Istanbul really is a foodie’s dream come true. No matter where you go or what you do, you’re guaranteed to be surrounded by incredible food adventures just waiting to be experienced.
From bakers hand-rolling simit dough and street vendors putting on ice cream shows to fine dining restaurants reimagining pasta and local grills dishing up amazing kebabs, you’ll never go hungry here.
You’ve only got a limited time in Istanbul, and you don’t want to waste your precious meals on anything mediocre. So to help make sure you have the gastronomic getaway you were hoping for, take our advice and try these 15 incredible Turkish dishes while you’re in Istanbul.
As an added bonus, we’ve even listed our favorite restaurants in Istanbul where you can enjoy them!
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The 15 Best Turkish Foods to Try in Istanbul
1. Turkish Breakfast
The best way to start your first day in Istanbul is with a traditional Turkish breakfast. This lavish meal is more like a buffet for one than a single dish and is very likely to be the biggest, most complex, and most varied breakfast you’ll ever have in your life. If you’re searching for must-try foods in Istanbul, you’ll love indulging in a Turkish breakfast!
While traditional Turkish breakfasts vary slightly, most include an assortment of pastries, breads, meats, cheeses, eggs, yogurts, jams, marmalades, and honey. As if all this isn’t enough, your plate will also be piled high with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and olives. To round it off, your Turkish breakfast will be served with a choice of fruit juices and local tea or coffee.
Some places think this decadent feast for one isn’t enough and will bring you a dessert of fluffy pancakes or chocolate mousse when you stop eating your main dish!
Where to eat Turkish breakfast in Istanbul
Most Istanbul hotels will most likely dish up a full Turkish breakfast. But if you want to experience something in town, we recommend heading to GRACE Rooftop Restaurant. This sophisticated eatery invites you to savor an incredible breakfast spread while enjoying a 360-degree view of the city!
2. Islak Burger
Although the name islak burger literally translates as “wet burger,” it’s much more appetizing than it sounds – we promise! These unusual burgers get their name because they’re steamed, making them soft, juicy, and incredibly rich.
Each islak burger is made of a delicious beef patty tucked inside a soft white hamburger bun. The inside and outside of the bun are soaked in a flavor-packed garlic and tomato sauce before the whole thing is nestled inside a steam box. This keeps every burger soft and warm until it’s ready to eat.
Don’t worry about the burgers getting soggy. Although they are slightly wet because they’re steamed, they’re so popular that they never spend too long in the steamer. They’re a great hangover food that people crave in the early hours of the morning, but you can find them available at any time of day.
Where to eat an islak burger in Istanbul
This is arguably the best street food in Istanbul, and you can’t beat the islak burgers from the street food stands in Taksim Square. Head to the square, and you’ll immediately see the stands with big glass cabinets full of wet burgers. Because they’re so affordable (3-5 lira – that’s less than $1 each!), it’s easy to have another and another.
If a traditional Turkish breakfast is way too much for you, dig into a plate of menemen for your first meal of the day instead. A creative and delectable type of scrambled eggs, menemen is made up of lightly beaten eggs that are cooked in a skillet with onions, peppers, tomatoes, and mixed herbs. To give it an extra kick, fresh or dried chilies are sometimes added, too.
All the different ingredients give this dish absolutely loads of amazing flavor and a fantastic texture. Enjoy it along with some freshly-baked bread and a cup of Turkish coffee, and you’ll be set for the day!
You’ll find menemen available from pretty much everywhere that serves breakfast in Istanbul. Because it’s so popular and restaurants need to stand out, some of the best places to eat in Istanbul put their own twist on the classic dish, adding extras like ground meat, cheese, mushrooms, and spicy sausage.
Where to eat menemen in Istanbul
Lades Menemen is one of the best restaurants in Istanbul to try menemen. The Turkish equivalent of an American diner, this cafe serves up all kinds of chicken and egg dishes. You can enjoy classic menemen or mix things up a bit and choose from a number of additional toppings.
4. Simit, Açma, and Çatal
Simit, açma, and çatal may technically be three different things, but they’re all pretty similar, so we decided to group them into one category. Simit is a type of thin circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds. It’s a bit like a Turkish bagel. Açma and çatal are very much alike, but açma is soft and more croissant-like, while çatal is more crumbly and dry.
These three wonderful types of bread are usually eaten by locals on the go in the mornings. You’ll find countless Istanbul street food sellers offering them, but you can also order some freshly-baked ones from any bakery in the city.
As they’re such a popular to-go food, most people eat these Turkish breads plain. They make a great snack when you’re hungry and don’t have time for a proper sit-down meal. But if you do have the time, we recommend you enjoy these local breads with a selection of Turkish cheese, cream, and honey as part of a leisurely breakfast or afternoon snack.
Where to eat simit, açma, and çatal in Istanbul
Simit Sarayi is a fantastic place to try simit, açma, and çatal. Branches of this hugely popular bakery can be found all over Istanbul, and the quality is always excellent. You’ll find all kinds of fantastic variations, from plain and multigrain versions to ones sandwiched with feta cheese and ones stuffed with Nutella!
5. Iskender Kebap
If digging into an authentic döner kebab is on your things to eat in Istanbul list, order an Iskender kebap from any local restaurant in Istanbul. This traditional Turkish dish is made up of a plate overloaded with succulent, seasoned döner meat.
To make the meat so tasty and addictive, it’s seasoned with suet, herbs, and spices before it’s skewered onto a huge spit and slowly grilled vertically. As the outside of the meat gently cooks, thinly-sliced pieces of it are removed, mixed with a rich tomato sauce, and thickly layered on a piece of freshly-baked pide-style bread.
Some fresh veggies, such as tomatoes and big chilies, are added for texture. To provide a contrast to the richness of the sauce and the spice of the chili, the plate is usually finished off with a dollop of cooling yogurt.
Where to eat Iskender kebap in Istanbul
We had some of the best-ever Iskender kebap from Kebapçı İskender. You know it’s going to be good because it’s the only thing the restaurant serves! After you’ve ordered the size of the dish you fancy, your waiter will bring it to your table and pour over melted butter to make it extra rich and delicious.
6. İçli Köfte
Köfte is one of the most popular appetizers in all of Turkey. The mouthfuls of deliciousness are wonderfully spiced meatballs made of ground beef or lamb. Because the locals love them so much, you’ll find them available in most restaurants as appetizers, entrées, and even as a popular Istanbul street food.
İçli köfte is an even more delicious and addictive type of köfte. This dish takes things to a whole new level by wrapping the meatballs in a dough made of mashed potato, fine bulgur, and spices. The whole thing is then deep-fried until it’s light and crispy on the outside. İçli köfte can be eaten hot or cold, but we think it’s much better when it’s freshly cooked and piping hot.
Because içli köfte is a rather difficult dish to make, it’s becoming something of a delicacy in fancy restaurants. But you can’t beat the içli köfte dished up by Istanbul’s street food sellers who have been making the dish for years.
Where to eat içli köfte in Istanbul
Sabırtaşı Restoran does some of the best içli köfte in Istanbul. This rustic restaurant serves up large portions of içli köfte with a fresh, crisp salad that provides the perfect texture contrast. It’s run by a close-knit family that does a great job of making everyone feel at home.
7. Adana Kebap
Istanbul dishes up a huge range of kebabs, but Adana kebap has to be one of the absolute best foods in Istanbul. This typical dish is made up of simple ingredients, but it’s the complex cooking process that makes it so special.
The meat and fat must come from a young male lamb that has been left to roam in its natural environment and has grazed on local flora. After the meat and fat have been ground together, cleaned, and rested, it’s all kneaded with chilies and peppers before being mounted on skewers. It’s then slowly cooked over a charcoal grill and served on pide-like bread with grilled tomato, onion, and green pepper.
It doesn’t look like anything special, but it’s packed with spicy, smoky flavor and has a wonderfully delicate texture. You’ve absolutely got to try it the next time you’re in Istanbul.
Where to eat Adana kebap in Istanbul
Adana Ocakbaşı serves an incredible Adana kebap. This restaurant has been running since 1978 and invites you to sit at the grill so you can watch the chefs prepare the food right in front of you. The place is pretty small, so be prepared to wait a while.
When you’re in the mood for a snack but can’t decide what to eat, börek is always the answer! This traditional Turkish snack is a type of savory pastry that’s stuffed with all sorts of fillings and baked until it achieves crispy golden perfection.
The pastry is super-thin with an incredible bite, similar to filo pastry. It’s used to sandwich together smooth and soft fillings. So each bite begins with a wonderful crunch followed by a delicate creamy center. It really hits the spot every time.
Some of the most popular kinds of börek are stuffed with feta cheese and spinach, ground beef with currants and pine nuts, cubed lamb and peas, and boiled potato and cheese. Some places even brush the pastry with butter and dust it with powdered sugar to make a sweet version.
Where to eat börek in Istanbul
Prava Pita Boşnak Börekçisi is a fantastic place to try börek in Istanbul. Here you’ll find an overwhelming number of börek varieties to indulge in. They’re all served in small bite-sized pieces, making them easy to share and try different types.
Turkey’s answer to Italy’s ravioli, mantı is an unusual appetizer that will have you hooked after the first bite. The pasta-like dumplings are served hot, but they’re covered with cold yogurt and garlic. This results in an unusual dish that’s miles away from the regular ravioli you’re probably used to.
Each piece of mantı is stuffed with spiced ground lamb or beef, diced onion, salt, and pepper. The filling may not sound like it would work with plain yogurt and garlic, but it really does. The gentle spices of the filling work really well with the cooling, plain yogurt.
While typical mantı is stuffed with ground meat, you can find all different kinds of mantı on restaurant menus today. We’ve tried it stuffed with spinach and cheese, delicate salmon, and ground chicken. It’s usually boiled in water, but some places bake it with butter or deep-fry it in a light batter.
Where to eat mantı in Istanbul
Sayla Manti dishes up some of the best mantı we’ve ever had. The small restaurant only serves a handful of Turkish dishes, including a selection of mantı. There are different sauces available, and you can choose the size of your dish, making it great if you’re not really hungry and just want to give it a try.
If you’re in the mood for pizza, you’ve got to try pide. This incredibly moreish dish is one of the must-try dishes in Istanbul and is comprised of a typical Turkish flatbread with folded edges that create a delicate puffy crust when baked. The center of the bread is loaded up with ooey-gooey melted cheese before it’s laden with the delicious extras of your choice.
Some of the most popular things to top pide with include spiced ground lamb, Turkish beef sausage, baked eggs, roasted peppers, onions, and spinach.
Just like a regular pizza, one pide is pretty large and is more than enough to fill you up. If you’re eating with someone else, consider ordering one pide and a couple of sides so you can try a number of different Turkish dishes.
Where to eat pide in Istanbul
Hocapasa Pidecisi is one of the longest established and best places to eat pide in Istanbul. It may look a little basic from the outside, but this restaurant has been serving remarkable pide since 1964. You’ll have practically every topping imaginable to choose from here, so you can make a super-personalized pide.
11. Turkish ice cream
Known locally as maraş dövme dondurması, Turkish ice cream is so much more than a sweet treat to cool down with in the afternoon. When you order this snack from an Istanbul street food seller, it will be accompanied by a full comedy show!
Turkish ice cream sellers are notorious for tricking you into thinking you’re holding your ice cream when all you’re actually holding is an empty cone. They’ve taken your ice cream back without you even realizing, and you were never holding it in the first place!
This special kind of ice cream has a thick and almost chewy consistency which means it doesn’t melt straight away. This makes it perfect for Istanbul’s scorching summers. It comes in all the typical ice cream flavors you’d expect, as well as a few local varieties, such as honey and almond.
Where to eat Turkish ice cream in Istanbul
Girandola makes a huge assortment of Turkish ice cream, with something to suit absolutely every palate. The ice cream parlor whips up unique flavors, such as dark chocolate and tahini, mojito, and pomegranate and caramel. If you can’t decide, you can try a few flavors first for free.
It’s almost impossible to visit Istanbul without trying baklava. This iconic Turkish dessert is served for pretty much any occasion – as a sweet end to breakfast, to accompany a cup of tea in the afternoon, and as a way for a restaurant to say thank you after an evening meal.
Similar to the savory börek, baklava is also made with paper-thin sheets of filo pastry, but its fillings and toppings are sweeter and more suited to dessert. Fillings can vary widely, but most will include a type of nut – usually pistachios, hazelnuts, or walnuts.
Locals take baklava very seriously, and if you look into the window of a bakery that specializes in the sweet treat, you’ll feel like you’re looking into an art gallery. Baklava of all shapes, sizes, colors, and designs will be staring back at you!
Where to eat baklava in Istanbul
Karaköy Güllüoğlu creates some of the most artful and exquisite baklava we’ve ever come across. This cafe is run by the Güllüoğlu family, who has been making baklava in Turkey since 1843. All their branches are consistently busy, but it’s worth the wait to indulge in their flaky, buttery baklava.
If pide is Turkey’s deep-dish-style pizza loaded with melted cheese, lahmacun is like a thin and crispy pizza smothered in a rich meat sauce. The hugely popular Istanbul street food is made from pita bread dough topped with ground lamb or beef, tomatoes, onions, and parsley.
Even bad lahmacun is pretty good. But if you ever have the chance to visit a restaurant or street food vendor that cooks their lahmacun over a wood-burning fire, you’ve absolutely got to do it. The fire gives the pizza the most incredible smoky flavor and makes the spiced topping taste even better.
Lahmacun is usually served for lunch or dinner and is often topped with fresh tomato slices, thinly-sliced onion, and parsley for added texture. It’s served big and round (like a regular pizza), but it’s so thin that you can roll it up to make it easier to eat.
Where to eat lahmacun in Istanbul
We had some of the best ever lahmacun at Öz Kilis Kebap and Lahmacun Restaurant. They serve two types of lahmacun here – one with onion and one with garlic. We definitely recommend the garlic one as it’s packed with flavor and tastes amazing.
14. Balık Ekmek
If you’re a fan of seafood, make sure to add balık ekmek to your things to eat in Istanbul list. This classic dish literally translates into English as “fish bread,” but it’s so much better than it sounds!
Balık ekmek is made from a delicate and flavorful piece of mackerel that’s been perfectly grilled and placed between two six-inch pieces of sandwich bread along with whichever crunchy veggies you choose. It’s often served with a wedge of lemon – the citrus juice really adds a zing and lightens up the whole thing.
You’ll find a number of stands along the Bosphorus river selling the simple sandwich, and it’s easy to assume that the fish has been caught fresh from the river – but that’s not quite true. The mackerel actually travels to Istanbul by boat from the waters surrounding Norway!
Where to eat balık ekmek in Istanbul
For the best balık ekmek in Istanbul, visit Emin Usta Balicisi. Also known as Super Mario Emin Usta (when you see the man running the stall, you’ll instantly know why!), this place makes the fresh fish sandwiches right in front of your eyes. As one of the best places to eat in Istanbul, it smells amazing and is definitely worth the wait.
One of Anthony Bourdain’s favorites from his No Reservations series, durum is quite possibly the best street food there is in Istanbul. Another type of kebab, durum is made of a thin yet sturdy flatbread known as lavash, which is topped with grilled lamb, grilled vegetables, and sauce. The whole thing is wrapped up into a chunky roll so you can enjoy it on the go.
The famous food writer originally described this dish as a taste bud tornado and we totally agree! The lamb is marinated in all kinds of local herbs and spices before it’s skewered and cooked over flaming hot coals. The flatbreads are used to gently squeeze the meat so they can absorb the delicious juices before they’re also placed on the grill until warm and blistered.
When the meat’s cooked, it’s placed onto the grilled flatbread along with red onions, tomatoes, parsley, and spicy sumac sauce before being rolled up.
Where to eat durum in Istanbul
Dürümzade is easily the best place for durum in Istanbul. This is the spot Anthony Bourdain visited, and the durum is packed with flavor. The price is shockingly cheap (about $3 per durum), and it’s always full of locals and visitors, so you know this is one of the best places to eat in Istanbul!
There you have it! The 15 must-try foods in Istanbul. What’s your favorite thing to eat in Istanbul? Let us know in the comments below so we can add it to the list!
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