From menemen to meze, Istanbul offers the best of one of the world’s finest cuisines. Here’s your guide on what to eat and where.
A warm city with a breathtaking ancient skyline, Istanbul stands out among European cities for its hospitality and charm. The tradition of generosity is best experienced through Istanbul’s vibrant food scene, which blends a love of heritage and innovation through grazing meze plates, bountiful breakfasts and perfect sweet endings.
Istanbul’s breakfast of champions
The art of grazing breakfasts has been mastered by Istanbullites. It begins with a hearty menu of rich cheeses, homemade breads, pork-free turkish chorizo called sucuk, tomatoes and cucumbers. This is all enjoyed with tea, and finished with a signature strong Turkish coffee.
And that’s just the start. The main breakfast course consists of fresh egg casseroles known as menemen, usually made with peppers, tomato and spices. Arguably, you’ll find the best menemen at Bebek Kahve, alongside the Bosphorus river in the upscale Bebek neighbourhood. Here, guests can indulge in a leisurely breakfast with views of the harbour and park from the sunny deck. For something more casual, head to Istanbul’s Besiktas neighbourhood, where students breakfast at cafes on everything from cheese-filled donuts to fresh fruit.
Graze through the day
Several cuisines have embraced the art of small plates but the meze on offer in Istanbul is on another level, with a huge variety of tiny, tasty dishes from aubergine salad to fried calamari.
Spare some time to immerse yourself in a world of Istanbul meze dining at Köşebaşi, a kebab specialist now in several locations, rated among the best in Istanbul for their new take on meze, including stuffed artichokes and roasted red peppers. Those who enjoy seafood – a local speciality – will love the Eftalya Fish Restaurant in Arnavutköy for its fish meze tasters and hearty seafood soups.
A staple meze found on many plates is the meatball, dressed with flavourful spices. For a truly authentic version, head to the source and start at Günaydin Et in the Etiler neighbourhood. This steakhouse-style restaurant sources meat from its own farm outside the city, creating beef and chicken meatballs. Meatballs are served boiled, grilled or flattened raw with scallions, and you can eat in or take away.
Break for sweets
The traditional finish to any meal in Istanbul is a coffee and some baklava, a flaky layered pastry filled with honey and nuts. A mainstay in Turkish culture, you could spend a lifetime searching for and arguing about where to find the best baklava in Istanbul. However, it’s well worth trying the baklava from Gaziantepli Baklavacı Bilgeoğlu on the east side, made with clarified butter and pistachios. You can also purchase ingredients from the store to make some at home.
Another baklava institution is İmam Çağdaş, founded in 1887, said to be loved by the Turkish president too. Make sure to eat your sweets the proper way – without a knife or fork, upside and between two fingers!
Got an appetite for Istanbul? Start planning your culinary adventure! And find out more about the best things to do in Istanbul here.