As a large and diverse metropolis, Istanbul has fantastic cuisine options. Turkish cuisine is influenced by both Europe and Asia as well as the Middle East. We ate so much delicious food during our stay in Istanbul including fresh fruits and warm, savory dishes including cheese, meat, lentils, and chickpeas.
Our first meal in Istanbul was at Sahrap in Pera. We found the restaurant through TripAdvisor and arrived to a packed restaurant and festive atmosphere. Everyone was celebrating National Sovereignty and Children’s Day (see my last post for more info on the holiday). We were immediately greeted by celebrity chef Sahrap Soysal who told us how she was famous and had a TV show (I cannot imagine our faces walking into this festive neighborhood party hosted by a celebrity chef). Later we googled her to verify her celebrity and found a video of her show. Sure enough, she seems to be the Barefoot Contessa of Turkey! It was fun to unexpectedly meet a Turkish celebrity, especially on a national holiday. She was so sweet and even brought us homemade cookies for dessert. Everything we ate was delicious – I particularly enjoyed my salad with fried salmon and halloumi! What to order: Lamb shank with chickpeas, salad with crispy salmon and grilled halloumi, fig and pistachio with cream cake for dessert.
The next day, we had dinner at Old Ottoman Cafe, upon the recommendation of our Kiwi friends from Cappadocia. It was an authentic Turkish restaurant in a beautiful space. The friendly staff (who remembered our friends!) delighted in providing suggestions and brought us complimentary tea after our meal. What to order: Hummus with pastrami to start, bolognese meatball casserole, Ottoman special (baked lamb, mushroom, eggplant and cheese).
Our third dinner was at Ficcin in Pera. Ficcin specializes in Circassian cuisine. The Circassians were a people who lived in the North Caucasus during the Ottoman Empire and the cuisine reminded me of a cross between Turkish and Russian food. We ate at a table outside of the restaurant, but there was indoor seating as well. What to order: lentil balls, grilled Circassian cheese, Circassian meat pie, Circassian meat ravioli.
Our final dinner in Istanbul was one of my favorite meals and also happened to be the least expensive. Galata Kitchen is a bit hard to find in the Galata area, but is totally worth it. The restaurant offers healthy vegetarian, vegan, and meat dishes sourced with seasonal ingredients from local food markets. You’ll choose several small samples to fill up your plate. Our entire meal was only $12. What to order: Menu changes daily depending on what is available, but try the lentil balls, black-eyed pea salad, tabbouleh with pomegranate, stuffed pepper, and green beans with meat.
For a pick-me-up after visiting the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sofia, go for a Turkish coffee at the famous Pudding Shop Lale Restaurant across the street from both sites. Turkish coffee is thick; you can only drink about half before your cup is left with only grounds (not very drinkable in my opinion). Open since 1957, this restaurant was once a meeting place for tourists who wanted information on Turkey or who were traveling to Asia. The restaurant is filled with old photos and articles and still posts notes on the walls that travelers left for others. Some messages show someone asking for a ride while others show missed connections. It is such a fun place that really makes you feel as if you stepped into a time machine.
Another place to refuel while visiting the sites in Sultanahmet is Safir Et Teras. This cafe is located on the 4th and 5th floors above a carpet/lamp shop across the street from the Blue Mosque. After entering the shop, take the stairs or elevator to top floor. The 4th floor is nice if the weather is not cooperating, but the top floor is open and offers beautiful views of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and the park between the two. We relaxed with Turkish Efes beers and delicious bread served with hummus and pastrami and yogurt sauce with spices.
One of our favorite meals was in young and trendy Ortaköy at the beautiful Ortaköy House Cafe (there is a great writeup about the restaurant in this article from Guide Istanbul). The restaurant is bright and airy, filled with greenery, fresh flowers, and sunshine. If the weather is nice, you can sit outside with a great view of the Bosphorus and the Ortaköy Mosque and on weekends, the restaurant has live DJ music. We loved our meal aside from the mincemeat pizza: the thin crust was a bit soggy from the meat. At the end of our meal, we noticed everyone around us ordered dessert and followed suit. I am so glad we did because dessert at House Cafe is a standout! What to order: Pear and prosciutto pizza, white chocolate raspberry cheesecake.
For breakfast, your best bet is to stop into a local bakery or cafe for some baked goods. Our favorites were the savory spinach, meat, or cheese pastries and bread-wrapped pastrami. Meshur Karaköy is a bakery chain located near our hotel, the Radisson Blu Pera, and was a daily hit!
Water – Water is safe to drink from the tap in Istanbul, but bottles are readily available and inexpensive so we generally drank bottled water.
Tipping – A tip of 10-15% of the bill is customary in top and mid-range establishments. In a cafe or budget eatery, a few extra coins will suffice.
Sahrap, No. 13, Asmalı Mescit, General Yazgan Sk., 34420 Beyoğlu
Old Ottoman Cafe, Prof. Kazım Gürkan Cad. Cağaloğlu Hamam Sk. No:17, 34110
Pudding Shop, Divanyolu Caddesi No:6, Sultanahmet, 34400
Safir et Teras, Sultanahmet Mh., Divan Yolu Cad. No:16, Fatih/İstanbul
Ficcin, İstiklal, Kallavi Sok. No:13 D:1, Beyoğlu
Ortakoy House Cafe, Salhane Sokak No. 1 Ortaköy
Galata Kitchen, Müeyyetzade. Mah., Tatar Beyi Sokak No. 9 B, 34425
Meshur Karaköy, Evliya Çelebi, Refik Saydam Cd., 34430