The greatness of Istanbul and vivid diversity of 15 million people living on two continents should be approached carefully and one at a time. Initially founded by the Greeks, Istanbul was the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire and arguably the greatest empire in world history—the Ottoman.
The quality and diversity of the food offered here comes with no surprise as Istanbul is located at the confluence of the Mediterranean and the Black Seas, enhanced by the great richness of Anatolia and Thrace regions, with Cappadocia—Turkish “Tuscany”—country's biggest wine-making region.
While the crowds explore museums and cultural venues, let us focus on the gourmet side of this magnificent destination. Follow our mini-guide to make the best out of your time and discover the exciting neighbourhoods’ gourmet scene.
I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.
The Grand Bazaar is serene and cool,
A hubbub at the hub of the market,
Mosque yards are brimful of pigeons,
At the docks while hammers bang and clang
Spring winds bear the smell of sweat;
I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.
ORHAN VELI KANIK (1914-1950)
Unlike an hour-away mainland Istanbul, with its traffic and noisy crowds, Island still lives in the early 20s with a unique, peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. All motorized vehicles are forbidden, only horse-drawn carriages and bicycles can be seen on the streets, making this island an oasis of peace and quiet.
This family-owned boutique hotel, looking over the Marmara Sea, is a real gem on the Island. Hamamcıoglu family has been managing it since 1957, keeping the original Ottoman furniture from 1908 in the colonial style decor.
Spacious dining room with gilded chandeliers and antique buffet leads to a charming terrace with romantic sea view. The restaurant serves favorite local Turkish dishes including homemade desserts which are an absolute must try here.
In the 19th century, Ottoman aristocrats saw Bebek as a perfect location for their vacation houses and palaces. Years on, it is bursting with easygoing and stylish cafes and restaurants.
Crowned as “the super-hip Istanbul restaurant”, Lucca delivers the promise: trendy upscale lunch place by day and classy aperitif and cocktail bar by night.
By night you may find it fully packed, due to its high popularity among locals, making it a perfect place to blend in with the Bohemian part of the city. The menu is simple, but everything from their Turkish-American fusion dishes works well.
Waterfront Kahvalti (Turkish breakfast) with a fantastic view. Order a traditional Turkish breakfast that usually consists of tomatoes and cucumbers (Domates & Salatalik), a cheese plate, butter, bread, olives (Zeytin), and jams (Reçel). Here you will find the local butter Kaymak—reminiscent of the Italian ricotta cheese but with a creamier texture; delicious homemade jams; and hazelnut paste—Fındık Ezmesi—capable of teleporting you straight to cloud nine.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself seated next to local celebrities, they come here quite often, finding a relaxed and casual atmosphere, as if at your friend’s vacation house.
Located on the territory of Sakip Sabanci Museum surrounded by a luxurious garden with sculptures and overlooking the sea, MSA is a really special place, curated by the leading culinary school in the country, where students dont just cook here, but also present their dishes.
The restaurant menu is very rich, including both local classics from the Turkish kitchen, dishes inspired by the Istanbul street food, and favorites from across the globe, such as Asian pasta, family-style meat dishes, Spanish omelet, french toast, a hotdog with truffle potato rosti, Dim Sum and variety of raw and vegan plates. Visit any time of the day for this special location.
Since its opening in 2005, Mikla has been leading the Istanbul contemporary gourmet scene, rated as one of the best restaurants in Istanbul, and recognized by the 50 world’s best restaurants.
Mehmet Gürs, the chef of the restaurant, is also known as a successful restaurateur, but most importantly as an ambassador of the New Anatolian Cuisine based on the reinvention of traditional recipes and paise of the ingredients of this rich Turkish region, using modern techniques and knowledge.
Tasting menu experience (highly recommended) is akin to reading the Turkish food encyclopedia, as it holds a rich variety of ingredients, each with a history and meaning.
Considered as a highlight, the iconic version of traditional local fish and bread starter (Balık Ekmek), is served with creamy cheese on an extra thin bread that holds small sardine pieces. For a perfectly cooked fish try Red Mullet, served here with a generous amount of Izmir-sourced root and vegetable puree. Or, opt for a local classic Manti, with vegetable filling, smoked buffalo yogurt, pepper sauce, and sumac.
Note to visit the rooftop bar to catch a breathtaking sunset.
Enjoy the spectacular location in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Istanbul. At first sight, it may seem like another Bosphorus-view restaurant, but there is so much more to it. For 23 years it has been systematically a point of reference on the local dining scene and named the best destination in Europe and Istanbul.
The range of the offered dishes and their quality is impressive. From 1999 it has been a pioneer in introducing Sushi Bar concept, delivered by the London Nobu star Hiroki Takemura. 16 years later it reinvents itself again with the arrival of Chef Fabrice Canelle and his natural Mediterranean cuisine.
Take a look at the wine list—after purchasing Turkey’s most valuable and rare wine collection in 2004 the cellar boasts the world's most desired wines such as Petrus 1985, 1988, La Tâche 1999, 1969, DRC Richebourg 1998, Château Latour 1937, variety of precious E. Guigal, to name a few.
The most exciting view of Istanbul and tender sea breeze, accompanied by the extensive red poppyseed decoration, makes the outside dining seem a bit surreal and even more romantic during dinner time.