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food in istanbul

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we will be traveling to Istanbul in April, and are looking for recommendations for good moderate/cheap restaurants. Also, advice regarding Turkish "street food" would be welcome. Thanks!

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  1. There are zillions of these.. any of the ones with food in the window are inexpensive, traditional, variety and tasty. "Street food" per se is not a rage as Turks like to sit to enjoy a meal. Exception is in Ortakoy, near the water where you can try gozleme (a thinly rolled crepe-like item filled with a thin layer of spiced potatoes, or spinach, or ground beef) or kumpir which are mashed and overstuffed baked potatoes. For a splurge with atmosphere try Kumkapi restaurant area after dark for fresh seafood-centered meals to be drawn out for at least a couple of hours, sipping raki (mix 1/3 raki with + 1/2 water, + 2 ice cubes for good taste and mild impact . Make friends and go with a group to sample first cold appetizers, then a hot one or two, and then main dish of grilled, stewed, steamed or fried fish (though it's okay if you never make it to the main course).

    3 Replies
    1. re: threecentsworth

      Mostly agree with threecentsworthy, except Kumkapi suggestion. Instead of Kumkapi try Nevizade/Beyoglu or Samatya or Besiktas Balikcilar carsisi (downtown of Besiktas) . All restaurants serve the same , foods -mezes: acold and hot ppetizer - about same prices- may be a little bit cheaper than kumkapi- . All are meyhanes. ( restautant s that serve alcohol ic drinks are called meyhane, which means drinking place). In meyhanes you can only order meze. Raki is advised with white cheese and melon among Turks.
      In istanbul you can find different kind of restaurants also. Meyhane is one kind, another one is called ottoman kitchen or "palace kitchen", meaning kitchen of ottoman palaces.
      Most famous one is haci salih in beyoğlu and according to me expensive one, Kanaat in Uskudar is another ottoman kitchen restaurant and it can be good choice . But ewery restaurant you see as "lokanta" are same type. Another type of food are kebaps. Not best but being located in Eminönü, hamdi can be preferred. Or if you want to try local meals go to Ciya in Kadiköy balikcilar carsisi. Not because of foods but also for lits magnificent scene in bosphoros you should visit cengelkoy cinaralti to drink tea. And fish restaurants in Beylerbeyi, not ones just in seaside but in street are cheap . Istanbul is a large city . For this reason all recommended places easy to go and near city center. Street food and place recommended to try;
      Kokorec-Beyoglu,
      Midye dolma (Stuffed mussels)- Beyoglu,
      Midye tava (fried mussels), Beyoglu,
      Simit and tea, ( simit means ring, round in turkish, cooked ordinary bread dough in ring shape ond with some sesame on it) - , any where in seaside, (75 krs nowadays,)
      Kumru (kind of tost/sandwich),

      Try Istanbul,

      1. re: veysal

        My one sentence maycause misunderstanding... in meyhanes ordering only mezes without main dish is usual...

        1. re: veysal

          These are all good suggestions. The decision between Kumkapi and Navizade also depends on what kind of entertainment you are seeking. Kumkapi scene is rowdier, with dancers and singers and gypsies; Navizade is for quieter get togethers, although singers and flower girls will eventually show up for tips.

          There used to be grilled fish sandwich (balik ekmek) sellers (either from a boat, or a cart) alongside the old Galata tower and also in Bebek (both good places to sit down on a bench and let the city soak in), but I haven't been in the city for a while. Simple grilled fish, stuffed in bread, with some onions, lemon juice and spices. Thats it.

          Having a glass of tea (black, sage or linden), preferably in Uskudar, across the Maiden's Tower is another fine way to inhale the city in. There might even be lokma (tiny beignets soaked in syrup) involved.

          A few corrections/clarifications here.

          Simit is not ordinary bread. A better comparison could be a yeasty Montreal type bagel.

          Kumru is a sandwich (originated in Izmir, but now found everywhere) made using a special oblong shaped bread (similar dough as the simit, but leavened with fermented chickpea paste). It is stuffed with sucuk, salami, cheese, tomatoes, mayo and ketchup and then chargrilled. Native Izmirians claim that the versions you'll find in Istanbul are not the real deal, but oh well.

      2. i would not reco kumkapi or nevizade. both areas have become too used to their popularity allowing them to slack off on service and quality. the best fish meyhane i have had in a long time is at a place called Ismet Baba in Kuzguncuk. its right next to the ferry dock. this is a very old school local place, good food great views, good value.
        street food...
        not very popular here. there are the stuffed mussels (midye dolma), the chittlin sandwich (kokorec), gozleme and the lahmacun which you CAN get on the street. but people in turkey generally sit down to eat/drink anything even if just for a few minutes.
        i suggest sampling a few of these down in the strip of nargile joints in tophane. if you smoke get a nargile (bahrain elma), sit on a beanbag chair and watch the youngsters flirting with each other. you can order "street" food from one of several stalls there and the waiter will bring it over to you.
        one other note, if a durum (a sort of turkish wrap) is considered street food then you must make your way over to durumzade in the back of the fish market. this is THE best for wraps. they are open 24 hours a day. there have been days when i eat there twice.
        hope this helps.

        6 Replies
        1. re: antman

          If you ARE in Nevizhade, head for Imroz, near the Taksim end of the street. Meze and everything else there are excellent. The packed scene is fun to see on Nevizhade.
          The Karakoy fish market had some nice looking fish sandwiches and fried hamsi (in March, anyway).
          Don't miss Ciya Sofrasi...I can't imagine a foodie visit to Istanbul without going there. Check out the Chowhound thread about it on this board.

          1. re: kenito799

            karakoy fish market is a great place for simple grilled fish or the beloved fish sandwich. Akin Balik has a nice fish soup everyday, pleasant views of the golden horn (particularly nice at sunset). He doesnt have a liquor license so cans of beer are served in paper bags! none of the hooey and hokum down here that you find up in Nevizade.
            regarding Imroz, ive been eating there regularly for nearly 7 years. i live just around the corner. ive watched those guys slip and slide on service and food quality. ive heard locally that theyve lost alot of their local regulars because of it. perhaps yorgos is one of the last greek meyhane operators in istanbul, this fact seems to drag in the hordes. i'd gladly visit his likeness in a wax museum but i wont eat his crumby food anymore.
            in the area i head over to a little known restaurant much more appreciative of its clients and also, one of the last Greek-operated joints. Asir Meyhanesi. its right by the police station in Tarlabasi where its been for something like 50 years. this place feels authentic because it is. Nevizade was a government "project"- a tourism zone that might as well have fallen from the sky into Nevizade street. they closed down the Krepen pasaji where some of the meyhanes were located and moved them over to Nevizade, for the purpose of tourism development. just as they did over on cezayir sokak, calling it "French Street"- a real loser of a project. anyway...
            I am a huge fan of Ciya. The owner publishes a GREAT quarterly magazine on Turkish food, unfortunately its only in Turkish. by the way, for something like the Ciya experience head over to Khivahan just at the Galata tower. a couple of the Ciya kitchen guys jumped ship and now work there. Its nothing like the Ciya experience but its convenient and has a touch of the Gaziantep kitchen.

            1. re: antman

              I wouldn't call Nevizade a tourism zone, nor compare it to the Las Vegasified "French Street". These meyhanes (most owned by Greeks) is a part of the intellectual history of Istanbul, being the drinking hole of many old writers and artists for years. The government put a few polices down there, but rest is authentic.

              1. re: antman

                Very disappointed to hear about Imroz. Have only eaten there twice--less than a year apart, but the last time was 3 years ago. I still dream of it, but would of course try something new next time. Am a bit mystified at your assessment of Nevizade, especially because of its popularity with locals over tourists, but that's already been addressed below.

                Khivahan sounds wonderful... if it's anything like Imam Cagdas in Gaziantep, it's a must-try.

                1. re: NancyC

                  Nancy,
                  Khivahan is no imam cagdas, but worth a try. last summer i had the chance to visit the soon-to-be-wiped-off-of-the-face-of-the-earth town of hasankeyif or return for lunch to Antep. I skipped Hasankayif for another lunch at Imam Cagdas. no regrets.
                  As for my Nevizade assessment, as you can see form the thread below nostalgia is a powerful and deceiving force in this country. Nevizade is a lively entertainment strip and we can leave it at that. As for the historic part, you'd have to look at the Beyoglu pogroms of 1955 which resulted in a mass exodus of Greeks from Istanbul at that time and then again in the 1970's to understand why a traditional meyhane culture in Beyoglu (like the one that Evliya Celebi notes in his travels) is not represented by Nevizade.
                  Sorry to drag politics in.

          2. Nevizade, or Balikcilar Carsisi was there for centuries with meyhanes. nobody can say it is a "project". (for old meyhane regions read Evliya Celebi Travels 1. vol. -YKY Yayinlari)Food served in all meyhanes of Nevizade are almost same and same quality. It is crowded because it is preferred by people. Imet Baba can be irritating place while people are waitinf for you to leave in front of door. According to me, meze varieties of Ismet Baba is relatively poor.
            Simit sold in streets is not regular bread. Its dough is same.
            Greek or turk. Recipe of food is important. Topic is an Armenian meze originally But you can find it in many "Turkish Meyhanes".

            5 Replies
            1. re: veysal

              "Simit sold in streets is not regular bread. Its dough is same."

              Actually it is a different bread. The leavening process is very different than regular Turkish bread.

              1. re: veysal

                i agree with you on the point that food is just about the same in most places in Nevizade, however it was most definitely a belediye project. NONE of those restaurants are more than 10 years old. I just confirmed this fact with a friend who has lived around the corner on Balo sokak all of her life. Nevizade and the streets off of it were largely abandoned or housing little shops shoeshine and the like until the municipality declared it a place for tourism development.
                please check your facts on this. those restaurants would like for all of us to believe that theyve been there since the great Ottoman travel writer Evliya Celebi was walking around but its just not true. urban legends are much easier to start than real traditions.
                in the end does this matter? probably not much. but when you walk into a truly historic place like Vefa Bozacisi or Inci Pastanesi, where the same people have been operating the same business serving the same thing in the same location for generations you feel the difference. thats tradition and its regretfully lacking in the Istanbul dining scene.

                1. re: antman

                  I am living in Istanbul for more than 30 years and from the beginning of my life in Istanbul I am visiting nevizade restaurants.
                  Evliya Celebi is not urban legend. I give reference. If you cant speak Turkish you can have it translated. Facts does not change by checking.

                  It İs hard to understand understand why you are insisting that Nevizade isa a "project, with inadequate knowlwdge. Why are you trying to give distorted information about city history . None of those rstaurants belong to greeks. All are turkish. Yoıu are confusing with a century ago.
                  If you want, you can find tradition in way of dining life instead of buildings.

                  1. re: veysal

                    Veysal,
                    allow me to extend the olive branch. i think we got a bit off subject. lets agree to disagree. Anlastik mi?
                    A question for you:
                    what's you favorite kofte in town?

                    1. re: antman

                      I reply with a beatiful symbol of bosphorus; juda tree.

                      köfte is not among my favorites recently I did not try anywhere. . Instead of kötte ı prefer adana kebab. All good adana kebab houses are in Kadiköy region. "Dostlar Kebap" near Kozyatağı or Yusuf Usta in bostancı. Or my favorite "asmaaltı " just under bostancı train station.

              2. When I was there last month I wanted to eat çığ köfte (raw lamb meatballs) but every place I asked, they were selling a vegetarian version made with walnuts/hazelnuts and bulgur. One guy told me that meat was "forbidden" (yasak), but I couldn't figure out if he was referring to food safety regulations or maybe religious dietary laws. Is it still possible to find meat-based çığ köfte in restaurants?

                6 Replies
                1. re: DeppityDawg

                  they were most likely offering "mercimek kofte" made from lentils.
                  it is most definitely positively possible to get your cig kofte still. i cant imagine why they said it was yasak. perhaps a conspiracy to sell more lentil.
                  for a fine cig kofte go to Zubeyir in Taksim. google it and you'll find a review or two. usually good kebab houses have it.

                  1. re: antman

                    The one place I ate definitely specialized in çığ köfte (it was the only thing on the menu) but when I asked about the ingredients it turned out to be vegetarian. Still tasty, though, and I could not get enough of the fresh herbs! So then during the rest of my trip I asked at several other places and they all said "etsiz, cevizli". I'll definitely try harder next time. But there are always so many other things to eat…

                    Actually, do you know the square full of butcher shops right under the aqueduct, just to the west of Atatürk Blvd? All of the restaurants there were offering a 10TL menu of büryan (what is that?), çığ köfte, cacık, dessert, … Looked like a nice place to eat outside, but I was there between meals, too bad. I think it's a neighborhood of people from Siirt.

                    1. re: DeppityDawg

                      i am stumped on the cevizli cig kofte.
                      thats the kadinlar pazari (womens bazaar), legend has it that it used to be a slave market, hence the name. today its a great place to eat Buryani, which is a lamb roasted whole in an underground oven, a specialty of Siirt in Southeast Turkey. over there i reco a place called Bahcivan. theyve got a killer perde pilav (pastry filled with rice and almonds and shredded chicken).
                      over there you can also find great ayran with a wispy frothy head on it, served in a metal bowl. you can also get a busticket to a town called Batman, if you fancy that.
                      i'll dig around in my files. i think i have a write up of that market.

                      1. re: antman

                        oh man, I should have asked for a multiple-entry visa. or just ripped up my return ticket and stayed in Turkey!

                  2. re: DeppityDawg

                    Mostly ciğköfte "chains" offer çiğ köfte without meat. Real reason is the long period between preparation and the consumption times. Of course there is risk to form bacteria within a long period. for this reason, right places to find regular çiğköfte are kabap houses, meat restaurants. (Hamdi in Eminönü, Umut Ocakbaşı(,Büyükparmakkapı Hasnun Galip Sokak No:4 ) ,

                    1. re: veysal

                      I was at Hamdi for lunch and was eager to try çiğ köfte but they said only at dinner time.

                  3. cba - during my trip to istanbul last year what surprised me most was the mezes. this is a great way to try a bunch of different dishes for dinner without breaking the bank, and honestly I felt the flavor profiles were way more interesting than the meat dishes. Also leaves you feeling a little less bloaty.

                    One thing you MUST try is the stuffed mussels from the street vendors up in Beyoğlu. Sounds sketchy but I had no prob, and found it so delicious I went back and made a meal of it on more than one occasion. Large 4" mussels are over stuffed with a savory rice and nut mixture and stacked on the street vendor's tray. You tell him how many you want (I believe they amounted to about a quarter each) and squeeze some fresh lemon over them - they are served cold and you eat them standing up at a cafe table next to the vendor. You can find the most reputable (freshest) vendors in the alleyway on the south side of Flower (Çiçek) Passage on the main walking drag Istiklal Caddesi.

                    This and the baklava (of course) were the two best things I ate while visiting. I would also recommend wandering down any of the sidestreets off Istiklal Caddesi for restaurants with an assortment of mezes... skip the more touristy places down by the mosques and take the short tram ride up here. While still a little touristy (accessible), many Turks do eat in the area (per my friend). I will also second Ciya for sit down dining, though its a bit of a trip - you'll have to take the ferry across - but it makes for a lovely afternoon exploring that side of the city.

                    1. Another favorite of mine was a little hole in the wall at Taksim (across the Aga mosque). They have two branches (across each other IIRC). One only makes breakfast, fantastic and cheap. They are known for their menemen (sort of a wet scrambled egg dish with tomatoes, onions and other fixings -sucuk is my favorite). Across them, the main restaurant serves homestyle Turkish dishes.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: emerilcantcook

                        yahoo! i love Lades and Lades II (the eggplace) even more. here's a review i found on that place. http://istanbuleats.com/archives/47

                      2. Most of the suggestions here are all budgetary. There are also mid-end and high-end tasting experiences in İstanbul. Fish restaurants, try Yeşilköy area (close to the Atatürk Airport) one of my favorite is OGÜN Restraurant. Very typical fish meyhane in a very narrow street next to a church. The other possibility is Balıkçı Sabahattin in Cankurtaran (walking distance to Sultanahmet). Those selections are a bit expensive meze-fish-drink(liquor) -sweet/fruit-coffee 70-100 USD per person.
                        For meat/kebab, again Florya coastal area (again very close to the Atatürk Airport) is very rich in meat restaurants. Emmim, Kasaba, Ziya, Uludağ are some. The best is BEYTİ in Florya. Again those are about 50-100 USD per person.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: ACOZ

                          i am almost always disappointed with highend (meaning expensive) restaurants in Istanbul. the food is rarely any better than cheaper places. unfortunately, innovative in the kitchen is not a priority for most places here, so "high end" usually just means high design. so you end up eating the same grilled fish on an expensive chair rather than a stool. paying 50-100 USD for kebab and Turkish wine is simply absurd and totally unnecessary.

                          1. re: antman

                            dear antman, you might be right for some but belive me no-body can beat BEYTI's meat. So, it worths. It is not an everyday eating. If you haven't tried yet, pls. do. If tried and saying so, something wrong.

                            1. re: antman

                              Just to add, I am not a high-end addict. And Istanbul is full off different tasting experiences for any kind of budget.

                              1. re: ACOZ

                                cheers ACOZ. I agree Beyti is a bit above the cut. I've been there a few times. I just dont think it is worth the money. To each his own though. i'm the kind of guy that just goes for food, not the bowtied waiters. i'd probably pick a lamb chop from a trash can and eat it if i thought it'd taste good.