Straddling two continents and rising from the shores of the Bosporus, Istanbul is a charmer in every sense of the word. Apart from its famous mosques and palaces and stunning views, the city happens to be a foodie’s dream come true. Every nook, every cranny here is rife with eateries, and as you walk down, the aroma of freshly baked bread or smoking hot kebabs wafts past, dragging you to indulge in some glorious food. While the city is bursting at its seams with new-age restaurants, it’s a good idea to sample authentic Turkish food while you’re here. From borek to baklava, kebabs and ice cream, here’s a quick lowdown on some of Istanbul’s iconic local foods and where to find them. Most of them are hole-in-the-wall eateries or streetside carts, but they’re legendary in their own right, and a whole lot of fun to eat at.
Hafiz Mustafa 1864
This place is an institution in its own right, and if you have a sweet tooth, chances are you’ll want to sample everything that the shop offers. Started by a money lender called Ismail Hakki Zade in 1864, this is where you go to get your fix of lokum (Turkish delight), baklavas, halva and a whole lot of sweets and candies smothered in butter, phyllo pastry and nuts. Both the lokum and the baklava come in a variety of flavours including chocolate, pistachio, pomegranate, and it’s a good idea to get them packed for family and friends back home.
Locals and tourists swear by this place and with good reason. Laying claim to the best baklavas in Istanbul, this iconic establishment has been functional since 1949, and continues to lure people with its insane varieties of the famous dish. The one with clotted cream comes highly recommended and is best had with a side of cay (Turkish tea). Güllüoğlu also does a mean chocolate baklava – dark, decadent and sinful, this is a hot favourite. The best part? They ship around the world.
As you walk down the streets of Istanbul, you’ll come across several street vendors selling fresh bagel rings encrusted with sesame seeds from their carts. Called simit, this is a popular snack or breakfast all over the city. But if you’re looking for a simit with a twist, head to Simit Sarayi, a large chain of bakeries in the city that specialises in this ubiquitous pastry. At Simit Sarayi, you could whop down a Nutella simit or wolf down a simit sandwich filled with smoked salmon. The chain is so popular that it has branches in London as well.