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Istanbul’s best food & drink

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 21 March, 2024

Turkish cuisine is one of the world’s finest, and Istanbul has always been the best place to eat it. Today it’s the epicentre of the slow-food-style New Anatolian Kitchen movement, led by celebrity chef Mehmet Gurs – discovering, reviving and riffing off thousands of nearly-forgotten dishes and ingredients from across Turkey.

Dishes are fresh and unfussy, served with the local olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes. Expect plenty of seafood, especially golden fried anchovies, and cured hams and lamb dishes.

Turkish food is ideal for vegetarians, with many of the meze dishes (cold and hot starters) based around yoghurt, aubergine and vegetables, with lots of fresh herbs, including mint, dill and parsley. The traditional accompaniment to a meal is raki, an aniseed-flavoured drink, rather like ouzo, which should be mixed with water and ice.

What to try

Look out for local specialties: kebabs, ciq kofte (spicy bulgur patties), balik ekmek (mackerel sandwiches), lahmacun (flatbread with minced lamb), and – for the brave – kokorec (spicy lamb offal in intestines). Sweets and pastries are traditional, from pistachio-stuffed baklava to hot syrup-doused lokma (doughnut balls) and pogaca (savoury layered pastries).

Also try freshly made cherry or pomegranate juice, and salep – a hot, creamy drink made from orchids and available all over town.

Also see our round-up of traditional Turkish foods you must try in Turkey.

The dining scene

Istanbul dining ranges from internationally famous restaurants to meyhanes (traditional bar-restaurants with live music) and simple lokantas (‘tradesmen’s restaurants’ serving simple home-cooked food).

It’s also a street-food capital: street vendors sell delicious snacks such as sesame rolls, lamb pizza, roasted corn and meatballs. Street food tours are highly recommended here, but you can simply wander through the markets and bazaars sampling as you go.

Who to go with: tour operators

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  • Istanbul , Marmara , Turkey

Built in 1892 at the terminus of the legendary Orient Express, the Pera Palace Hotel is a historic monument and the most famous hotel in Istanbul – this is where everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to the Kennedys bedded down in the golden age of travel. Room 411 is where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express.

For a refined escape from the bustle of the city, and to experience old imperial Istanbul, stop in for traditional English afternoon tea in the hotel’s atmospheric, red-velvet, gilt-edged Kubbeli Salon. Join the Istanbul elite, who lap up French pastries served on rare Christofle silver, to the accompanying sounds of a live Schiedmayer grand piano.

The legendary Pera Palace remains an icon of imperial grandeur.

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 1-2 hours

Ciya Sofrasi

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

Aerial view down onto a table full of Turkish meze plates

Experience

Chef Musa Dagdeviren’s temple of traditional Anatolian cuisine in Kadikoy is a must – he has been collecting recipes for over 25 years, and the daily-changing menu offers the chance to try dishes from all over Turkey.

Good for age: 13+

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

Intricate, illuminated Turkish lamps hanging from the ceiling inside a market

Bucket List Experience

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

It’s the oldest shopping mall in the world, and possibly the biggest, with 5,000 shops to browse through. Glittering like Aladdin’s cave, Istanbul’s Covered Market or Grand Bazaar consists of 66 streets covered with stone vaulting and enclosed by a wall.

All of Turkey’s treasures are on display, but it’s an everyday market too, selling everything from diamonds to dishcloths; during peak times there are as many as half a million people inside its walls. Maybe not the best place for bargains, but an unparalleled treat for the senses, and an essential part of the Istanbul experience.

Good for age: 8+

Kadikoy Market

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

View down a covered market with tourists and locals shopping at stalls

Experience

Located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Kadikoy Market is Istanbul’s foodie central, a gastro-riot of local produce including seafood, fruit and vegetable stalls, herbs, spices and cheeses. There’s also a flea market mixed in, selling antiques, second-hand goods and surprising curiosities in over-filled stalls. Tuesdays and Fridays.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: All day

When: Tuesday & Friday

Freq: weekly

Mikla

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

Close up of a plate with small octopus tentacle and orange sauce

Experience

One of the world’s best restaurants, Mikla is headed up by chef Mehmet Gurs, father of the New Anatolian Kitchen culinary movement. Situated on a rooftop terrace in Beyoglu, all meals come with spectacular views.

Adult price: £45

Good for age: 18+

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

Colourful, triangular piles of spices in round terracotta dishes

Bucket List Experience

Spice Bazaar

Built in the 17th century, Istanbul’s second largest bazaar is a colourful, fragrant wonderland and a must-visit for anyone curious about Istanbul’s east-meets-west culture.

Once the last stop for caravans arriving on the Silk Road from China, the Spice (or Egyptian) Bazaar now only deals in spices, nuts, honeys, teas, hennas and sweets, including dozens of flavours of lokum (known elsewhere as turkish delight), which was invented by an Istanbul pastry chef in 1776.

Good for age: 13+

Vefa Bozacisi

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

Vefa Bozacisi

Experience

A historic shop founded in 1876, this is the place to try boza, an ancient fermented drink, made from water, barley and sugar and garnished with cinnamon and chickpea powder. In summer, sira a local grape juice is also served.

Good for age: 4+

Logistics

Price from: £5
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 0+
When: All year around
Duration: -

Getting there & doing it

You can eat like a sultan anywhere in Istanbul, especially in Beyoglu: rooftop restaurants, bars and clubs overlooking the city are all the rage. Try the open-air seafood places in the Bosphorus villages – but avoid the rip-off Galata Bridge restaurants.

Beyoglu is also the centre for bars and nightlife, especially around Nevizade Sokak and Asmalimescit Sokak (or simply ‘Asmali’). Or join the elite in the glamorous nightclubs along the Bosphorus in exclusive Kurucesme.

When to do it

Chic society dines quite late in Istanbul especially in the summer, heading to a restaurant at 10pm and even later to a meyhane (tavern), especially if you intend on going clubbing. On Sundays, many families gather at 5pm or 6pm for a big meal, usually seafood.

Who to go with: organised tours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

  • Istanbul

Ready to taste the best food on both sides of Istanbul? Start with a delicious traditional Turkish breakfast in Europe in the heart of the historic Old City, before you sail across to Asia and explore the vibrant streets of Kadıköy. With your foodie guide, you’ll make 8-9 delicious stops during your walk with a variety of samples at each – enough to fill your belly to the brim with all the fantastic Turkish flavors! From street foods and world-famous restaurants to traditional kebabs and Turkish ice cream, The Taste of Two Continents tour is your full-day immersion inside Istanbul’s food scene and a glimpse of Turkish culture and daily life.

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  • Istanbul

Eat your way through Istanbul's culinary scene on a private food tour. Go on a delicious journey as you try 10 of the best food items beloved by the locals: from savory to sweet and local drinks; this tour will leave every foodie satisfied! Enjoy tastings typical of the local cuisine and hand-picked by a local guide passionate about food like Durum and Turkish Delight. But that's not it! This tour is more than just food; it's a cultural experience! In between food stops, you'll also find city highlights making this experience a well-rounded tour that will satisfy every foodie. Withlocals The 10 Tastings Private Food Tour™ is one of Withlocals' signature tours available in major cities worldwide. We work with passionate local guides who earn a fair fee. We support local economies by only offering local produce and prevent over-tourism with only small non-intrusive groups. Our tours are carbon-neutral and away from the standard tourist routes.

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Rating 4.79 / 5 [330 ratings]

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  • Istanbul

This is a food tour with a difference in world famous Beyoğlu (Pera) neighbourhood makes sure that you will enjoy all the ranges and aspects of Turkish Cuisine leaving nothing out. From drinking Raki and tasting varieties of mezes, cheese and seasonal fruits in a Meyhane (Local Tavern) to delicious Baklava in a traditional Confectionary Shop. In this four-hour gastronomy tour, you will stroll through some of the backstreets, bustling food markets and passages off Istiklal Street stopping off at Cafes, Eateries, Kebab restaurants and street food stalls to sample a cross-section of delicious foods to include meats, stuffed mussels and chocolate. A fascinating insight in a small group tour, providing thoughtful information on the history, cultural significance and relevance not only of the food but of the locations where it was served. We discover places you never find on your own.

Price €90

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Rating 4.87 / 5 [175 ratings]

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  • Istanbul

On our daytime Secret Food Tours: Istanbul - Kadikoy, you'll enjoy the best classic Turkish foods. Learn about some of the city's most important dishes, each bite you savour will be a taste of history. With our tour, you'll experience the finest doner, lahmacun, mehemen and a variety of other delights. At the end of your tour, you'll have eaten some of Istanbul's most delicious dishes and gained a better understanding of our culture and history.

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  • Istanbul

From kebabs to baklava to Turkish delight, Turkish food is famous worldwide. While many people have enjoyed more than the odd kebab in their time, there is so much more to Turkish food than just kebabs, as you will discover on the 6-hour Istanbul Food Tour. The tour takes you off the beaten track so you can sample the authentic tastes of Istanbul and experience delicious Turkish delicacies you may not have known existed. While discovering local markets, you will also gain an overview of Turkish history and culture while appreciating the unique architecture of Istanbul. Whether you are a food expert or love food, the Istanbul Food Tour will fulfill your eating dreams.

Price $154

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Rating 5 / 5 [155 ratings]

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