Anyone who’s visited Istanbul always raves about Turkish Food. It’s unbelievably delicious. But if you’re only spending a few days in this fabulous city, where there is so much to see, do and eat, you’ll need a game plan. Here are SEVEN “must-try” Turkish foods and where to eat them in Istanbul. These are the things I crave the most whenever I am away from Türkiye.
This post will help you discover SEVEN unbelievably delicious Turkish Foods you must try while in Istanbul.
What to eat in Istanbul
The literal translation of çiğ köfte is “raw meatball.” But the Turks have evolved this 3000-year-old recipe into something that even vegans can enjoy today. Instead of raw meat, it is now made with Bulgar, flavoured with tomato paste, pepper paste, and an incredible blend of spices and pomegranate molasses. Served on a crisp leaf of iceberg lettuce or lavash bread, çiğ köfte is always topped with a squeeze of fresh lemon. If asked if you want it spicy. Say “YES!”
WHERE TO EAT: Gazı Çiğ Köfte near Süleymaniye Mosque in the small streets around Istanbul University. But you’ll find little shops and kiosks all over the city offering this excellent Turkish street food.
Midye dolma is stuffed mussels. This popular Turkish street food is found on menus across Istanbul, especially in Beyoğlu. The plump orange mussels are served in their shell with a savoury mixture of spiced rice, most commonly flavoured with cinnamon, black pepper and onions. Use the bottom shell as the plate, drizzle with fresh lemon and then scoop it up and into your mouth with the top shell.
WHERE TO EAT: For the ambience, head over to Çiçek Pasaji, which means “flower passage” in Turkish. Take your pick of one of the restaurants in this historic covered arcade. It’s just off of the busy pedestrian walking street, İstiklal Caddesi.
Pronounced “Pea-Day,” this boat-shaped flatbread is a beloved Turkish food in Istanbul and across Turkiye. “Pideci” are shops specializing in Pide. The crust is everything! Chewy, crispy, often with a slight char and glistening with butter brushed over it before serving. Some of the most popular toppings are below. And if you can’t decide, ask for “karışık,” which means mixed.
- Kıymalı Pide: A minced meat flatbread seasoned with onions, peppers, tomatoes and spices. If you want it with cheese, order the kıymalı kaşarlı.
- Kaşarlı Pide – Just cheese, no tomato sauce or even herbs. aşar is a semi-hard cheese with a mild, almost buttery flavour, similar to a mild cheddar.
- Sucuklu Pide: At first glance, this might look like an oddly shaped pepperoni pizza, but the cheese is kaşar more like a mild, buttery cheddar than stringy mozzarella. And sucuk is a tasty cured beef sausage typically flavoured with a blend of garlic, sumac, cumin and pepper. Sometimes, it can be a bright reddish, but it’s always delicious.
- Kuşbaşılı Pide: Similar to kıymalı, but instead of minced meat, it’s topped with small savoury cubes of meat along with onions, tomatoes and a bit of heat from spicy peppers.
WHERE TO EAT: Hocapaşa Pidecisi has served delicious Pide to tourists and locals since 1964. It’s less than a 5-minute walk from the Sırkecı tram stop.
Simple, homey, comforting and delicious, every family has a recipe for this famous lentil soup. Squeeze some fresh lemon over the golden velvety broth and add a sprinkle of pul biber (Turkish red pepper flakes) and mint.
WHERE TO EAT: Almost anywhere, practically every restaurant in Istanbul and throughout Turkiye has this soup on their menu, most often as a starter. Pair it with some bread and çoban salatası, a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, feta and olives, and you have a meal.
Gözleme is an Anatolian stuffed flatbread that Turks have eaten for centuries. The unleavened dough is rolled out to an almost paper-like thinness using a long, skinny rolling pin and then filled with various savoury fillings. The most traditional are cheese, spiced meat or potato. Then it’s cooked on a hot flat pan over a fire until it is golden and has a light char.
WHERE TO EAT: If you see a woman in a restaurant window making gözleme, go there! While she may be a tourist draw, this is how Turks make gözleme at home, so you know it’s the real deal.
Tiny Turkish dumplings with your choice of filling. The most common is minced meat, but there are veggie versions. The dish originates in Kayseri, a city in central Anatolia, not far from Cappadocia. The classic topping is garlicky yogurt with a spicy, peppery melted butter sauce.
WHERE TO EAT: Doyum Cafe Mantı in Beyoğlu is an excellent spot to discover Mantı. You can order your choice of mantı (meat or veggie), boiled or fried (both are fabulous).
Simple but full of flavour, Kuru Fasülye is white beans simmered in a spicy tomato sauce for a long time. It is typically served with Teryağlı Pilav (buttered rice) and crusty bread. I don’t think that the Turks can eat anything without bread. It’s hard to choose, but of all Turkish foods, this is probably my favourite, it’s that good!
WHERE TO EAT: Ali Baba Tarihi Süleymaniyeli Kuru Fasulyeci has been serving as they proudly proclaim, “The Best Beans in ALL of Türkiye” since 1924. While I haven’t gone on an extensive bean-tasting tour, their Kuru Fasülye is fantastic. It’s the corner restaurant across the street from the Suleymanie mosque.
If you are headed to Istanbul and love finding cute cafes, then you’ll definitely want to read this post on Seven Amazing Cafes to Visit in Istanbul.