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Istanbul, the city that bridges Europe and Asia, is a food lover’s paradise.
The best foods in Istanbul reflect the rich culinary heritage with its mouthwatering cuisine.
While in Turkey exploring the local food specialties, Istanbul surprised us with its delicious food from street vendors to local restaurants.
Each one showcased the unique culinary heritage of the city and tantalizing variety of flavors and textures.
For your culinary travels, we invite you to journey through the delicious flavors of Istanbul.
Indulge in these 17 best foods in Istanbul, including dessert and drinks.
Afiyet Olsun or enjoy your meal!
Top Turkish Dishes To Eat in Istanbul
1. Kahvaltı or Kavalti – Turkish Breakfast
Kahvaltı or Kavalti refers to a traditional Turkish breakfast. In Turkey, breakfast is a big deal and the most important meal of the day.
In fact, the name Kahvaltı, translates to “before coffee,” emphasizing its importance in local daily life.
Kahvalti, a large spread and sight to behold was one of our favorite Turkish foods.
Traditional Turkish breakfasts generally consist of a variety of cold and warm foods, as well as sweet and salty bites.
Typical Turkish breakfast foods include meats, cheeses, seasonal vegetables like sliced cucumbers, honey, kaymak or clotted cream, and more.
The star of the warm dish is known as Menemen, which are eggs cooked in a tomato-based sauce.
Sucuk, also spelled sujuk, is a type of Turkish sausage made with beef, garlic, and local spices that adds a delicious savory bite.
Everything for the Turkish breakfast is served all together, and you pick between savory, sweet, and fresh flavors.
Accompanied by endless cups of çay, Turkish black tea, Kahvaltı is an experience not to miss in Istanbul or anywhere in the country.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: One of the tastiest ways to savor the best food in Istanbul is on a food tour with a local guide. See our in-depth guide to The 9 Best Istanbul Food Tours: Indulge In Authentic Turkish Cuisine
2. Manti or Mantu – Lamb Stuffed Turkish Dumplings
Manti, or Mantu, are little lamb-stuffed dumplings sometimes called Turkish ravioli.
A popular Turkish food, you’ll find them everywhere, from handmade versions to pre-made versions at supermarkets or specialty stores.
The first time we saw Manti was in Antalya at a local restaurant with women making them by hand.
The preparation is quite tedious, and it is customary in some parts of the country to involve the entire family.
Manti are considered “tiny treasures” and are served hot topped with garlic yogurt sauce and pepper flakes.
In Istanbul, we took a cooking class and learned to make Manti from Cappadocia.
It’s not easy making the bite-sized pockets of meat-filled dough, but the taste is rewarding.
Turkish dumplings are a favorite Turkey food, and a must try in Istanbul.
3. Chorba or Corba – Turkish Soup
Turkish çorba is one of the foods to try in Istanbul. In a city with rich and delicious foods, Turkish soups are no exception.
Turkish soups are diverse and regional, with more than 300 variations of soup, each taking its name from the main ingredient.
For example, there is Tarhana soup made from mashed wheat, Karalahana soup from black cabbage, or Iskembe soup prepared with tripe.
One of our favorite soups we discovered on a food tour in Istanbul was a spicy lamb soup from the Gaziantep region of the country.
Known as Beyran Çorbası, this winter soup is usually eaten for breakfast.
Soups are quite commonly eaten in Turkey, and most lunch or dinner meals start with a local soup.
While visiting Istanbul, try different soups at local restaurants, and find your favorite one.
4. Doner Kebab or Döner Kebap – Grilled Meat in Pita Bread
Döner Kebab is yet another celebrity in Turkish cuisine, a dish famous worldwide.
Kebab is meat cooked on vertical rotating skewers designed to grill the meat uniformly.
As a sandwich, street vendors cut up thinly sliced pieces off the skewers and stuff them in a flatbread with vegetables.
In restaurants, döner kebab is served on a plate with salad, rice, or potatoes. Pita bread is served on the side.
Lamb meat is most commonly used in kebabs, although you will also find it prepared with chicken.
Visit specialized kebab restaurants known as Kebapci for the best experiences in Istanbul.
5. Adana Kebab or Kıyma Kebabı – Minced Mutton in Pita Bread
Adana kebabs are some of the most popular kebabs in Türkiye. These signature kebabs are from the Turkish city of Adana in the country’s south-central region.
What makes the Adana kebab so unique is the lamb meat used to make the kebab skewers.
Known locally Kıyma Kebabı, these kebabs are made of hand-minced young mutton meat prepared with a mix of local spices.
The secret ingredient that makes the kebabs so prized is the addition of tail fat. The lamb mixture is packed on skewers and then grilled over hot charcoal.
Adana kebabs are served with flatbread and grilled vegetables. Many locals pair Adana kebabs with Şalgam, a traditional turnip-based drink. We recommend having some as it cuts down the fat from the Adana kebab.
You’ll find Adana Kebab restaurants throughout Istanbul, and it is one of the best kebabs to try in Istanbul.
6. Izgara Köfte – Grilled Turkish Meatballs
One of my favorite Turkish foods are Turkish meatballs known as Izgara Köfte.
In Turkey, köfte is the general term used to describe traditional meatballs. There are hundreds of Kofte dishes in the country, and most are made with lamb or mutton.
Izgara Köfte are among the most popular, and they are made with grilled minced meat garnished with onions, parsley and paprika.
The meat mixture is flattened into cylinders and cooked over a charcoal grill.
Enjoy Izgara Köfte with Turkish bread and a side of traditional salads and dips for a delightful meal.
You can find these grilled Turkish meatballs at very reasonable prices at most Istanbul restaurants.
When you see them on a menu, don’t hesitate to try one of the best foods in Istanbul.
7. Cig Kofte or Çiğ Köfte – Raw Turkish Meatballs
A typical starter, Çiğ köfte is one most unusual Turkish dishes we discovered in the country.
This type of kofte, or meatballs, is one of Turkey’s oldest recipes.
Traditionally, ground beef, goat, or lamb meatballs were mixed together with bulgur and spices and formed by hand to make meatballs.
They are served with lemon juice eaten rolled up in lettuce leaves.
Due to sanitation and hygiene reasons, the sale of raw meatballs was banned, and now most of them are made with no meat but bulgur and spices.
Cig Kofte are surprisingly delicious with a rich texture and flavors. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice adds refreshing flavors, especially when combined with raw lettuce leaves.
While most of the Cig Kofte available do not contain any meat, locals told us that meat is added when they are prepared at home.
We enjoyed these unusual meatballs, and we recommend trying this Turkish food at least once on your Istanbul visit.
You’ll find several Çiğ köfte specialty stores in Istanbul where you can be assured of their quality and freshness.
8. Kuru Fasulye – Turkish Bean Stew
Kuru Fasulye, or Turkish White Bean stew, is a beloved Turkish delicious food.
This comforting homemade dish is found in every Turkish household and traditional restaurant.
It’s easy to make with a handful of simple ingredients like boiled white beans, tomato sauce, onions, and olive oil.
This Turkish food comes in many variations. You will find some that are vegetarian and other recipes that include meat.
We had this bean stew frequently with lunch, and it was often served with rice.
A simple and tasty dish, savor this Istanbul food and find your favorite preparation style.
9. Meze – Turkish Appetizer
Turkish Meze are appetizers or finger foods that are served before the main meal.
This collection of small plates, both hot and cold, are an important part of the local Turkish food scene.
Eating mezes is quite popular at Mehaynes or local Turkish taverns.
Accompanying the little bites is typically Raki, an anise-flavored distilled spirit considered the country’s national alcoholic beverage.
Outside of Meyhanes, restaurants, especially fish restaurants, have a collection of mezes in a refrigerated display where you can choose a few different kinds.
Mezes include grilled vegetables, Turkish cheese, grilled calamari salad, stuffed peppers or tomatoes, different types of yogurt, dips, and more.
We loved discovering different types of mezes and particularly liked the seafood ones.
Mezes are all different and part of local culture. Be sure to savor this famous food in Istanbul.
10. Levrek – Turkish Sea Bass
Turkish sea bass, or Levrek, refers to a fish known as European seabass.
It is found in the Mediterranean Sea and east Atlantic Ocean, and it was Rosemary’s favorite Turkish food.
Levrek is said to be part of Anatolian cuisine for 5000 years, as the area’s ancient civilizations also enjoyed it.
Even today, Levrek is part of Turkish gastronomy and a popular Turkish dish loved by locals and visitors alike.
In Turkish cuisine, Levrek is seasoned with herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil before being grilled or fried.
Fırında Levrek, or grilled sea bass in the oven, is how we prepared Levrek while in Turkey.
After buying a clean or gutted fish, Rosemary would season the fish with salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon to make a simple and delicious Turkish dish.
In Istanbul, you’ll find Levrek at popular local restaurants. Some Istanbul restaurants use old rock ovens, which impart incredible flavors to the fish.
Healthy and delicious, this is one of the Istanbul dishes worth seeking out.
Popular Istanbul Street Food
Istanbul street food is one of the most defining food of Istanbul. Don’t miss some of the most popular street food in Turkey that you will find only in the capital.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: One of the most enjoyable ways to taste Istanbul is on a street food tour. Some of the Istanbul foods highlighted are sampled on the tour. Read our review Istanbul Street Food Tour: How To Eat Your Way in Kadikoy Trendy Neighborhood
11. Simit – Turkish Bagels
Simit is an emblematic food in Istanbul found at bakeries, markets, and street vendors throughout the city.
The shape is similar to a bagel, but the texture is denser, and they are covered with sesame seeds.
This very popular street food is made with just a handful of ingredients; flour, water, yeast, and salt.
Molasses are also added, giving Simit its unique flavor and texture.
In Istanbul, we typically enjoyed Simit to eat along with breakfast.
While we preferred plain Turkish bagels, you can have cheese or a sweet spread added to your Simit.
This iconic Istanbul Turkish bagel is an Istanbul street food to savor while in Turkey’s capital city.
12. Kumpir or Kümpir – Baked Potato
Kumpir or Kümpir is a Turkish baked potato that is mashed and topped with a variety of toppings.
It is a popular Istanbul street food and one that you simply must try.
The potato is baked in an oven, then split open and mixed with butter and cheese until it becomes fluffy.
As for the stuffings, you can choose from a wide variety, like cheese, olives, mushrooms, sweetcorn, and various sauces.
The toppings are piled high on top of the mashed potato for a hearty and flavorful meal.
Although you can find Kumpir at street vendors or small food stands in the city, the Ortakoy neighborhood is famous for these freshly baked potatoes.
Kumpir is a popular food, especially during the colder months. The serving sizes of the potatoes and toppings are quite large, and we recommend sharing this tasty treat.
13. Balik Ekmek – Fish Sandwich
Balik Ekmek, or fish sandwiches, are one of our favorite Istanbul food.
These sandwiches are a very popular Istanbul street food and are much loved in the city.
The sandwich consist of white fish, grilled and served with raw onions, shredded lettuce, and other vegetables stuffed into Turkish bread.
One of the most surprising things we learned is that the fish used for the sandwiches is not from the Bosphorus Sea.
Norway Mackerel is used as a cheaper alternative due to increased prices from overfishing in the Bosphorus Strait.
There are excellent street stalls and vendors all over the city renowned for their high-quality fish sandwiches.
One of the most popular spots is around Galata Bridge, though we enjoyed excellent fish sandwiches in Kadikoy and Karakoy districts.
The light fish with excellent vegetables makes for a tasty and healthy snack on the go.
During your visits to Istanbul, Balik Ekmek is one of the delicious street foods not to be missed.
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Favorite Turkish Desserts Not To Miss
14. Dondurma – Turkish Ice Cream
Dondurma is authentic Turkish ice cream known for its unique texture and flavor.
The ice cream has a chewy and elastic texture as it contains Salep or powdered orchid bulb.
Also included is Mastic, a resin from the mastic tree which makes the texture stretchy.
In Istanbul, street vendors make the ice cream artisanally using long metal rods to knead it, making it dense and creamy.
Dondurma street vendors in Turkey typically wear traditional Turkish clothing, like embroidered vests, loose-fitting pants, and a Turkish hat.
When you order Turkish ice cream, the vendors will often play tricks on you with the elasticity of the scoops.
While you’ll find your typical ice cream flavors, we recommend getting the seasonal or local flavors.
Indulging your sweet tooth with Turkish ice cream is a refreshing way to stay cool on your Istanbul visit.
15. Baklava – Nut Filled Filo Pastry
Baklava is an iconic Turkish dessert and a staple of Turkish cuisine.
It is a luxurious treat made by layering thin sheets of phyllo pastry with a mixture of chopped nuts, like pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and sweet syrup.
The Baklava is baked in the oven and then cut into small diamond-shaped pieces.
Balkava is believed to have originated in the Ottoman Empire and is sometimes referred to as the “dessert of sultans.”
This is my favorite Turkish dessert, and you’ll find specialized Baklava shops all over Istanbul.
There are many variations of Baklava and nut fillings and syrups used.
Pistachio baklava from Gaziantep is a particularly famous and beloved Baklava variety worth seeking out.
In Turkey, it’s easy to eat Baklava every day, and you’ll not go wrong with this Turkish treat, especially with Turkish coffee or tea.
Iconic Turkish Drinks To Sip On
16. Turkish Coffee
Turkish coffee is an integral part of the country’s culinary culture.
In fact, in 2013, Turkish coffee was recognized by UNESCO for its century-old traditions.
The coffee is made by boiling finely ground coffee beans in a special pot called a Cezve, along with water.
If sugar is desired, it is added, and the coffee is served in small cups, often accompanied by sweets or desserts.
In Turkish culture, it is a common practice to read fortunes from the leftover Turkish coffee grounds in a cup.
While not taken seriously, this is a fun way to enjoy the cultural richness of drinking Turkish coffee.
17. Çay – Turkish Tea
Turkish tea, also known as çay, is a popular beverage and is deeply embedded into the local Turkish culture and way of life.
Tea is consumed all day, throughout the day. While in Istanbul, we learned that Turks can drink up to 15 cups of tea daily.
Turkish tea was constantly offered throughout our Turkey stay to accompany a snack or end a meal.
Tea is dark and can be bitter at times. However, freshly made Turkish tea is quite enjoyable.
The tea is served in small tulip-shaped glasses and made in a double teapot called “çaydanlık.”
Turkey is one of the biggest consumers of tea in the world, and no doubt, while in Istanbul, tea will play a starring role in your culinary experiences.
The food in Istanbul is a rich, diverse, and a fusion of different cultures and regions.
As a capital city, you’ll find regional dishes from all over the country as well as a strong street food in Istanbul culture.
We enjoyed the diversity of Istanbul dishes, and the dynamic city’s food scene surprised us.
This selection of best foods in Istanbul, while not exhaustive, is a great way to savor your travels in Turkey’s capital city.
Have you tried any of the best foods in Istanbul? If so, please leave us a comment below and let us know which ones you tried.
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Claire is co-founder of Authentic Food Quest and a lover of simple and exquisite cuisine. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, she has been traveling the world as a digital nomad, creating content about local food experiences.
Her advice from visiting 45 countries and more than 240 food cities has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post. She has also co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
An ex-mechanical engineer, Claire is responsible for SEO, keeping the website running, and the fun food & travel videos on YouTube.
When Claire is not eating, she can be found running or cycling. Find out more about Authentic Food Quest