Iconic Turkish Meals to Eat in Istanbul

Traditional Turkish baked dish pide
Traditional Turkish baked dish 'pide' | © utkudemirsoy / Shutterstock
Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

Istanbul is the perfect place to enjoy the rich diversity of Turkish cuisine. Here are our favorite dishes that you simply must try when visiting this dynamic city.

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Döner

Doner

A Turkish classic that has also become a bit of a national dish in Germany, döner kebap comes in many forms including dürüm (döner wrapped in lavaş bread) and iskender kebap (döner on a bed of pide bread with yogurt, tomato sauce, and butter).

Köfte (meatball) is a standard yet delicious Turkish dish and içli köfte has a delicious crispy shell made from bulgur filled with seasoned minced meat, onions, parsley, and pine nuts.

Lahmacun

People share slices of lahmacun

Often wrongfully referred to as a ‘Turkish pizza’, lahmacun has nothing to do with the Italian classic. A thin and crispy round of dough is topped with minced seasoned meat, which is complimented with a squeeze of lemon and parsley before it’s rolled up and ready to eat.

Meze

The world of meze (appetizers) is wide and varied and some of our favorites include fava (mashed broad beans), köpoğlu (fried eggplant cubes with a yogurt and tomato sauce), muhammara (dip made from red pepper paste, walnuts, lemon juice, and pomegranate molasses).

Kebap

Turkish kebap with side dish

There are many varieties of kebap including Adana and Urfa (spicy and non-spicy hand kneaded seasoned lamb meat grilled on skewers), Beyti (ground beef or lamb grilled on skewer, wrapped in lavaş bread and topped with yogurt and tomato sauce), and şiş (skewered and grilled seasoned cubes of lamb or chicken meat).

Mantı

Small handmade dumplings filled with minced meat are boiled and then served with yogurt and a sauce made with oil, paprika, mint, and garlic.

Balık Ekmek

One of Istanbul’s most iconic tourist snacks, balık ekmek is a sandwich containing grilled fish, onions, and salad.

Karnıyarık

A very common dish at Istanbul’s many esnaf (tradesmen) restaurants, karnıyarık is made from whole baked eggplants filled with seasoned minced meat and parsley, then covered in a tomato sauce. Goes great with rice with tomatoes.

Kadınbudu Köfte

Kadınbudu Köfte

The other version of the famous köfte is made by dipping the meatballs in an egg and flour batter and frying them to perfection.

Hünkar Beğendi

Quite an amazing dish, soft lamb cubes are served on top of eggplant puree, made with butter and melted kaşar cheese.

Kuzu Tandır

Kuzu Tandır

An ancient dish that was made by cooking lamb in a tandır (a clay oven in the ground), nowadays kuzu tandır is still made traditionally from extremely tender meat and served with iç pilav (rice with nuts, diced liver and currants).

Izgara Balık

No visit to Istanbul would be complete without having fresh grilled fish including hamsi (anchovy), levrek (sea bass), çupra (bream), istavrit (saurel), palamut (mackerel), and lüfer (bluefish) depending on the season.

Pide

Turkish pide

Delicious boat shaped baked dough filled with many different ingredients from minced meat to spinach, eggs and sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage) and kuşbaşı (small cubes of seasoned veal meat).

Yaprak Sarma

Grape, cabbage, or chard leaves are cooked and then filled with either minced meat or rice with pine nuts and currants and then wrapped up tight.

Su Böreği

Close up of a tray of freshly baked börek

Börek is made from layers of thin dough with various fillings such as spinach, minced meat, or seasoned potatoes that are all baked to crispy deliciousness. With su böreği the layers of dough are boiled so that the börek is moist after it has been baked.

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