Istanbul is a unique city, a cosmopolitan and highly touristic city, but which preserves the traditions and customs of Turkey , as if no one visited it. It is a great open door to get inside the Turkish culture and, as such, taste the most incredible classic dishes of the country : the contrasting colors, the different flavors and the “preparations as they were made the grandmother ”, that are part of this culinary journey that no one should“ miss ”.
Do not miss this post where we will tell you what to eat in Istanbul and what you should not miss on a trip or, why not, what to taste in the rest of the world when these typical dishes from Istanbul act as perfect ambassadors for a great country.
Did you know that Istanbul is the third most visited city in Europe with more than 13 million visitors a year?
One city: hundreds of culinary ideas
Photos here and there, a souvenir, the most visited places and the must-see sites … are elements that are part of a base list of every traveler who visits a place for the first time, or, at least, you don’t want to miss out on anything. But something is missing … the food! Without going unnoticed, typical dishes, traditional recipes, flavors, aromas and colors are part of the culture of the country that is visited and that is why, as travelers, it is important to incorporate them into that “to do” list.
A kebab, a baklava and there we stay. Turkey’s fast food has been shared with almost every country in the world, demonstrating its culture from gastronomy and inviting travelers to feel part, at least, of a culinary map where almost all people who live especially in large cities, have been able to taste a beef kebab.
Turkish cuisine goes beyond fast food and its flavors, aromas and colors form a wide variety like few others, delicious like many and singularly photographic.
The variety in the typical dishes of Turkey and of course, Istanbul, lies in the years of history that the country carries, especially geographically, being the perfect bridge between the Far East and Europe, for which, including its preparations, the cultures of everyone who has influenced the country and forming final results that give so much that speak around the world.
Did you know that Istanbul is the only city in the world that is located on two continents? Part of Turkey’s largest city (not its capital) is located in Europe and, through the Bosphorus Strait, the other part is in Asia. This makes Istanbul the most westernized and multicultural city in the entire country.
8 typical dishes to eat in Istanbul
Like pizza in Italy, hamburgers in the United States or paella in Spain, döner kebap (so called in other countries of the world) or also known as kebab, is THE dish to eat in Istanbul and one of the most representative dishes of Turkey.
In most places, the kebabs are made of chicken or beef, although there are several places where they serve lamb. We have also found some stands where they made the wood-fired kebabs! The best: you can eat them at all hours, on the street or in restaurants.
The translation of the name, literally, is meat that turns on the grill and, without any secret involved, it is exactly what you see when you are preparing the kebab, for many hours, and being part of one of the most essential dishes to eat in Istanbul (or anywhere in the world that represent Turkish culture).
The meat that turns is cut into small slices and served on pita bread, generally accompanied by vegetables and sauces, with yogurt being number 1 and Most chosen by almost all travelers for its intense flavor and the perfect combination.
Many of those dishes that, just by looking at them, the stomach begins to crunch, are part of Turkish cuisine and Lahmacun is no exception. Another of the dishes to eat in Istanbul is frequently found, such as “Turkish pizza”, but it has nothing to do with what we usually know as pizza, only its shape.
Rather it is a thin and crispy dough that is covered with minced meat, cooked with onions, peppers and all the types of spices that one can name, seasoned in such a way that, if Someone who is not from the country would like to do it, there would be a cluster of aromas and it would come to nothing (from my own experience) but in Istanbul, they achieve this genius. Lahmacun is complemented with a drizzle of lemon and parsley before it is rolled up and ready to eat, forming a classic fast and “decisive” meal when thinking about what to eat for dinner.
“Belly split” is the literal translation of this dish to eat in Istanbul (and also in other regions of Turkey, if you continue traveling) which includes aubergines, minced meat, parsley, garlic and tomatoes. It is a very common dish in the many restaurants in Istanbul and a great option to order if you want to eat healthy, baked and with a classic seasoning of the region, generally accompanied by a pilav of rice.
- What is a pilav? On many occasions, the classic Turkish dish (the one with the most presence) is accompanied by a pilav of rice. But what is it? Pilav is a typical preparation of how to make “Turkish” rice (as we would call it in the West): aromatic, creamy and with a lot of flavor where onion is cooked with butter, rice is added and, in the best risotto style, it is added broth to make it more creamy, although the final touch is 100% national: once the rice is cooked, the casserole is transferred to the oven and left to cook for another 10 minutes, adding a little more butter at the end. How about Culinary Intriper?
4. Balik Ekmek
Traditional, fast and delicious (the new good, beautiful and cheap version of dishes to eat in Istanbul). The Balik Ekmek is the famous mackerel sandwich (fried or grilled) that is sold in the port of Eminonu, located on the Bosphorus. The particularity of buying Balik Ekmek in the port is that the cooks are on boats (very striking with lights) that move a lot.
- Turkish lesson for travelers : Balik means fish and Ekmek, bread.
To the mackerel “sandwich”, they also add lettuce, onion, and then you can add salt and lemon. Also, right there in the port there are stools where you can sit down to dinner and then you can have a tea. If of classic places and typical dishes to eat in Istanbul, this should be one of the first since, in addition to being delicious, it corresponds to a Turkish tradition and, visiting the port and tasting them, is “something to do ”When visiting the city.
If we are talking about Turkish food distributed in the world, then the Baklava should be on the list (below the kebab, of course). It is the quintessential Turkish sweet, there are different shapes and flavors but always keeping the same order: filo dough for puff pastry filled with nuts (usually pistachios or walnuts) bathed in honey syrup (the more the better).
Baklava is served on the street, in restaurants and cafes so it is impossible not to taste it, being one of the classic dishes. Learn how to prepare baklava is not a difficult task and is a great opportunity to feel the incredible flavors of Turkey at any time, situation and place.
How many times have we heard the name “Turkish delight”? And although it seems that they are talking about all the dishes to eat in Istanbul, it is a particular dish, called this way (unintentionally, great marketing, right?).
Turkish delights are snacks in colored cubes made of compact gelatin generally composed of dried fruits (such as pistachios or walnuts) and covered in sugar or coconut. Turkish delights are served everywhere: in cafes, on street stalls and in bazaars and patisseries, even with little boxes to take away as a great souvenir from Turkey like the what to buy at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, another must-see place to visit.
- Traveler tip: from my own experience, it is advisable to buy them loose and thus take them as souvenirs, in many opportunities, those sold in boxes can be a Bit dry and don’t do justice to how delicious they are.
A dish with a lot of power within Turkish culture, not only because of its representative flavors in its most important city, but also because the very preparation was included in the list of Cultural Heritage Immaterial of Humanity, being a classic dish to eat in Istanbul, honoring this incredible culture.
Dolma refers to “something that is stuffed” and is a dish that is served as an aperitif, where grape leaves (or vine) cooked in olive oil, stuffed with rice, onion and seasoned minced meat, enhancing the flavors through spices, a classic from Turkey.
- In Istanbul, especially, you can also find the Midye dolma, which are fried mussels stuffed with rice.
8. Kuzu Tandır
Its almost 3 and a half hours of preparation make this dish to eat in Istanbul as remembered as the very souvenir magnet stuck in the refrigerator. Kuzu tandır is one of the most required dishes in Turkish cuisine, a lamb so tender that it can only come off with a fork, because of its preparation, not only dedication, but also its history, make it special.
Kuzu tandır is an ancient dish made by cooking lamb in a tandır (clay oven on the floor), a technique used for centuries by ancestors. In many typical Istanbul restaurants this ancient technique is maintained to achieve such a characteristic flavor, although it is also accepted, to be able to do it in the oven with a metal tray for those who do not have the possibility of following the traditions ” the verbatim”.
Today, kuzu tandır is still traditionally made with extremely tender meat and served with walnut rice, diced liver, and currants.
Without a doubt, the dishes to eat in Istanbul are not wasted, I hope these dishes are part of your culinary experiences in the city! ????????️