ISTANBUL – the 18 BEST FOODS to try

Istanbul is a food heaven. From Turkish coffee to Turkish delight to Döner Kebab. The list is endless. We have gathered all of the BEST FOODS you MUST try when you’re in Istanbul including some lesser known ones such as Sucuk and Dolma. We also provide you with restaurant recommendations so that you know where to go to in order to get the best experience possible.

1. (Mint) Turkish Coffee at Kubbe-i-Ask
Turkish Coffee at Kubbe-i-Ask in Istanbul with view over Bosphorus river

Kubbe-i-Ask is a little hidden gem in the district of Eminönu. You enter the building and pass by a huge wooden swing, then you take one flight of stairs up after another because the real gem lies in the amazing terrace view that Kubbe-i-Ask offers. Enjoy the panoramic view over the Bosphorus while sipping on a Turkish coffee that is served in a very lavish way on a purple plate holder and with a tin plate cover to keep the coffee warm. You HAVE to try the mint turkish coffee when you’re there. It sounds wrong, but it’s so good!

2. Kumpir at Patatos
Kumpir at Patatos in Istanbul

One of the best things we’ve had when we went to Istanbul was the Kumpir at Patatos. Kumpir is a jacked potato that is mashed up with loads of butter and cheese and then topped with different ingredients such as olives, grated carrot salad, mushrooms, and more. You choose what goes onto your potato. We enjoyed Kumpir so much, it was the first thing that we tried replicating when returning home.

3. Baklava
Baklava vendor at Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

One of the most famous dishes from Turkey is of course Baklava. Unbeknownst to many the traditional Turkish baklava (each Middle Eastern country has their own version of Baklava) is not made with pistachios but with walnuts. Baklava was one of the most popular sweets of Ottoman cuisine and if you taste the nutty filo pastry that is drenched in sugar syrup you’re not surprised. We recommend you buy fresh ones. They last around 4 days. Pick them up at a bakery or at a local stand.

4. Adana Kebab, Lahmacun & Dürum
Different Turkish food in Istanbul such as lahmacun, dürüm, adana kebab

You probably know Lahmacun, the Turkish pizza, Dürüm, the Turkish wrap filled with Döner kebab ingredients and of course kebab itself, the most famous Turkish minced meat dish. However, we recommend you to try Adana Kebab. Although only kebabs that are made in Adana actually can be called Adana kebab, you can still find some very tasty examples in Istanbul. What distinguishes them from a traditional kebab is its specific way of preparation and its special ingredients (e.g. only meat from a male lamb can be used). You will clearly be able to taste the difference!

5. Dolma & Şakşuka at Istanbul Anatolian Cuisine
Dolma and saksuka at Istanbul Anatolian Cuisine

If you are a vegetarian, then Istanbul has got you covered. Actually, one of my favorite Turkish dishes even before traveling to Istanbul has always been Dolma, which are grape wine leaves filled with white rice and spices. Fortunately, when we went to Istanbul Anatolian Cuisine we have also ordered Şakşuka, which is aubergine served in a garlicky tomato sauce. Şakşuka can be served hot or cold. Ours was served cold and so delicious, I had to immediately look up the recipe. Maybe the nice and homely service at Istanbul Anatolian Cuisine added to the great experience.

6. Kunefe at Hafiz Mustafa
Kunefe and Turkish coffee at Hafiz Mustafa in Istanbul

Kunefe is not for the lighthearted. It is a sweet but at the same time cheesy dessert made out of spun pastry called kataifi soaked in sugary syrup called attam and layered with cheese. If that doesn’t sound indulgent then I don’t know what does. To be honest, it was not really to my liking but Sahil was more than happy to finish my half for me. We have tried Kunefe in Istanbul at Hafiz Mustafa and ever since our 3-day itinerary for Istanbul blog post you should know that Hafiz Mustafa is a MUST VISIT on its own, regardless of Kunefe or no Kunefe.

7. Hummus & Lentil Soup
Hummus and Lentil soup in Istanbul

A very typical starter in Turkish cuisine is freshly made pita bread with hummus and lentil soup. We have tried both at Sirvan Sofrasi and can highly recommend it. There you can also order a typical Turkish 3 course dinner that is both affordable and serves as a good introductory lesson to Turkish cuisine. Don’t forget to order the local beer Efes and a pomegranate juice that is freshly squeezed in and around lots of corners in Istanbul. Refreshingly tasty AND pretty in pink!

8. Balik Ekmek at Tarihi Balık evi kokoreç gedikpaşa
Balik Ekmek at restaurant in Istanbul

Balik Ekmek is almost an institution in Istanbul. It is a fish sandwich and we can highly recommend the Balik Ekmek at Tarihi Balık evi kokoreç gedikpaşa. One evening on the way to our hotel we had passed by and saw a lot of locals enjoying their dinner. This was enough of a cue for us that the food must be authentic and good, and it was! Although the Marmara sea is just there, the fish is actually sourced from Norway. The Turks definitely know how to prepare it well though!

9. Lokum
Lokum at Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

There was one specific type of pistachio Lokum (with halva inside and lokum on the outside) that was so freakin’ good, we actually made it a thing to go all the way from our hotel to Eminönü just to buy three more roles to take home with. The vendor insured us they would last 6 months. However, we cannot guarantee this, because at home they got finished way before that. You can ask the vendors at the stalls for samples and enjoy hundreds of varieties of Turkish Delight and a delight it is.

10. Kokorec & Midye from Merdo Midye & Kokorec
Kokorec at restaurant in Istanbul

This is one for the courageous. Kokorec is lamb intestines typically served in a bun. The locals love it, but of course not everyone. Somehow intestines have a specific taste to them that I just cannot enjoy. However, if you’re not up for an intestinal sandwich, you could also indulge in the midye, which are mussels and yet another dish famous in Istanbul. At Merdo Midye & Kokorec you will find both at cheap prices and with a nice view over Istiklal Street.

11. Islak Burgers
Islak Hamburger and Ayran in Istanbul

Okay, maybe lamb intestines are not for everyone, but we guarantee you that Islak Burgers are! They consist of a beef patty in a hamburger bun that is steamed for at least 24 hours in a tomato garlicky sauce. Because they are kept in a steaming box they are always slightly wet (islak) and all the more delicious. While we people in Western Europe have döner as a hangover food, the people in Istanbul have Islak Burgers as their post night out meal. Enjoy a fresh Ayran (salty yoghurt drink) next to it to make this even more delicious!

12. Iskender Kebab
Iskender Kebab in Istanbul

Another big time gustatory revelation that we got to try in Istanbul was Iskender Kebab. It looks a bit like the Turkish version of a lasagna with pita bread on the bottom, a tomato garlicky sauce in the middle and döner meat on top. It is served with creamy joghurt on the side, as if the dish in itself wasn’t creamy and delicious enough! This was again a big highlight in Istanbul served in Istanbul Anatolian Cuisine while a football match was playing. While the owner was telling us about his love for Christiano Ronaldo we couldn’t be feeling more at home. At the end we were even served complementary baklava!

13. Ottoman Kadayif
Ottoman Kadayif in Istanbul at Hafiz Mustafa

Ottoman Kadayif has been the price-winning dessert of one of our favorite spots in Istanbul, you guessed it: Hafiz Mustafa! It is made with kadayif dough and lots of butter. There’s a milky ersion and a pomegranate version and if you look for a dessert that is not so sweet, kadayif will be your thing. It is also something that you can easily take along in one of the pre-packaged boxes at the Hafiz Mustafa store.

14. Maraş Dövme Dondurması (Battered ice-cream)
Battered Turkish ice-cream

Another thing you must try is ice-cream and no Turkish ice-cream is not at all like regular ice-cream. Turkish ice-cream is made out of rich goats milk, salep, the flour of the orchid root and mastic, a resin that imparts chewiness. Both give the ice-cream a texture that is so firm, you will be able to enjoy your ice-cream for a long time before it starts melting. Some people even eat it with fork and knife because of its hardiness. Also: when you order at the traditional vendors with the red hats a special experience will await you, that we don’t want to spoil for you…

15. Cevizli sucuk
Cevicli suzuk

Cevizli sucuk is a typical Turkish sweet. You will not be able to find it in restaurants but will have to go to the supermarket for it. It consists of walnuts that are covered in cooked molasses. Another version uses grape juice instead. It is a very tasty snack that suprisingly wasn’t too sweet, at least not the version from Bentat that we got. It’s another great gift idea since it has a long expiry date and is not something that a lot of people have tasted before.

16. Icli Köfte
icli köfte

Icli Köfte are meatballs with fine bulgur, potatoes and spices on the outside and soft minced beef or lamb on the inside. They are a typical streetfood and can be served hot or cold. You will aso find other varieties of köfte in Istanbul such as Köfte Ekmek, which are köfte meatballs served in a bun with different vegetables and slightly different spices, but nevertheless as delicious.

17. Simit
Simit with sunflower seeds in belgrad forest

On the one side simit is simply just a bagel with sesame seeds (there’s also a version with sunflower seeds) but on the other side the Turks somehow created such a tasty piece of bread that it deserves its separate listing in our blog post. We couldn’t hold ourselves back, hence the photograph. Catal and açma are two other pastries you can try: Çatal is more crumbly and dry, açma resembles the texture of a croissant (try the one with the chocolate filling!). And of course you have to try börek, the cigar shaped pastry dough with spinach and cheese fillings, that Turks enjoy for breakfast.

18. Turkish tea
Turkish tea with baklava

And there is no better way to wash down all the indulgence and all the delicious food if Istanbul with a traditional Turkish tea. Did you know that Turkey has the highest per capita tea consumption in the world? If you walk through the city of Istanbul, you will sometimes notice a gentleman carrying a big, round tray full of steaming teas and going from one shop to the other catering to all of his neighbors. The only thing warmer than the Turkish tea are the kindhearted people of Istanbul that were so nice and welcoming to us that we will definitely want to come back again soon!