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Istanbul Food

Istanbul Food

The food alone is a good reason to visit Istanbul, it was certainly the focus of our visit. We gave it our best shot to try everything, but we still missed a lot. Including Çiğ köfte, Turkish Delight, Turkish Icecream and Nougat. Warning: this is a very long post!

Mat Hollingsworth
Mat Hollingsworth

9 min read

The food alone is a good reason to visit Istanbul, it was certainly the focus of our visit.

We gave it our best shot to try everything, but we still missed a lot. Including Çiğ köfte, Turkish Delight, Turkish Icecream and Nougat.

Warning: this is a very long post!

Askaray Kebab Shops

I'll start with the highlight. On our third day, in search of the best kebab, we ventured out to Aksaray, or 'Little Urfa' as it is known locally. We had seen a 'Kebabistan Tour' advertised, but at $USD 75 per person, we thought we could probably manage on our own.

We set off on foot from Eminönü via Süleymaniye Mosque. It was a lot further than we realised, but we eventually arrived in Aksaray. We didn't know what we were looking for, so wandered around to get a sense of the area. It felt as though there were a lot more people from eastern Turkey (Adana and Urfa) and the middle east. The women were dressed more conservatively or in religious clothing, and there were as many people speaking Arabic as Turkish.

We eventually settled on Ciğeristan, immediately opposite the Aksaray station. Ciğer means liver in Turkish and is a speciality of these restaurants. However, we opted for Adana kebab and Urfa kebab. The food was fantastic. Easily the best that we'd had so far.

It turns out that there is a tram takes you most of the way there. Take the T1 tram from Kabatas/Karakoy/Eminounu to the end of the line at Bağcılar and work a few hundred meters in the same direction toward Aksaray station.

Blown away by the food we'd had at  Ciğeristan we returned on our last day for another meal. This time we opted for Ciğer Sarayı, right next door to Ciğeristan. The owner immediately came outside and greeted us. His English was quite good, and he was eager to please us.

This time we ordered the liver and the chicken with a glass of Ayran. The food was just as good as our previous visit. For dessert, the friendly owner brought us a flaming cup of Menengiç Khavesi, a kind of sweet gritty, pistachio coffee.

The total cost for both meals, for two people, was about $USD 20.

Meze

We went to two fancy restaurants while in Istanbul, Meze by Lemontree and Yeni Lokanta.

Yeni Lokanta

This place was great, but some dishes missed the mark. We did the tasting menu. The cold mezze was refreshing, cocktails were tasty and the dessert was ok.

The Manti was fantastic, a kind of savoury dumpling in a tart yoghurt sauce. Easily the best dish of the meal.

But grilled halloumi was awful; it was inedibly salty and unbalanced. The service was friendly but very slow. Faster service and the exclusion of the haloumi dish would have made for a much better experience.

Meze by Lemontree

Meze by Lemontree is sensational. Their food is delicious and simple. We loved it so much that we went twice. I wish that we'd taken better pictures of the food, but we were too busy enjoying it.

They offer two tasting menus. The first night we had the five cold mezze and two warm mezze menu. The second night we ordered the six cold mezze only.

The 14 cold mezze change daily. The friendly staff guide you through the options as you select your dishes.

The staff also recommended a brilliant Turkish red wine, which I cannot recall the name. We had the same wine on both occasions.

Highlights for us were the grilled eggplant in tomato and yoghurt, beef in basil pesto, cured mackerel and grilled octopus, and the banana dessert.

Bananas topped with honey, almonds, pistachios, clotted cream and chilli

Breakfast at Kale

Near Rumeli Castle

Prue's workmate Bettina put us in touch with her friends Belgin and Vulcan who live in Istanbul. They were kind enough to take us to their favourite breakfast, Kale.

It was a bit of a drive to Rumeli Castle, so Belgin and Vulcan kindly offered to pick us up from our hotel.

Breakfasts in Istanbul are serious business. If you do the full spread, you barely need to eat for the remainder for the day.

Vulcan and Bel took care of the ordering, and I think we got just about everything on the menu! Several kinds of cheese, olives, salads, honey and cream, spinach borek, memen with pastrami, memen with cheese, a kind of tahini caramel, grilled halloumi and lots of bread!

It was delicious, and we were stuffed. After breakfast, Bel and Vulcan dropped us at Galata Bridge in Eminönü.

Naga Putrika

One morning we visited the Asia side of Istanbul and have breakfast at Naga Putrika.  

We took the ferry from Karakoy, enjoying a tea on the way. It took us some time to find Naga Putrika because it is hidden away in the corner of Kadıköy. Naga Putrika feels like you are having breakfast in a friend's garden. It's so peaceful and private.

We chose one of their set breakfast menus for two, and a feast arrived.

The food was fresh, delicious and abundant. The grilled peppers, menemen and sweet doghnuts with sesame caramel were the highlights.

The staff was lovely; though he spoke very little English, with google translate he patiently served us. I think he was a bit confused and thrilled by our visit.

Pomegranate Juice & Kadıköy Fish Market

After our enormous breakfast at Naga Putrika we headed off to explore Kadıköy.

We walked along the waterfront, past the Canadian school, down the tramway and back to the fish market.

We didn' much feel like eating, so we shared a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice ('Nar'). It was very tart, but what we needed.

Soundtrack

I took my Rhode lapel microphone with me on the trip and took some field recordings.

The track embedded below includes a few clips from our breakfast at Naga Putrika, the walk to the market past the international school, Prue buying an orange and pomegranate juice ("Portakal and Nar"),  the fish market, the fish market including the call to prayer, and the ferry terminal.

Sounds of Kadıköy in Istanbul

Dürümzade

Because we're stupid foodies that will walk miles to a far-flung hole in the wall eatery because some food blogger or TV personality mentioned it; we sought out Dürümzade for the Adana dürüm kebab that Anthony Bourdain mentioned on his show.

In reality, it wasn't that far from where we were staying, and it was worth it. So good that we went back later in the week for another one.

Dönerci Şahin Usta

at the Grand Bazaar

We ate of variations of 'meat in bread' while in Istanbul, but as far as Döner in Pita goes, Dönerci Şahin Usta is the one to beat.

This little hole in the wall near the entrance to the Grand Bazaar is a favourite among locals that work in or near the market. There was a long queue when we arrived and it was worth the wait.

They do only two things. Döner Kebap and Ayran. There is nowhere to sit. It is quite literally a window in a wall. Perfect.

Baclava

Karaköy Güllüoğlu is a charming old school Baklava joint. I think it was one of the original Baklava establishments in Istanbul.

We came here twice also. Our favourites were the Sütlü Nuriye baklava. Sütlü Nuriye is lighter than regular because it is soaked milk based syrup. It also has hazelnuts.

We also liked the very untraditional chocolate baklava.

Watch Prue's Karaköy Güllüoğlu Chocolate Baklava Review

Köşkeroğlu

in Karaköy

Köşkeroğlu is a great traditional Turkish restaurant in Karaköy.

We came here to try Kanafeh, a middle eastern dessert made from cheese pastry soaked in syrup. We decided to stick around for lunch. We had Adana Kebab and Iskender Kebab.

Kanafeh was delicious but very heavy and filling.

Eminönü: Lahmajoun & Balik Ekmek

We also enjoyed a great view and a delicious meal at Hamdi in Eminönü. It's on top floor, off the main square right near the boats at Galata Bridge. We ate Adana Lahmajoun(spicy version) and the ever-popular Ayran (a salty yoghurt drink).

The famous Balik Ekmek (fish sandwich) in Eminönü were fine but I don't really understand the hype. Watching them being cooked on the nicely decorated boats was fun though.

Karadeniz Döner Asım Usta

in Beşiktaş

While wandering around Beşiktaş, we came across Karadeniz Döner Asım Usta which had an enormous queue. Our policy is, if there is a queue then it's probably worth queuing for. We weren't hungry, but we decided to share one anyway.

It was worth the wait.