15 Delicious Reasons Why We Hope Istanbul Will Be Safe for Travellers Again

15 Delicious Reasons Why We Hope Istanbul Will Be Safe for Travellers Again

From Turkish delights to meze platters, Istanbul has delicious delights to offer, and these are just some of the reasons why we hope the country will be safe again for travellers.

Contributed by Will Fly for Food

Istanbul is spellbinding.  It’s one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been to.

I fell in love with this city so to see it targeted by this recent wave of terrorist attacks was disturbing.  Shortly after the bombings, I emailed the owner of our hotel in Sultanahmet to ask how he was doing.  A few words into his reply, and I could feel the sadness in his voice.  Mustafa is a jovial man who makes his guests feel like family, so to see him distraught like that was heartbreaking.

These bombings will no doubt have an impact on Istanbul’s tourism industry.  They’ll see fewer tourists in the coming months.  But like Mustafa’s spirits, I know they’ll be back.  Because Istanbul simply has too much to offer for people not to come.

Also read: How to Travel Istanbul on a Budget

There is so much to love about this city — its history, its architecture, the Bosphorus, its people.  Being the gastronaut that I am, the one thing that stood out for me was the food.  It’s fantastic.

From meze platters to stuffed mussels to Turkish delight, here are 15 things that will whet your appetite for this mesmerizing city.

1. Simit

istanbul delicious food

Resembling a bagel, simit is a loop-shaped bread typically encrusted with sesame seeds. But unlike a bagel that’s boiled before being baked, simit is baked in a stone oven, making it crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.  It makes for a great inexpensive street snack.  In fact, it’s one of the most ubiquitous.  Available pretty much everywhere, it’s commonly sold in red pushcarts and in many coffee shops throughout the city.

Price: TL 1-2

2. Meze Platters

Meze Platters

Meze means “appetizer” and can refer to a variety of small dishes like pastries, salads, purees, fruit, yogurt, dips and cheese.  It’s served at the start of your meal and is usually accompanied by a basket of crusty bread.  Available at most restaurants throughout the city, it’s typically a starter but is often substantial enough to be a main course.  One of my favourite mezes is imam bayildi, which is stuffed eggplant.  Yum!

Price: TL 10-25 depending on the size of the platter and restaurant.  It’s typically served with bread.

3. Midye Dolmas

Midye Dolmas

Midye dolmas are mussels stuffed with herbed rice, pine nuts, and currants.  Available mainly as street food, they aren’t as common as simit carts, but you’ll find midye dolmas vendors throughout the city.  Try the docks by Dolmabahce Palace or the areas around Galata Bridge.  The vendors will give it a nice spritz of lemon before serving to you.

Price: TL 1-2 per mussel (depending on the size)

4. Lahmacun


This is one of my favourite things to eat in Istanbul.  Though it looks like a wafer-thin pizza minus the cheese, lahmacun is actually a type of wrap topped with minced meat (usually lamb or beef), vegetables, tomatoes, onions, herbs, and parsley.  It’s served flat, like pizza, but you roll it up like a burrito to eat.

If you find yourself in Beyoglu, look for the Halil Usta restaurant just off Taksim Square.  Their lahmacun is fantastic.  Served with fresh salad, pickled peppers, and a spicy paste, it’s crisp around the edges and soft and chewy towards the centre.

Price:  TL 4

Also read: 10 Muslim-Friendly European Cities With Easy to Find Halal Food

5. Balik Ekmek

Balik Ekmek

Balik ekmek literally means “fish bread” because that’s exactly what it is — a fish sandwich. It consists of a freshly grilled mackerel fillet in a half loaf of white bread with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and a generous spritzing of lemon. Istanbul is known for its seafood so you’ll find several restaurants and stalls serving balik ekmek on either side of Galata Bridge.

Price: TL 6-8

6. Dürüm


This is another personal favourite.  The word dürüm means “roll”, and it refers to lavash or yufka flatbread wraps filled with kebab ingredients. It’s arguably the most beloved of all Turkish street foods and can be found pretty much anywhere. If you watched the Istanbul episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, then the name Dürümzade may ring a bell.  Located off Istiklal Caddesi, it’s a shop known for serving some of the best dürüm in the city.  They’re superb!

Price: Around TL 10-15 depending on the restaurant

7. Çiğ Köfte

Çiğ Köfte

This is one of the most interesting dishes I had in Istanbul.  Traditionally, çiğ köfte is a raw meat dish made with either lamb or beef.  It’s made by kneading finely ground raw meat with bulgur, onion, tomato, fresh mint, parsley, and spices into a thick mixture that’s commonly served cold as meze or rolled in a dürüm.

Ironically, commercially available versions of this raw meat dish no longer contain any meat!  Because of health precautions banning the sale of authentic çiğ köfte, most are now vegetarian.  I tried it at Lezizhan, a chain of  çiğ köfte shops, where it was served cold with lettuce and flatbread and eaten as a wrap.  It tasted richly spiced but not hot.  Very interesting indeed!

Price: TL 3-12 depending on the portion size

8. Islak Burger

Islak Burger

This is probably one of the ugliest things you can eat in Istanbul.  An islak or “wet” burger is a greasy, mashed-up mess that gets its orange colour from being dunked in tomato sauce and steamed in a hamam-style glass box.  Moist, chewy, and garlicky, it may be unisghtly, but it’s very tasty, especially after a night of bar hopping!  Kizilkayalar in Taksim Square is famous for its wet burgers and was featured in the Istanbul episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.

Price: TL 3

9. Fresh Fish

Fresh Fish

Istanbul is surrounded by water so seafood is always abundant here.  There’s no shortage of seafood restaurants in the city so you’ll find many types of fish like bonito, sea bass, anchovy, turbot, and swordfish being sold at different times of the year.

If you’re going on a Bosphorus Cruise, then the charming fishing village of Anadolu Kavağı is the perfect place to have seafood.  There, I enjoyed a nice sea bass and some fried mussels while sitting at a table by the banks of the Bosphorus.  So nice.

Price: Around TL 30-60 depending on the type of fish and restaurant

10. Köfte


Köfte is a type of meat ball or patty made with minced or ground lamb or beef.  It’s mixed with onions, herbs, and spices and typically served with bread and some pickled peppers.  A good place to try köfte is at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta, which is located right by the tram stop in Sultanahmet Square.

Price: TL 17 per order (served with bread and pickled peppers)

11. Lamb


If you like lamb, then you’ll love Turkey.  Because when someone says “meat” in this country, they’re typically referring to lamb. Turkish people eat a LOT of lamb so you can find it in many forms like kebabs, chops, rolls, ragout, and casserole.  Enjoy as much of it as you can while you’re in Istanbul.  It’s fantastic.

Price: Around TL 10-15 per dürüm, TL 20-30 per entree depending on the restaurant

12. Künefe


This dessert is to die for.  It’s a crisp cheese-filled treat made with shredded kadayıf dough soaked in sweet syrup and topped with clotted cream. Sweet, gooey, and chewy, it’s best enjoyed straight out of the oven while the cheese is still soft and stringy. You can find this at many restaurants in Istanbul, but I had mine at Halil Usta just off Taksim Square. It was unbelievably delicious and one of the best things I ate in Turkey.

Price: TL 8

13. Halka Tatlısı

Halka Tatlısı

Similar to churros but sweeter, halka tatlısı is a fried dessert dipped in syrup. It’s commonly sold as a street snack so keep an eye out for it.  It’s delicious!

Price: TL 1-2

Also read: What Can I Buy With SGD 1 In Turkey

14. Dondurma


Ice cream is one of the most awesome things on the planet, but ice cream that you can chew is even better.  Dondurma is Turkish ice cream that’s made with salep and mastic so it’s chewier in texture and more resistant to melting.  It makes for some sweet mastication and is one of the best types of ice cream I’ve ever had.  You can find dondurma shops pretty much anywhere in Istanbul.

Price: Around TL 2 per scoop

15. Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight

Possibly the most well known dish on this list, Turkish Delight or lokum refers to a family of gelatinous confections typically flavoured with rosewater, lemon, mastic, or bergamot orange. It’s often cut and eaten in small cubes dusted with powdered sugar to prevent clinging.  More premium varieties can have other ingredients bound to the gel like pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, dried berries, and chopped dates.

Plenty of shops sell this in Istanbul but Haci Bekir on Istiklal Caddesi is one of the oldest and best producers of lokum in the city.  You’ll also find lots of shops selling Turkish Delight at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar.  If you’re looking for gifts to bring back from Istanbul, then this is it.

Price: Around TL 5-8 per small box of regular, TL 15-30 per small box of premium

First time in Istanbul? Check out my First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Istanbul.

About Author

JB Macatulad
JB Macatulad

JB Macatulad is one half of Will Fly for Food and its chief itinerary maker. When he isn't writing travel food guides or seeking out restaurants for their next trip, he's a location-independent graphic/web designer who dreams about growing mushrooms in his old age.


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