The Culinary Delights Of Istanbul

Part of the joy of being in Istanbul apart from the beauty of its geography and its monuments is its food. And on our second trip – the first being an escorted tour that barely left us any time in the city – we were determined to explore its amazing culinary delights.

Our first few moments were spent in Sultanahmet, soaking in the sheer magic of the beautifully lit monuments and the mesmerising rhythm of the call to prayer. Nowhere else on earth does the Muezzin’s call, sound quite like this!

Ravenous after the sensory overload, we stopped at a little restaurant for fragrant lentil soup and gozleme (stuffed pancakes) ending with sublimely refreshing salep (orchid root) ice cream from Mado which was to become my daily sugar fix.

File:Mantar Gozleme.jpg
Lady making Gozleme. Image credit Wikipedia

Day one was allocated to the sights we had missed on our previous trip; the Topkapi Harem, the Archeological Museum and the exquisite Mosaic Museum.

Disappointingly the ‘Ancient Near East’ section of the Archeological Museum was closed for renovations, so we missed seeing the ‘Treaty of Kadesh’ – a clay tablet – the only surviving copy of the oldest peace treaty in existence, between the Hittites and Rameses ll of Egypt.

Lahmacun – Image credit Wikipedia

A simple and delicious lunch of white bean salad and koftes at tarihi Sultanahmet Koftesi and we were all set to explore the Tahtakale area behind the Grand Bazaar ending at the beautiful Rustum Pasha Mosque.

Next was the Spice Bazaar reminding us of the fun we had on our last visit, getting bespoke scents mixed at Orhans! After stocking up on sumac and sour pomegranate sauce we cut across to the Galata bridge for a sunset view of the Golden Horn, and a good, cheap snack of balik-ekmek (fish sandwiches).

Dinner tonight, was kebabs at Hamdi’s. Istanbul is about kebabs, kebabs and more kebabs. From the thinly sliced doner to the spicier adana. We feasted on fistikli (pistachio) kebabs, lahmacun (lamb-coated flatbread) and khadaifi (cheese filled pastry soaked in syrup).

I first started relishing red meat in Istanbul on our previous trip, when I sneaked a tender, heavenly morsel from R’s plate and became an instant convert. We messaged friends about our ‘divine’ meal and they responded with “We always knew you were a fake Ghaas Phoos (grass eater)!”

Image credit – Ciya website

After a tour of the Dolmabahce Palace this morning we took the ferry to Kadikoy – on the Asian side – for lunch at Ciya, started by chef Musa Dagdeviren known as something of a “culinary anthropologist”.

We had read rave reviews and were looking forward to a special lunch but were not as wowed as we expected to be. We really enjoyed walking around Kadikoy though and returned around sunset.

It was now time for mezze & raki (potent anise flavoured liquor) at our favorite Meyhane, Bonchuk, on Nevizade street. We couldn’t wait to taste their speciality, topik (potato and bean casing filled with a paste of roasted onions, raisins and pine nuts) again.

We moved the next day from Sultanahmet to our second hotel, in Beyoglu, a previously run-down district, now reincarnated as the city’s after-hours playground.

Our next stop was Kanyon Mall in the swank Levent neighbourhood, more for its architecture than the shopping.

Back on Istiklal we grazed on yummy street food: stuffed mussels and clam sandwiches and icli koftes and profiteroles (from Inci pastanesi).

More walking, a shower & snooze later we were ready for dinner at Antiochia nearby. We loved the durum (Lavash bread rubbed with red pepper and spices), the mezze, the ubiquitous kebabs and the almost Parisian Café atmosphere. Even the aubergine dessert (!) was weirdly wonderful!

The baked potato on steroids -- photo by Jason D. Jones
Kumpir – Image credit Istanbul Eats

You cannot come to Istanbul and not cruise the Bhosphorus. So off we went sampling yoghurt at Kanlica and later disembarking at Sariyer. Then a taxi ride to Ortakoy and we just had to stop for kumpir, (an Istanbul take on the baked potato) from a stall on the square.

We watched wide-eyed as this vendor split the hugest cooked potato and began mixing in an assortment of toppings including cheese, corn, peas, vegetable salad, pickled beets etc…delish! A whole meal by itself. But we shared one between us since we had more treats to sample yet. Treats that guaranteed extra ‘padding’ for our trip back home.

Lunch was lip-smacking good manti, tiny pasta parcels enclosing morsels of meat and doused in a garlicky, yoghurt sauce.

We strolled around Taxsim in the evening and had our fortunes read at Melekler Kahvesi (coffee house). Great fun! Worth drinking the thick black ‘mud’ that is Turkish coffee for.

Simit – Image credit Wikipedia

The concert at the Galata tower that night was very atmospheric and we dined at a fish restaurant called Furreya within sight of the Viennese Tower. We had fresh salads, fantastic grilled Sea bass and butter fried prawns. A good change from all the kebabs of the past few days.

On impulse we climbed up to 360 on the way back, for (rather average) after dinner cocktails and fabulous panoramic night views. All in all a great day.

On our last morning we took the Tunel (vintage underground funicular) to Karakoy for our stock of Gulluoglu Baklava to take home. On the way back we stopped for delicious Turkish tea (pronounced chay) and simits – sweet bread rings – from a vendor outside and to sustain us until lunchtime.

Next we browsed around the “tony” boutiques in Nisantasi. Finally, a leisurely lunch at ‘Sofyali 9’ of memorable mezze and hot fluffy Pita breads was a fitting finale to a fantastic culinary journey.

I remember reading somewhere that three parameters define a great city: history, beauty and a friendly people. We would add great food to the list. Istanbul, we think, has it all and is right up there at the top of our list of favourite cities!

PS: This is a rare TUTW post without any images of my own (apart from the header). I hardly ever took photos of food during my pre-blog days. 

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

91 thoughts on “The Culinary Delights Of Istanbul

      1. Ah yeah, I had to change my diet earlier this year… I eat mostly Protein (Meats, Dairy & a little Tofu) and Vege’s these days… Hardly any Sugar, Bread or Pasta… But you get used to it.

        And I feel better


    1. You will love Istanbul Suzanne. Will you be doing Cappadocia and Ephesus as well? Let me know if you need any suggestiona.

      1. Hi Madhu
        I’m looking forward to it so much as it’ll be my first time in Turkey – I’ve always wanted to see Istanbul. We have 3 days in Cappadocia, 1 in Pamukkale, a week in Bodrum then 2 nts Istanbul before home. Sadly no time for Ephesus. Currently looking at hotels in Cappadocia so suggestions would be welcomed thank you 😀

  1. Looks yummy! One of the pleasures of traveling is trying out the local cuisine. I hope to see Istanbul someday. My hubby went there on business a couple of years ago and loved it.

  2. Madhu, just reading your descriptions of each dish is making me hungry. I’m glad I’m reading this just before and not after dinner! I am something of a carnivore so Turkish food is a guilty pleasure – I’m not surprised you got converted right then and there in Istanbul! Did you get to try İmam bayıldı (“the Imam fainted”) on your travels? It’s braised aubergine stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes and then simmered in olive oil. Along with lahmacun – which I actually prefer over pizza! – it’s my favourite Turkish dish.

    After reading this I think I would happily fly for a week to Istanbul and go nowhere else; that sheer combination of history, culture and amazing food is just unbeatable!

    1. Yes we did try the Imam Bayildi and Muammara and Fasulye and lots more. I love aubergine and would not have a problem being vegetarian in Istanbul. The only thing that was on our list that we failed to taste was the salt baked fish that our friend who had lived there for a while, kept raving about. You must have amazing Turkish restaurants in HK. Lucky you!

      1. Thankfully we do have a handful – in recent years Turkish, North African and Middle Eastern food have been gaining a little bit of momentum! Funnily enough the last time I had Imam bayildi was in Germany late last year. Missed out on the sahlep though!

    1. That is unfortunate Cardinal, must drastically limit your choices. I am sure even the Salep will be classified as gluten. Couldn’t you request for gluten free kebabs?

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