15 Dishes that are the Best Food in Istanbul 

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Explore the best food in Istanbul from traditional dishes to unique local beverages, this guide will take your taste buds on an unforgettable journey.

In this blog post, we’re taking a delicious journey to Istanbul, Turkey, to explore its rich gastronomic landscape. We’ll delve into 15 of the most mouthwatering dishes and beverages this vibrant city offers. From traditional breakfasts and unique street foods to delectable desserts and iconic drinks, this culinary guide will offer a comprehensive look at the best food in Istanbul. So, prepare yourself for a delicious adventure tantalizing your taste buds.

We normally go on a full-on single-day food tour, where we try a lot of these dishes all at once. I don’t recommend that since there is a ton of food. But many of these dishes can be tried at restaurants throughout Istanbul. We recommend where we tried the dish and can attest it was amazing!

We’ll cover the best food in Istanbul, Turkey food culture, food tour in Istanbul, and more!

Best Food in Istanbul

This post is all about the best food in Istanbul. Bon Appetite!

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Best Food in Istanbul

1. Menemen

best food places in istanbul

Menemen is a traditional Turkish breakfast dish. Its base is scrambled eggs and diced tomato. We had the dish multiple times with different ingredients, including sausage, peppers, onions, and cheese. I love a good, savory breakfast, and this was perfect. It’s served piping hot in the dish it was baked in and comes with bread to eat it with.

  • Restaurant to Try: Lades Menemen near Istiklal Street

2. Balik Ekmek

Best Food in Istanbul

Balik Ekmek is a simple, fresh fish sandwich. The fish is caught, prepared, and served in the same area along the Golden Horn near the Galata Bridge on either the Karaköy or Eminönü side. You will actually walk up to a boat in the water to order your sandwich.

The fish is grilled and served on fresh rolls of bread with lettuce and onions. It’s also customary to drink a glass of pickled beet juice with your balik ekmek. It’s pickled, alright. It’s not my favorite, but it goes surprisingly well with the sandwich and is really fun to do, as the locals do. There are tons of people in this area eating sandwiches and drinking beet juice!

  • Restaurant to Try: Tarihi Eminönü Balık Ekmek

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3. Doner Kebab

doner kebab istanbul

You can’t visit Istanbul without trying the famous doner kebab. This large dish, typically served for dinner, is made of sliced meat, typically lamb, and served with sides of vegetables, sauce, and bread. What makes it a doner kebab is how the meat is cooked, stacked on a vertical rotisserie, and sliced. This is similar to the methods for shwarma and al pastor tacos, as they all stem from the same method. However, in Turkey, it’s served as separate ingredients to be made into “perfect bites” as you eat.

To get a perfect bite, you can use your utensils and eat the meat dipped in its juices with a bit of the veggie for crunch and the yogurt sauce to balance the spices.

  • Restaurant to Try: Kebapçı İskender on the Asian side

We had doner kebab a few times and loved our experience at Kebapçi İskender on the Asian side. The servers were super friendly and gave us some great suggestions. Our favorite being to order a plain grape juice to drink with our doner kebab. This restaurant is actually where the first-ever döner kebab was cooked in 1867 by İskender Efendi of Bursa. He stacked lamb cuts on a rotisserie and cooked it for the first time vertically instead of horizontally. The best part is that they bring the pan out from the kitchen after serving you to pour the hot meat juice on your plate. Delicious.

4. Kokorec

istanbul street food

Kokorec is sheep intestine. It’s served on a sandwich as finely chopped meat (almost minced). The meat is grilled, mixed with veggies and herbs, and served on crispy bread. It scared me to try it because the intestines aren’t normally clean. However, the restaurant was reputable and busy (always a good sign). And I am happy to report that the food sandwich was amazing. You sit on the street with a beer and some sandwiches. It’s the perfect late-night food.

  • Restaurant to Try: Şampiyon Kokoreç on the Asian side

5. Sutlaç

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Sutlaç is Turkish rice pudding. Rice pudding is made of milk, rice, and sugar. It’s a simple baked dish but a great dessert that complements the warm spices of the meals well. You may sometimes find it served warm, but it’s traditionally eaten cold.

  • Restaurant to Try: Pudding Shop Lale

6. Midye dolma

best street food in istanbul

This was one of our favorite Turkish dishes to try since it was a unique over experience and dish! Midye dolma is stuffed mussels served as a popular street food. The mussels are stuffed with rice and herbs and served with lemon squeezed on top. While delicious in and of itself, the experience is just as fun.

You will walk up to the stall, and they’ll place you in front of an empty bowl where you’ll place the shells. They’ll start handing you one mussel at a time. To eat it, you’ll use one side of the shell to scoop out the mussel and pop the whole thing in your mouth. Once you eat one, they’ll start preparing the next one and keep going until you say stop. You should say stop one before you’re ready since once they prepare, you have to eat it. And they do fill you up, so stop when you’re 80% full, otherwise you will be bursting! It’s super inexpensive at 5 TL ($0.15) per mussel. We stopped along Istiklal Street at a stand with a few other people and loved it!

  • Where to Try: Any busy street food stall along Istiklal Street

7. Lahmacun

best food in turkey

Lahmacun is essentially “Turkish pizza.” It sounds cliche, but it’s a flatbread with sauce, meat, and vegetables baked in a wood-fired oven. The traditional lahmacun is served with minced meat, traditionally lamb, with onions and red peppers. It’s served with parsley and lemon on the side, and I highly recommend adding them to the dish. To eat it, you roll it up into a wrap with all the goodies inside and eat it with your hands.

We ate at the super-popular Çiya Sofrası on the Asian side of Istanbul. This restaurant was in an episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Musa Dağdeverin, a self-proclaimed food archeologist, runs it. He does a wonderful job serving traditional Turkish dishes as his mother and grandmother served them. There are various storefronts for this restaurant all along the same street, each serving a different menu. We ate at the one near Tatar Salim where we ate the lahmacun.

  • Restaurant to Try: Çiya Sofrası

8. Shish Kebab

turkey food

Another popular kebab in Turkey is the shish kebab. This is grilled meat cooked on a skewer. Rather than being cooked on a massive rotisserie and then shaved off (like doner kebab), it is larger chunks of meat cooked on its own individual skewer. It’s often served with your meat of choice (chicken, lamb, steak, etc.) and veggies (onions, peppers, etc.).

It’s usually served already removed from the skewer, but if not, you can use the bread to grab the meat and pull the skewer out. You then eat it with your utensils.

  • Restaurant to Try: Sultanahmet Buhara Kebab House Restaurant

9. Simit

turkey food culture

Photo by Frank Samol on Unsplash

You won’t be able to walk around Istanbul for more than a few minutes without seeing simit. Simit is a super popular and iconic street food. It’s plain baked bread dipped in molasses and sesame seeds. It’s served with your choice of toppings, from cream cheese to Nutella to olive paste. You’ll see them all over Istanbul in the shiny red wheelbarrow carts. They are super affordable at 10 TL ($0.30) each and make a great breakfast on the go.

  • Where to Try: Any street food cart: the busier, the better.

10. Turkish Delights

turkish delights

Photo by Kaysha on Unsplash

Turkish delights are delightful (pun intended) jellied sweets with a huge variety of flavors. They’ve been around since the 18th century in the Ottoman Empire. They are long, rolled bricks that you can slice into bite-sized pieces to eat.

There are a ton of Turkish Delight shops in the markets. Since these are aimed at tourists, they can add up in cost. We unintentionally paid $60 for a box of candy to bring home. They charge by weight and will keep offering another flavor until you say stop. Say, stop early! They do give you free samples of the flavors, so you know what you are getting before you purchase anything. If you want to bring some home, they offer a vacuum seal that lasts a good 3+ months to keep your candy fresh. PS Don’t refrigerate it. It’s better at room temperature.

  • Where to Try: Hafız Mustafa is a good chain store to try

Drinks in Istanbul

11. Turkish Coffee

istanbul restaurant

Turkish coffee is a different experience than any other coffee we’ve tried. What makes it so special is the brewing experience. The coffee beans are finely ground and then boiled in water with sugar. They don’t actually strain the grounds out of the coffee, so the bottom of your cup will have grounds. It makes for a fairly thick cup of coffee. They also make a more theatrical version by boiling it in hot sand, usually at street stalls.

The fun part is when you get to the bottom of your cup, flip it over, and read the picture made by the grounds on your saucer! It’s a sort of fortune-telling (like reading tea leaves) from the Turks.

  • Restaurant to Try: Mandabatmaz

12. Chai

istanbul street food prices

Tea is a huge part of the Turkish culture. You’ll likely be served chai at the end of every meal. You’ll even be offered tea in a market shop if you purchase something. It’s usually complimentary in these cases where it’s offered to you.

Chai is the Turkish word for tea and is a simple black steeped tea served in a cute traditional glass. It’s always served with sugar (usually cubes).

  • Where to Try: Anywhere offered!

13. Salep

best food to eat in istanbul

Salep is a drink that is only served during the winter months. It’s a warm milk drink served with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. It’s delicious and smells like Christmas. 

  • Restaurant to Try: Kahve Dunyasi

14. Raki

istanbul street food tour

Raki is the national alcoholic beverage of Turkey. It’s actually a popular alcohol that is served all over the Mediterranean since it is made with grapes. The raki in Turkey is twice-distilled grape pomace flavored with aniseed. This gives it a very distinct anise flavor (also known as black licorice). It is a strong alcohol at 45% alcohol (90 proof), so be careful!

It’s drunk at dinner, starting with appetizers. You can order single glasses or bottles of varying sizes to share with the whole group. To drink, pour a serving of raki (about 1 ounce) into a tall glass and pour still (not sparkling) water over the raki. This will turn the clear liquid into an opaque white color. You can add a few ice cubes, depending on your preference.

  • Where to Try: Most restaurants that serve alcohol will serve Raki. The most popular brand is Yeni Raki.

15. Ayran

istanbul food culture

We saw this packaged yogurt drink everywhere. It’s a cold liquid yogurt with water and salt. It was commonly served at restaurants and was the default drink for fast food restaurant meal deals. It was interesting and definitely worth trying. It’s best with meat dishes. We were going to eat it with our doner kebab but that is already served with a yogurt sauce.

  • Where to Try: Anywhere!

our full istanbul food tour

this post covered all the best food in Istanbul with 15 dishes and drinks you have to try! I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

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