It is an undisputed fact a visit to Turkey ended up on my radar because of a strong desire to eat all the things. While there is so much more to see and do in Istanbul the food as expected was a highlight. During 10 days here I consumed all the Turkish dishes I could get my hands on. Everything from Turkish street food to elaborate Turkish breakfast had me smiling from ear to ear.
Don’t miss out on a traditional or semi-traditional Turkish Breakfast. For an American, it will be in stark contrast to what we’re used to at the Breakfast line but maybe not as exciting if you’re from Europe or other parts of the world. It’d loosely compare it to a charcuterie board with a mixture of sweet and savory flavors to please any palate. They vary from restaurant to restaurant but you can expect a variety of cheeses, meats, veggies, dried fruit and nuts, bread, and spreads. Some restaurants will serve it with eggs or other small plates. We sampled three different breakfast options at really loved Elvan Pasta and Cafe just outside of Taksim Square. But also thoroughly enjoyed The Seven Hills Restaurant and the Ministry of Coffee.
Meg’s Favorite: the Turkish feta and honey spreads at Elvan Pasta & Cafe
Linds’ Favorite: Salty fried sausage and halloumi cheese at Seven Hills Restaurant.
Kofte is a really popular Turkish cuisine staple. It is ground beef or lamb made into small balls or patties. The meat is well seasoned and it’s usually is served with a side of yogurt and garlic sauce. The meat is super juicy at times even stuffed with gooey melty cheese.
Linds’ Favorite: Cheesy kofte from Bodrum Manti and Cafe
This might just be the easiest of foods on this list to find. It’s literally sold from bright carts red all throughout the city. This circular sesame seed coated bread is often referred to as a Turkish bagel. It’s perfect to grab on the street and nibble on while you explore. In my experience, the ones sold on the street were a bit hard. But the ones I had in coffee shops and long side our breakfasts were absolutely delicious. I even saw them being served at cafes topped with feta and cucumbers.
Meg’s Favorite: the softer version at Ministry of Coffee that came with breakfast
Linds Favorite: the cart in front of Haga Sophia stuffing them with Nutella
We regretfully discovered these little bites of perfect on the last night in Istanbul. Manti is a Turkish cuisines version of dumplings or ravioli. Manti is traditionally prepared by boiling but you can also get it fried. They are stuffed with ground meats, onions and spices and topped with a delicious cool garlic yogurt sauce. We ordered a bowl with half fried and half boiled. The natural inclination is that all things are better when a friend, not for this dish. The traditional boiled preparation is by far my favorite. The key is the find the small hand made a variety.
Meg’s Favorite: half boiled half fried chicken manti from Bodrum Manti and Cafe
Döner is the ultimate Turkish takeaway, meats such as chicken, lamb, or beef cooked vertically and sliced thin. Doner spots are easily identified with the twisting spit in front of the restaurant. You can order the meat prepared multiple ways, such as wraps, sandwiches or on a platter. There was something so familiar and comforting about seeing the twisting spits I’d come so accustomed to in my adopted home of Merida, Mexico. I knew the concept of al pastor originated in this part of the world but was interesting to see first hand.
Meg: the row of shops in Taksim Square has multiple amazing options
This is probably what you think of when you think about Turkish Street food. Durum is the doner meat put into a thin bread, more comparable to a tortilla than a pita. Along with the meat your lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and occasionally kaiser cheese. I had sky high hopes for this one and it just didn’t meet my expectations. I missed the thick fluffy bread and sauce I had come accustomed to. It is really cheap and a fantastic Turkish takeaway option. I vote to keep tasting them until you find one you love! I know it exists I just didn’t have enough time to track it down.
Turkish Apple Tea
You’ll quickly find that tea is the most popular beverage in Turkey. There are two main kinds, deep rich Turkish tea, and a lighter brighter Turkish apple tea. They are both absolutely delicious the apple tea was just my favorite. It was cold for most of our stay some I happily accepted a cup each time it was offered to me. When you are offered a cup of tea its a sign that of friendship. We sat down for a cup with a shopkeeper in the Grand Bazaar expecting a hard press sales pitch. What we got was a story of how this man has worked at the same store selling carpets for 53 years and both of his sons now work in the same business in Cappadocia. He even gave us their cards just in case we made it there during our visit. Here’s my hang up on the tea in Turkey. The boiling hot tea is served in tulip shaped glass cups with no handle, they are beautiful but my fingertips many never return for the repeated burns.
Consistently good everywhere
Turkish Delight (Lokum)
Okay, I went to Turkey having no clue what Turkish delight is and left the candies biggest hype girl. These delicious chewy pieces of heaven can be found literally all over Istanbul. Turkish people have a serious obsession with sweets and we learned that’s been a long-standing fact when we visited the Topkapi Palace Museum. The Turkish Delight can be found in a ton of flavors, usually made from honey and pistachios in every flavor from rose to hazelnut. The super sweet candy also pairs well with the strong Turkish Coffee. When you buy more than a half kilo
Meg’s Favorite: Cherry Baklava
Linds Favorite: Pomegranate with pistachio
The idea of eating meat on a stick originated in Turkey. So it should come as no surprise they do it extremely well. Sis Kebab is typically chicken or lamb and occasionally fish served on a wooden rod. The meat is tender and often served with bread, lettuce, shredded carrots, and pickled beetroot. I highly recommend getting the garlic yogurt sauce to dip in.
Linds Favorite: I ate this more times than I can count and never had a bad one. There are a ton of places near Taksim Square.
Baklava is a syrupy, pastry dessert that to be honest I’ve never enjoyed. It is really, really sweet and usually includes crushed pistachios. I know that there was no better place for me to try it again than Turkey so I went for it. I was pleasantly surprised, it was delicious. I think the key is the level of freshness. You can literally see the fresh sheets of Baklava in the windows of many stores just waiting to be eaten with a hot drink
Linds’ Favorite: Hafiz Mustafa
Layers of light dough rolled into layers like lasagna or twists like pull apart bread. The dough is typically filled with minced meat, cheese, spinach or potatoes. This dish is easy to find, it’s super cheap and hearty. We split one a couple of times as a snack after lots of walking.
Fish Sandwich or Balık Ekmek
I’ll preface this story with I used to be a picky eater, I blame much of that on my lack of exposure to international food growing up in small-town Pennsylvania. I’ve come a loooooooong way and almost never turn my nose up to anything. The Balik Ekmek is usually made of fried mackerel on fresh bread with veggies and pickle juice to squeeze on top. When I read about eating fish sandwiches it sounded like a food experience rather than a meal so I was in.
I was a huge fan of the experience. The square is busy with both locals and tourist, the boats are beautiful. The Balik ekmek itself left a lot to be desired for me. The fish is oily and has a super strong smell. Enjoy these pictures on the “oh no” moment I have when the fish hit my taste buds.
Pide is grossly underrated in my opinion. This boat-shaped flatbread, often considered Turkish Pizza is absolutely delicious. Meg and I often have the thick crust/thin crust pizza debate and pide seem to fall someplace in the middle. It topped commonly with gooey cheese, minced meat, salty fried meat or spinach. This is one of those great Turkish street foods that are super cheap and really stick with you.
For reference, an average meal at a sit-down restaurant for two is roughly 70-80 TKL which at today’s exchange rate is $13-$15 USD. A cup of freshly squeezed juice from a street vendor was about 4 TKL or 75 cents. Durum was 21 TKL or $4 USD.