Istanbul is a meeting place of East and West, a unique city with a rich history spanning over 4000 years. Being the capital of four greatest empires in the past, Istanbul completely differs from "all-inclusive" Turkey that is so popular among tourists from all over the world. Here goes a bucket list of top 10 things you must try in this city.
First of all, degust midye dolma, or mussels in the shell stuffed with friable rice, pine nuts, dill, mint, tomatoes and aromatic spices. This incredibly tasty food is served with a generous squeeze of lemon. One stuffed mussel looks like a small risotto.
You can try this dish almost everywhere, there're plenty of mobile street vendors in Istanbul, but come to Midyeci Ahmet to eat the most delicious rice-stuffed mussels in your life. The owner of this place is widely regarded as the king of mussels as he has been mastering the art of cooking all his life. This is a very simple, inexpensive spot with friendly staff. Keep in mind that there are always long queues!
Kestane kebabs, or roasted chestnuts, are the most popular Turkish snacks and an iconic symbol of Istanbul streets. Gloomy street vendors roast them on mobile trucks almost in every street. Chestnuts are a great pick to satisfy your taste and hunger as they are very nutritious and healthy. They contain vitamins A, B and C, minerals and fiber. It's recommended to eat chestnuts hot. They are sweet, and you may feel very thirsty, so do not forget to take a bottle of water with you.
Misir, a fried salty corn-on-the-cob, is another snack sold on street carts across Istanbul. Don't miss süt misir if you want to try a "milk corn".
Simits are Turkish fresh bagels, dense rings of with sesame-seed-covered dough sold on mobile trays. Chewy and crispy, they are the same color as the first Islamic coin called Sultani. Simits promise wealth to those who bought a bagel. You can try a non-standard simit with cheese, Turkish sausage or olives at the Dem Moda cafe. This is a charming place and you definitely need to come here with friends and eat the most delicious simit in Istanbul. Also, pay attention to chestnut cakes!
Enjoy these snacks while drinking authentic Turkish tea, served in traditional glasses called "bardak", or traditional coffee - cold water is poured into a сezve and then it is buried in hot sand until it boils.
Lahmacun (“meat with bread” in Arabic) is often called Turkish pizza, actually, it's a thin wood oven-cooked flatbread covered with minced lamb, spicy tomato sauce, onions and spice. So crunchy and nutritious! Traditionally, lahmacun is served hot with a drizzle of lemon juice and accompanied by ayran - a cold Turkish beverage made from yogurt, water and salt. It's a must to visit the Bitlisli restaurant to try the most delicious lahmacun. By the way, this place is also famous for its amazing kebabs made from lamb or beef.
Islak hamburger, or wet hamburger, is a modern Istanbul specialty. When hamburgers came to Turkey from America in the late 1970s, enterprising Turks decided to review their recipe: they replaced pork with beef, seasoned raw minced meat with garlic and local spices and put a meat patty in a soft white bun richly soaked in tomato sauce, and then left them to sweat inside a steam box. You can try such moist and greasy islak hamburgers at Kızılkayalar - this place specializes in tasty wet hamburgers.
On every corner, you can find juicy fruit stalls. Right before your eyes, agile vendors squeeze delicious juice using special devices. Pomegranate is a best seller! It is especially pleasant to drink fresh pomegranate juice in the elegant Deraliye restaurant, located in the heart of the old city. Feel like a padishah: here, you can degust dishes that were served to the sultans of the great Ottoman Empire.
Kokoretsi is a king of Istanbul street food. The dish is not for the faint of heart as it is made from goat and lamb wrapped around offal. Go to Sampiyon Kokorec Beyoglu to eat the most delicious kokoretsi in Istanbul.
Doner kebabs look like our beloved shawarma but there is no pork as this meat is considered dirty and is prohibited among Muslims. A classic doner kebab is made of chicken, lamb or beef. Bayramoğlu Döner, a very nice simple cafe, cooks one of the best doner kebabs across Istanbul.
Salt-crusted sea bass is a dish for haute cuisine lovers as a fish was caught from the Bosphorus right to your table only this morning. Sea bass is seasoned with thyme, basil and rosemary, squeezed with lemon juice, completely covered with sea salt and baked in the oven. It's so tasty and it looks really impressive. Order salt-crusted sea bass at the Roof Mezze restaurant, whose cooks make great performances while preparing this delicacy. This restaurant is located on the roof of the Eurostars Seres Hotel, offering a breathtaking view of the entire city.
Kumpir is a massive nutritious baked potato stuffed with goat or sheep cheese and spices. Don't miss the chance to try the dish in the Ortakoy district, keep in mind the whole Kumpir Sokak Street was named after this baked potato. Visit ALIR Cafe, select a filling and have a huge baked potato for your dinner.
One more must-try food is white beans stewed in tomato sauce with chili peppers. This dish is served with creamy rice and white bread. Taste delicious home-style white beans at Helvetia.
Dondurma is a mastic ice cream based on goat milk, sugar and powder from the roots of wild orchids. It's a unique treat with a hard texture, it melts more slowly than classic ice cream. You can cut it, eat it with a knife and fork and chew it. Street vendors make funny performances, teasing their visitors and joking in different languages.
Mini Dondurma is one of the best places where you can enjoy dondurma of different tastes since 1968.
The Bosphorus is a symbol of Istanbul, this strait is a bridge between Europe and Asia. It is a must for every traveler to have lunch enjoying beautiful panoramic views at the Zeferan restaurant. Just imagine a refined interior, magnificent Istanbul dishes and a Bosphorus view. Life is just amazing.
Hookahs, shisha or narghile, are very popular in Istanbul. Visit one of the best cafes in this city - Mivan, select fruit tobacco (apple flavor is a classic one), smoke a hookah and take your time leisurely chatting with friends and sipping delicious fruit tea. And let the whole world wait.
Discover Istanbul better and you will surely love this city. Have a nice trip!