The Best 10 Istanbul Food Tips – Get the Most Out of Your Istanbul Culinary Experience

Turkey is known worldwide for its mouth-watering kebabs, delicious deserts, scrumptious street food, and wonderful pastry. Often considered to be one of the richest cuisines in the world, Turkish cuisine offers so much variety that it can be a little overwhelming. So how do you get the most out of your Istanbul culinary experience? Here are our Top 10 Istanbul Food Tips:

#1 Don’t Always Aim for the Best Service – Aim for the Most Authentic Option

If you go to Google maps or most online blogs, you’ll find many lists of the most luxurious, stylish, and comfortable restaurants where you’ll get treated like a king but you might find that the food isn’t that authentic. Some of the best kebabs can be found in the backstreets, in small, uncomfortable-looking restaurants with tiny tables and stools. You might not even pay attention to those small corner buffets but that might just be the best kebab you’ve ever eaten. Try to find places where locals eat and don’t be afraid of food safety: food is generally very safe in Turkey.

Where Do Locals Eat in Istanbul?

#2 Go to a Local Canteen

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Turkish cuisine is mostly famous for its kebabs and sweets, but there is so much more to it. Try eating at a canteen where they serve daily cooked home food, stews, soups, and vegetable dishes. You’ll be surprised how different and healthy home-cooked Turkish meals are. Delicious stews, soups, and vegetarian appetizers are prepared and served daily in these canteens that primarily cater to the local working people. This is as authentic as it gets.  

Best Home Food Canteens in Istanbul

#3 Have Turkish Breakfast Outside at Least Once

It’s a pity that many people visit Istanbul, yet do not have a Turkish breakfast outside once. They only have breakfast at their hotels, whatever the hotel open buffet offers, and continue with their days. You have to try a proper Turkish breakfast outside, somewhere nice with a nice view, at least once. Turkish breakfast isn’t just some fried eggs and toast bread, it’s an absolute feast with dozens of different jams, different types of cheeses and olives, breakfast spreads, fresh cut vegetables, different types of bread and pastry including the crunchy simit or puffy and deep fried pişi and of course Turkish black tea, çay. Next to your breakfast, you can also try menemen, which is a scrambled egg meal with tomatoes and peppers, and after a saturating meal, you can crown your breakfast experience with Turkish coffee. After all, the translation for the word breakfast in Turkish, “kahvaltı” literally comes from “kahve altı” which means “before coffee”. 

Turkish Breakfast: An Absolute Feast for your Eyes and Stomach

Where to have Turkish breakfast in Istanbul?

#4 Try Rakı & Meze & Seafood

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If you are a drinker, you should definitely try Turkish rakı and meze. 

Rakı is the national alcoholic drink of Turkey, which is a spirit that is typically between 40-50% alcohol, made from white grapes, distilled, and served with appetizers called meze. The concept is very similar to that of the Greek Ouzo and meze, as similar drinks and eating habits exist almost identically in all Mediterranean countries, including Italy, Greece, Lebanon, and Israel. 

Restaurants that serve rakı and meze are typically seafood restaurants, and generally speaking, seafood and fish are not common in kebab restaurants or home food canteens. So even if you are not a drinker, a rakı and meze restaurant might be the place to eat good local fish and seafood. 

#5 Join a Food Tour

Food tours are amongst some of the most fun activities in Istanbul as they are typically made in more residential and less touristic parts of the city, with small groups and experienced local guides. Joining a food tour not only will broaden your perspective and understanding of Turkish cuisine but will also, in most cases allow you to explore a less-touristic part of Istanbul.

Best Food Tours in Istanbul

Book a Food Tour on the Asian side of Istanbul

#6 Learn Which Street Foods You Must Try

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There is just so much yummy street food in Istanbul! From pastry foods like the crunchy Turkish bagel simit to fish sandwich under the Galata bridge, from baked kumpir to roasted kokoreç, and even local Istanbulian delicacies such as ıslak hamburger (steamed burgers), this city has so much to offer on its streets. 

Read our article on 15 Must Try Street Foods in Istanbul

#7 Go to a Dessert Shop: There is more than just baklava and lokum

Everybody knows baklava, everybody knows lokum (Turkish delight). But is that all? Absolutely not. There is so much more to Turkish sweets. Go to a Turkish dessert shop and try the less common desserts. All locals know these desserts but you may have never heard of them. Some of the interesting desserts you can try are kabak tatlısı (pumpkin dessert with tahini and walnuts), sütlaç (milky rice pudding), quince dessert, kazandibi (milk pudding with chicken breast), künefe (hot crispy shredded dough dessert with melted cheese inside), and the list goes on…

Mado, Murat Muhallebicisi, Saray Muhallebicisi, are some of the few good brands that have chain restaurants all over Istanbul. You can find these chains on Istiklal Avenue, in Karaköy, and in many other places.

10 Turkish sweets you MUST try

#8 Try Authentic Turkish Beverages and Drinks

You may not have paid attention to it, but Turkish people drink a lot of different beverages that generally don’t exist in other countries. Have you seen people drinking that white, milky-looking drink with foam on top? That’s ayran for example. Or that dark red-purple-colored drink? That’s şalgam.

Turkish cuisine has a very long list of drinks and beverages, some of which are still very common, like ayran, and some of which are very hard to find, like gül şerbeti (rose juice). And drinks in Turkey aren’t just sweet and non-sweet but can be salty, sour, or even spicy. 

Try the milky yogurt drink ayran for example, or the spicy turnip juicy şalgam, or a nice hot cup of salep on a cold winter day, or a nice cup of boza with roasted chickpeas and a spoon, or try a demirhindi şerbet, (tamarind juice), that is, if you can find it of course 🙂    

#9 Dine with a View

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In a city like Istanbul, with so many different locations with a grand view over the city and the Bosphorus, it would be a crime not to dine with a nice view of the sea and the city. Make a dinner reservation at a rooftop restaurant or at least a restaurant with a decent sea view to experience fine dining over Istanbul. 

Best Rooftop Restaurants and Cafes in Istanbul

#10 Join a Cooking Class

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Cooking classes are a lot of fun, even if you don’t usually cook. Many such cooking classes happen in local people’s apartments, and sometimes in the kitchen of a family-owned restaurant. This kind of experience can help you immerse yourself deeper into Turkish culture and make some local friends! Cooking classes can be very entertaining and social experiences that help you further understand Turkish culture and cuisine.

Book a Cooking Class in Istanbul

15 Turkish Dishes You Must Try