Before visiting Turkey, I didn’t know much about the food this country has to offer. After doing my researching on what to eat in Istanbul, I was quite delighted with the wide variety of food Turkey has to offer. Turkish food was definitely more than just Kebab and Pide (Turkish Pizza) and is actually quite multicultural! It is largely based on Ottoman cuisine which is the fusion and refinement of Central Asia, Middle East and Mediterranean cuisines. The food in Turkey is actually quite different across the country due to different influences. The style of cooking of Istanbul region inherits largely from Ottoman court cuisines.
So now comes the most important question… WHAT IS THERE TO EAT IN ISTANBUL?
Below is a list of “Must-Eat” as many of these would probably taste a lot better here in Istanbul! (Most of them are actually deserts)
Lokum (Turkish Delights) @ Haci Bekir
The Turkish Delights I have tasted in the past were usually too sweet, tastes artificial and has a pungent rose smell. I really wasn’t having high expectations for the Turkish delight here in Istanbul but York told me that they taste amazing here. However, the ones we bought in the airport and “specialty” stores were really not up to standard. I only fell in love with these sweets at the original Turkish Delights store “Haci Bekir“. The founder of this store invented the Turkish delight back in 1777 A.D. and these amazing treats were served to the Ottoman Palace.
Turkish delights, also known as “lokums”, is a mixture of gel of starch and sugar. Then this mixture is flavored with rosewater, lemon or different kinds of nuts. The nut flavors includes pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts. The Turkish delights are then dusted with icing sugar to prevent them from sticking together after they are diced up. The process of making Turkish delights sounds easy but they have some inherited formulas with special herbs to make them taste so good. I could not stop eating them in the store! A good Turkish Delight should be only slightly sweet so it isn’t sickening, slightly elastic and does not stick to your teeth. Haci Beikir ticks all the boxes!
The Haci Bekir store we went to was the first and original store located near Spice Bazaar in Old Town. Haci Bekir have also opened up at many other locations and they can be found on the official website. Despite numerous reviews on Trip Adviser for appalling services at this store, the person serving us was actually quite friendly and gave us many samples to try. We did ended up buying a lot of Turkish delights from here.
They sell pre-packed Turkish delights which are perfect for gifts to take back home. The pre-packed ones were reasonably priced too (smallest pre-packed rosewater flavour was 7 TL per box). Their on-line store has all the pricing. You can also have the option to select your locums and pay for these by weight. They pack them in a mix box for you. These lokums are so addictive and their double pistachios are to die for! It was really hard to pick what goes into our mix box! Keep in mind that lokums lasts 8-10 months and shall not be refrigerated.
Store locations (website)
Baklava @ Karakoy Gulluoglu
Baklava is a traditional Turkish dessert that is made of many layers of filo filled with chopped nuts such pistachios, walnuts, almond and hazelnuts and held together with honey or syrup. Baklava was developed from the imperial kitchens of Topkapi Palace during the Ottoman Empire. It is also a common dessert in Greece, however Greek version is supposedly made with 33 dough layers (years of Christ’s life).
The best baklava in Istanbul is at “Karakoy Gulluoglu“, a company that has been opened since 1820. They only have one store in Istanbul (except for the factory), which shows how much they focus on quality rather than making these baklava in mass quantity. They have a very easy to navigate website and one handy function is to help you navigate to their store by either sea, public transport and car. The location is near Galata bridge which is a nice area to walk around and see special land marks such as the Galata Tower in Beyoglu.
Karakoy Gulluoglu may be a bit hectic when you first arrived. It may be hard to find a seat, but just take a seat wherever you can. We managed to secure a table of four after we did a quick walk around. Since it is a self-service place, you will need to go into the store and order either from the take-away counter or dine-in counter.
You can ask for an English menu and point out what you want. On the menu you could see that you can order the baklava by either Kilograms or portions but after questioning the staff, we realized that we can order them in mix plates. We ordered two of the mix plates
Keep in mind that the mix plate is all the same price of 15 TL no matter what you pick and on each mix plate you get 6 baklava. We didn’t know this at first and we picked the original but cheaper ones for the first plate. We did pick the expensive ones for the second plate. Out of the more expensive ones, the double pistachio and was heavenly! They do offer 3 types of savoury products called “Flan” (layered pastries with mince inside) However they weren’t as good as the baklava.
After you are done, you will need to bring the tray and the receipt to the cashier and pay. One of the good things about this place is that you get free water too!
Baklava here are made fresh, using the best quality sugars so the taste wasn’t disgustingly sweet. You can also buy the prepackaged ones in the airport but I think it is best to eat them on the spot.
There are many other “Gulluoglu” places in Istanbul, but their baklava is not made by “Karakoy Gulluoglu”. They may look the same but they do not taste the same, hence definitely make your way to the Karakoy Station for this most amazing baklava in Istanbul.
Karaköy, Rıhtım Cad. Katlı Otopark Altı No: 3-4 İstanbul / Türkiye
+90 212 293 09 10
The waiters in Hilton are like magicians, if you ask them for something, they will make it appear if they can. This is how we got our daily dosage of Turkish coffee while we were in Turkey. Turkish coffee is actually not “a kind of coffee”, it is a type of “preparation” (many on-line resources teach you how to make them) and it’s unique because the coffee grounds are left at the bottom of the cup after drinking. If can taste a bit bitter so a bit of sugar will help. We sure love our Turkish Coffees.
Ayran is a cold yogurt drink mixed with salt and water. It is considered as the national drink in Turkey. The first time we tried ayran was in a Middle-Eastern Cafe in Adelaide and it tasted disgusting! York and I were a bit hesitant to try this drink again, however the ayran we asked for during our stay in Hilton Istanbul Kozyatagi was pretty good. It tasted a bit like yakult but diluted with water and slightly salty. I think it depends on the brand of yogurt and whether if you are used to it.
Freshly squeezed juices
You would love the fresh juices in Istanbul! There are many juice stores in the touristy areas and they make a range of juices from oranges, lemons, grape fruits to pomegranate. The variety varies from store to store. Most importantly the fruits are all squeezed in front of you… Unlike the juice stores in Marrakech (Morocco) market where the vendor deliberately blocked the view of the juice squeezing process. Majority of the time in Marrackech, they were making up the juice with cheaper alternatives such as lemonade with water. (see What to Eat in Marrakech?). The prices in the Istanbul stores are marked so don’t be scared to order.
Roast chestnuts & corns
On the streets of Istanbul, you will find roast chestnuts and corns EVERYWHERE! They all sell the same things and the prices are similar. I keep asking myself why did no one come up with any other variation or just simply cook a different type of street food?? I did not come up with a logical reasoning… The particular store we tried had really bland corns and chestnuts. I must say that most other countries do a lot better street food. I am not sure if other vendors are better but we were not keen to try another store.
Turkish Ice-cream (Dondurma)
Turkish Ice-cream or “Dondurma” is quite well known globally. The vendors usually uses a long-handled paddle to scoop up the ice cream and play tricks the customer (such scaring them by tipping the ice cream upside down) before giving it to them. The Turkish ice cream is extremely thick and creamy due to an added agent “salep”, which is flour made from the roots of an orchid. The Dondurma we tried in Istanbul tasted the same as ones we had back home… So if you have tried it before, it is probably nothing special.
What to eat in Istanbul?
During our short stay in Istanbul, there were still a lot more food we wanted to try but were simply too full to eat any more. There were also a lot of food we tried and loved but simply have no idea what they were. Turkey is the perfect place food lovers and people keen for an exotic food experience.
We would love to come back and try more food!
Full Itinerary: Turkey and Greece Itinerary in 17 Days
- Read more about our Istanbul trip @ 12 Top Places to Visit @ Two Days in Istanbul (Itinerary)
- 中文版: 土耳其-不可錯過的美食: 必吃百年老店
- Visit Facebook Page @ Travel With Winny