rooftop restaurants in Istanbul is the perfect end to a long day of sightseeing in Istanbul. Just make sure you make a reservation in advance, like 2 weeks minimum in advance, otherwise you might be sitting in the spots with no view at all.
The part of town that is most known for its rooftop bars and restaurants is Beyoğlu, which is across the Golden Horn from Sultanahment and Eminönü (more on the different neighborhoods of Istanbul in this article). This is because then you’ll have the cities top sights, which are almost all located in Sultanahmet, in front of you on like a golden platter rather than too close up to make out very much.
Then again, who wouldn’t want a close-up of Hagia Sophia? Don’t make the mistake of thinking the best restaurants in Istanbul with a view have to be in Beyoğlu. Sultanahmet is our favorite place for everything in Istanbul—restaurants, hotels, and sights.
Really read between the lines when choosing a bar or restaurant, some top-rated places have some not so happy reviewers that felt they got tricked into visiting a shit place by others that have no standards. I like to read through the reviews on Google Maps and hone in on the negative comments to see if they mention anything that would bother me.
Queb Lounge is a restaurant in Sultanahmet, this time with sweeping views of the Bosporus and Hagia Sophia.
Serving everything from seafood and kebab to pasta and steak, everyone will find something they like to eat at Queb. And they do it all very well!
They play chill music, serve great drinks, and overall are definitely one of the top restaurants in Istanbul, view or no view. A little pricey but worth every penny.
Moving across the river to the most popular area for the best rooftop restaurants in Istanbul, Beyoğlu.
Georges Hotel’s rooftop Restaurant 24 is comfortable, cozy, and classy and though not completely open from the top, the views are amazing. Staff is friendly and professional and everything that came out of the kitchen was high quality.
See Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque and the Blue Mosque lit up for nighttime while sipping cocktails after dinner at Zula Galata on top of one of the coolest hotels in Istanbul, Walton Hotels Galata (see our best area to stay in Istanbul for more hotel tips and details about this particular hotel, too).
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