*Forgive me for not taking many photos of the food we ate. The food was so delicious and was more prepared to consume it than to take a photo of it. – Cover photo by my friend and travel partner for this trip – Amanda
I am always down to try local cuisine wherever I go. For Turkey in particular, I did a bit of research myself but also had some amazing people give me recommendations whether it be the type of food I should try or places I should eat and what to order. I have compiled all the suggestions below in this post because Turkish food is amazing and we didn’t get the chance to try it all. (Thanks Kat, Regine – and her friend Serdar & Amanda’s friend)
Iskender kebab – this is thinly sliced beef with yogurt and tomato sauce over bread.
Kumpir – the ULTIMATE stuffed baked potato, it’s massive and they put everything on it, SO GOOD.
Börek – made of thin sheets of dough, filled with cheese, minced meat and/or vegetables, wrapped and baked or cooked. Su boreğı is the best (filled w/ cheese)
Manti – this is basically like mini meat raviolis in a yogurt sauce, go to a place that just makes this, they’ll do it right.
Lahmacun – like a flatbread w/ minced meat, you put some salad and balsamic & lemon on there and holy shit it’s the best.
Patlican salatasi – if you like eggplant, the best salad w/garlic & olive oil
Dolmas, especially the biber ones. – stuffed grape leaves, or biber is stuffed peppers, so good.
If you see a hosta piknik, you must get a tavuk döner – most tender chicken shawarma thing you’ll EVER have.
İmam bayıldı – again if you’re on the eggplant train, this is the best stuffed eggplant you’ll ever have.
Kofte – meatballs
Turkish Delight – Lokum – Usually a mixture of chopped dates, pistachios, walnuts or hazelnuts mixed with an abundance of flavours that add to it such as pomegranate for example.
Ayran – Salted yogurt drink
Atom – Yogurt & Orange – available at Kizilkayalar
Camlica – Lemon flavoured drink – Their version of 7UP.
Raki – Anise flavoured strong beverage
Location: Kadikoy – Ciya Restaurant
Hunkar begendi with taskebabi
Location: Eminonu– Hamdi Restaurant
1 Findik lahmacun
Location: Sultanahmet – Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi
Menu:1.5 portion sultanahmet koftesi
Location: Karakoy – Gulluoglu baklavacisi
Karisik baklava (desert) – BEST PLACE FOR BAKLAVA
Location: Taksim – Kizilkayalar (Cheap)
Location: Istikal Rd – Koska Shop
Best Turkish Delight in Istanbul – Coconut covered nutty white ones & the red pomegranate ones are the best
Location: Beyoglu – Antiochia Concept Restaurant
A hidden gem serving really good Turkish / Mediterranean food with a great atmosphere
Location: Beyoglu – Durumzade
It is an Anthony Bourdain pick from his show “No Reservations”. Highly recommended amongst people living in Turkey. Great spot for breakfast or Fish!
Location: Kadikoy – Iskenderogullari
1.5 portion Iskender Kebap
Location Takisim – Sampiyon Kokorec (Cheap)
Yarim ekmek arasi kokorec (check what it is first maybe you may not have stomach for this)
When you are crossing the Bosporus, get one simit (Turkish bagel) before the ferry go back of the ships when you are crossing the Bosporus and feed seagulls.
Woke up around 730AM and had breakfast at the hotel before we began our day. I also realized the hamam scrub took away at least 2 shades of colour for me. I haven’t been this pale in a very long time. This would be the first full day in Istanbul. I had planned this trip so we had 2 half days and 2 full days to roam about Istanbul. And let me tell you, this day was super active.
We walked to Arasta Bazaar where we purchased some locally weaven, organic, ethically made Turkish towels and blankets from Jennifer’s Hamam. Jennifer Gaudet is originally from Canada. @jennifershamam. Haci was very knowledgeable and helped us out. He also gave us a tip for the best baklava in town (which we visited later that day).
Our next stop was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque aka the Blue Mosque (certain parts under restoration – many locations we went were also under restoration). You need to take off your shoes to enter the mosque and you can also rent a headpiece for females for free to visit. It is free to visit.
Hagia Sophia was next on our itinerary where we bumped into our new friend Shu who we met in Cappadocia in line. The ticket fee was 60TL – $14.98CAD. It was so beautiful and you just have to keep looking up. The light coming through seemed magical. Hagia Sophia was a former Greek Orthodox Christian cathedral which later became an Ottoman imperial mosque and is now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi).
Just 500M away from Hagia Sophia underground is the Basilica Cistern aka Yerebatan Sarayi (meaning Sunken Palace). The Basilica Cistern was the major water reservoir of Constantinople. Later on was the water storage for the Ottoman period for Topkapi. It cost 20TL entry fee (Also note that this entry fee would not be covered by the Museumcard if you purchased it). It is the size of a cathedral and has 12 rows of 28 columns to support it. There are two massive medusa heads in the far corner of the cistern. The statues showcase the head of Medusa on its side and upside which is said to have removed her powers.
Back onto the tram we went to continue across the bridge to the Karaköy area. First stop – Rainbow Stairs – They weren’t quite as vibrant of colours as I had thought they would be. From there, we walked to Taksim Square where a festival was happening. There were stalls of homemade crafts and literature. We purchased some handmade jewellery. For lunch, we stopped by Kizilkayalar for a hamburger and atom (milk with honey and carrots) – 2 burgers and 2 atoms for only 30TL – $$7.49CAD. Cheap but good and fast eats.
Just outside of Kizilkayalar, you can see the famous tram come through on the infamous Istikal Rd. We walked the street that was packed with people going both directions and stopped for Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir (Turkish delight) and Mandabatmaz (Turkish coffee) – this shop is in a small alley and you can either sit inside or outside the café. I don’t usually drink coffee and the last time I had one was in a jungle in Lao, where we picked up coffee from a lady on the side of the road and was brewed on a open fire where we drank it beside a waterfall and the treehouses we slept in the night before. This coffee was different – it tasted a little more burnt and the grounds sit at the bottom of the cup. There isn’t an aftertaste to it and it is also served with a cup of water after to cleanse the palate. The coffee is brewed on a open flame in their small copper cezve and served in a little espresso cup – 7TL a cup.
At the end of Istikal Rd, it led to Galata Tower. Entry fee is 35TL – $8.74CAD. We went up as the sun was slowly setting. Such a nice 360 view of the city where you can look onto the Sultanahmet side and even over to the Asian side. The balcony isn’t that large so it does get crowded to move around and people move slowly through.
We took Haci’s advice and went to Karaköy Güllüoğlu – delicious and WORTH the visit. We ordered the Şöbiyet with Pistachio (with milk filling) and a normal square baklava. Haci’s number 1 tip when eating baklava – Turn the baklava upside before you put it in your mouth – that way, when you eat it, the top doesn’t stick to the roof of your mouth and makes the experience so much better.
We stopped on the Galata bridge to watch the sunset while fisherman fish off the side of the bridge. When we crossed over the bridge, we went into the Eminönü area to grab some coffee from Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi (famous Turkish coffee) and Kurukahveci Nuri Toplar (Woodfire roasted coffee). Timing was perfect as we made it just in time before both stores closed within 30 minutes. Since we were already in this area by the water with the full moon in force, we had dinner at Hamdi Restaurant before walking back to our hotel. We ordered the Findik Lahmacun 5TL (Turkish pizza), Urfa Lahmacun 20TL (Turkish Pizza), Fistikli Kebap (kebab with pistachio – 50% veal, 50% lamb meat) 54TL & Ayran (diluted salted yoghurt drink) 7.50TL.
We decided that it was a nice night to walk back to our hotel. It took about 30 minutes but we got to see more of the city that way. Many of the stores were closing or closed so it was a very peaceful walk.
We woke up early to go to Sunset Views Lookout point to watch the hot air balloons from the ground (there is another lookout point) since we were in the air the previous day. It was such a rush and only 13 minute walk to get to this lookout point from our hotel. It was -4°C and we didn’t bring gloves with us. It was well worth getting up to watch the sunrise and seeing the hazy hues of blue and pink come up again. Such a different yet exciting feeling to see the hot air balloons rise as the sun rises. Would highly suggest bringing gloves and hand/feet warmers if you are going around this time of year.
We made it back to our hotel to have breakfast before walking over to Galerie Ikman to get some last minute shots. Said our final goodbyes to Suleyman and hopped on a shuttle van (6 euros each) to head back to Kayseri airport to head back to Istanbul. Made a super cute little baby friend on the plane ride. We took Turkish Airlines back to Istanbul – smooth and fast flight.
When we finally arrived, we walked over to the Metro and purchased our Istanbulkart – It is 6TL and can purchased from one particular machine then there is another machine where you can fill up your credits. Remember to leave the card in the slot as you place money into the machine to update the credits. Tap and go. We took the M1 line all the way to the second last stop before going above ground and walked over to take the tram the rest of the way.
We booked Rumours Inn for the rest of the week in Istanbul. Super cute hipster looking hotel with breakfast. Our room was 301 and there are no elevators here but spiral stairs. The room itself is cute and we have a balcony that is actually indoors. There also is a rooftop terrace that has some amazing views looking out to the water. Our landmark to know we needed to turn onto the main street to get to this hotel was a Chinese restaurant with red lanterns.
We got into the hotel and immediately changed as the temperature in Cappadocia were ranging from -4°C to 5°C but in Istanbul, we arrived to 9°C weather. A light sweater was enough. Our first stop for the day in Istanbul was the Grand Bazaar (13 minute walk from our hotel). It is a very large establishment with many stalls full of everything and anything. As you walk through, all the store owners are calling out to you to visit their store. They saw myself and Amanda and kept asking us to come into their stores or calling out “Ni Hao! We actually had a few of these salesman ask us if we were Americans which was much closer than them assuming we were from China but of course the question – but where are you really from comes up.
We found the famous Salt Bae’s restaurant in the Grand Bazaar. At the Bazaar, I purchased a few bracelets – 5 for 20TL. Amanda purchased a scarf and we both picked up some Turkish delight from Ramazan Canbaz in the Grand Bazaar. I grabbed some pistachio and pomegranate as well as double pistachio Turkish delight – 59TL.
We continued through the Grand Bazaar for a bit as it closed at 6PM. We walked the main street and both Amanda and myself noticed a pastry store that we both recognized. It was Cigdem Patisserie and they are known for their baklava. We ordered a piece of baklava (we thought it said 70TL but It was 1TL) and a strawberry tart (14TL). I have to say the baklava was hands down so much better than the tart. It was chewy, crispy, crunchy and perfect balance of sweetness and ingredients.
We also had a hamam spa (Turkish Spa) on our minds and decided to walk back down the street a bit to Cemberlitas Hamami. This building was established in 1584. During my planning stages, I was recommended Aya Sofya Hamam but Cemberlitas is a little less touristy and less frills but also one that more locals go to. We paid 38 euros – 220TL for the bubble scrub package and it was well worth it. It is separated by male and female. We got a package at the beginning with a mesh bag that included black underwear and a scrub towel/glove. When we got into the change room, we first went to the lockers that looked like the safety deposit boxes at banks where 2 keys are needed to store our valuables. We then got that key and were told to go upstairs and use the locker and change room up there to change into the black underwear and put on the towel they gave us.
Remember to grab slippers as well. We then went back to the main floor with the first lockers and were led into another room with double doors and finally the chamber where there was a giant slab of marble and baths around. We were told to lay out for a good 10 minutes or so before they would come around and work on you. The ladies that work on you come in bra and panties as well and they seriously rub you down in all crevices. They have a huge basin where they use this linen cloth bag to create bubbles and throw that on you. They take that glove that you were given to work on you and basically scrub away all the dead skin. The lady working on me was humming the whole time and it was very calming. When she was rubbing down my arms, all you could see were those large layers of skin coming off similar to when you get sunburnt and start peeling. Yikes. The lady scrubs down your front half then tells you to flip over and then sit up. After they scrub you down, they take you to the sink area and wash your hair and wash you down. Last step, they tell you to lie down on the marble slab and just relax and you can stay however long you want. When you’re ready to leave, rinse off with cooler water. We felt like fresh babies.
After the Hamam, we decided to walk around a bit and ended up walking around the Sultanahmet Square area. We finished the night eating dinner at Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta and ate koftecisi (meatballs) 22TL, lamb kebap 34TL and (piyaz) bean salad 7TL.