What’s the best way to enjoy a new destination’s culture for you? For me, it is by walking, visiting street markets, and tasting different foods.

Food is how you can experience how the culture of a specific destination or region has evolved over the years. Not only does one taste the herbs, spices, or ingredients that are unique to that place, but also the traditions.

Confession time – I didn’t enjoy the local food in Istanbul in 2016, so I decided to go for a food tour when I revisited in 2023. I wanted to learn about Turkish cuisine and eat what the locals love to eat. Of course, I loved every bit of it, and that’s why I decided to write this post.

Hoca Paşa in Faith, Istanbul
Hoca Paşa in Faith, Istanbul

If you are flying to Turkey, then most likely you have included at least a few days in Istanbul. Even though it is a bus city, it offers enough to hold a prime spot in any Turkey itinerary. If so, then consider doing a food tour in Istanbul.

My food tour in Istanbul was a slightly shorter version because we also already did a treasure hunt that day and were short on time. We didn’t end up crossing the Bosphorus strait to go to the east side of Istanbul like all the other food tours. It was a private culinary tour that was curated by a professor.

For the full experience, I highly suggest you book a tour for yourself. I have handpicked three tours for you that also go to the Eastern side of Istanbul and not just the European side. They all are highly rated with knowledgeable guides.

  • Taste of Two Continents food tour: A 6-hour food tour that starts at 9:30 am and has 9 stops. It goes to the Kadikoy market in the Asian side of Istanbul. It starts at Hobyar Mahallesi. It also includes a ferry ride from Europe to Asia and back.
  • Guided Food Tour of Street Food and Markets: This 6-hour tour starts at Rüstem Paşa which is at one end of the Galata Bridge. You will cover both the Asian and European sides and visit Kadikoy. You can pick a start time of 10:30 am or 11 am.
  • Guided Food and Culture Tour: This is a 5-hour evening food tour that starts at 6 pm. It also covers both Asian and European sides with a visit to Kardikoy. It makes sense to book this one if you aren’t a morning person to experience Istanbul from a unique perspective.

Pick a tour carefully after checking the meeting point. Istanbul isn’t tiny so it makes sense to pick a tour that starts not so far away from your hotel.

Tip: if you are staying in a nice hotel with a traditional Turkish breakfast buffet, then you don’t need to pick the morning tour, pick the evening tour instead.

If you’d like to know what I ate, here’s a list of exactly what I ate and drank during my food tour of Istanbul.

You can start your day by crossing the Galata Bridge and reaching Eminönü. Alternatively, if you’d like to walk less then arrive at Hoca Paşa and skip the first spot.

1) Turşu suyu (Pickle Juice) – Eminönü

Us drinking Pickle Juice in Eminönü, Istanbul
Us drinking Pickle Juice in Eminönü, Istanbul

Eminönü is on one side of the Galata Bridge and you will see many roadside pickle stores with pink juice – that’s the famous Turkish pickle juice and you should try it.

Although this wasn’t officially a part of our food tour, I highly recommend you make your first stop in Eminönü to drink a glass of pickle juice. Our group had two variants – a spicy and a non-spicy one. I obviously went for the spicy one.

Pickle Shops in Eminönü, Istanbul
Pickle Shops in Eminönü, Istanbul

Pickle juice is an excellent appetizer and is proven to boost your gut health and help in fat loss (like apple cider vinegar). Even if you drink half a glass of this pickle juice, you are all set for your intense culinary experience in Istanbul.

Both Eminönü and Galata Bridge are on my list of Instagram spots in Istanbul.

2) Kebab – Kasap Osman

Kasap Osman Kebab Shop in Istanbul
Kasap Osman Kebab Shop in Istanbul

From Eminönü, make your way to Istanbul’s Hoca Paşa, which is in Fatih. If you are walking then this is just 1.3 KM and you will cross Istanbul’s spice market (or Egyptian spice bazaar) on your way.

You don’t need to make a stop in the spice market because that’s where we will end our food trip today. Alternatively, you can also take public transportation to arrive here if you have an Istanbul card. I have mentioned more details about this in my Istanbul itinerary post.

Kebab rolls at Kasap Osman, Istanbul
Kebab rolls at Kasap Osman, Istanbul

Hoca Paşa is a famous street for traditional restaurants on the European side of Istanbul. Most of the travelers visit Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square and just see Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque but miss places like Hoca Paşa which aren’t even that far away.

This and the next few places are near each other so if you do a self-guided food tour, you won’t have to walk so much.

Yes, Turkish Doner kebabs are famous but do you know that the term “döner” was invented in Berlin? Of course, the concept didn’t originate in Berlin but in Turkey, and Kesap Osman is Istanbul’s OLDEST döner kebab shop.

Kasap Osman - the Man Who Created This
Kasap Osman – the Man Who Created This

If you don’t know, a döner kebab is a roll made out of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie and includes salad, pickles, and sauces. The kebab meat in Turkey is usually a mix of lamb meat and beef. All the kebab shops have somewhat different ratios of lamb and meat, that’s what makes them unique.

Kasap Osman’s kebab shop has outdoor seating, so we sat outside to eat kebabs and drink Ayran with it. Ayran is a Turkish yogurt drink that is salty and helps you digest your food better.

3) Pide (Turkish Pizza) – Güvenç Konyalı

Güvenç Konyalı Restaurant in Istanbul
Güvenç Konyalı Restaurant in Istanbul

Ever heard of Pide? Some call it a Turkish pizza, but is so much more than that. It is a long rectangular flatbread with tomato paste, toppings, and cheese. If you live in Europe, chances are that you have tried a pide already in one of the kebab shops.

Pide at Güvenç Konyalı Restaurant in Istanbul
Pide at Güvenç Konyalı Restaurant in Istanbul

Güvenç Konyalı is a famous Turkish chef and his restaurant also has the same name. We tried different kinds of Pide here, and some of them also had green pepper on top. If you are into meat then try the lamb Mandi smoked ribs.

The seating here was a little more comfortable than the others because we went to the top floor and got a table next to the little window.

4) Köfte (Meatballs) – Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi

Kofte - food tour in Istanbul
Kofte – food tour in Istanbul

Our next stop was for my favorite Turkish food, köfte (Turkish meatballs), so I was very happy when we stopped at Istanbul’s most famous köfte restaurant. It was actually the first time that I was getting to try köfte in Turkey because I had eaten them just in Germany.

Meşhur Filibe Köftecisi is legendary and is130 years old! It is here since 1893 – whoa! And boy the food here truly didn’t disappoint.

I loved the fact that our plate of köfte came with raw white onions and a red sauce which looked like tomato sauce but was super spicy. I loved that spicy sauce by the way and you will too. We also had yogurt so it went well with the köfte.

Drinking Turkish Coffee in Hoca Paşa, Istanbul
Drinking Turkish Coffee in Hoca Paşa, Istanbul

For me, this was the best thing I ate with meat during my time in Istanbul topped most of the traditional Turkish dishes.

I did drink a cup of Turkish coffee here and my friend had Turkish tea. We wanted to wash the food down to enjoy the last 3 items on our food tour.

5) Cağ Kebap (Meat on Skewer) – Şehzade Cağ Kebap

Food tour in Istanbul - meat on skewers
Food tour in Istanbul – meat on skewers

Şehzade Cağ Kebap is an award-winning restaurant where we tried Cağ Kebap, which is meat on skewers with lavash (flat bread). This meal reminded me of what I would normally eat back home in India.

If you are an Indian then you probably have eaten Rumali Roti on multiple occasions. Lavash is a bit like that – a super thin flat bread.

Şehzade Cağ Kebap in Istanbul
Şehzade Cağ Kebap in Istanbul

Şehzade Cağ Kebap was one of those restaurants that I personally didn’t enjoy so much maybe because I was full but the boys in our group loved it. I think it is a matter of personal taste.

6) Cig Kebap (Vegan Kebabs) – Çiğköfteci Ali Usta

Chee kofte kebab in Istanbul
Chee kofte kebab in Istanbul

This right here was my favorite food experience in Istanbul in terms of taste and overall feel. Believe it or not, this is a vegan kebab and it tasted amazing. This kebab and kofte shop isn’t located on the same Hoca Paşa street but just 80 meters away.

Cig kebab or “Çiğköfteci” was originally made with raw meat mixed with spiced bulger, but over the years it has transitioned to just bulger. This happened because raw meat was banned and thank god for that.

Bulger is a variant of couscous with a bigger grain and is heavily spiced and coated with a tomato paste to make cig köfte. These are then wrapped in lavash bread with salad, raw onions, and loads of lemon. The overall result is mind-blowing.

Also, this particular kebab shop is famous because some of the street food videos that were made here went viral on Instagram. After all, the main chef prepares the food very fast and looks angry. Actually in reality he isn’t angry but that’s just his persona. Overall, this was my best street food experience in Istanbul.

I did have cig köfte in a high-end restaurant called Oligark with views of the Bosphorus Strait. The experience was obviously different here and I recommend them both.

7) Midye Dolma (Mussel with rice) – Kral Kokorec

Mussels stuffed with rice - istanbul food tour
Mussels stuffed with rice – Istanbul food tour

By the time we reached Kral Kokorec, I was very full but I decided to eat a little more. You see, I have a thing for seafood and I wanted to experience traditional Turkish mussels preparation.

Kral Kokorec Streetfood In Istanbul
Kral Kokorec Streetfood In Istanbul

The specialty of this place is Kokorec, which is a Balkan dish that’s made with lamb or goat intestines. By that time we couldn’t handle more meat, so eating Midye Dolma (salted mussel stuffed with rice) was pretty nice (and different).

8) Lokum (Turkish Delight) – Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir

Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir Sweet Shop in Istanbul
Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir Sweet Shop in Istanbul

If you have spent any time in Istanbul, especially in the spice market and the grand bazaar, most likely you have seen shops selling Turkish delights. So let’s go to the shop where it all began!

Hacı Bekir Effendi invented “Lokum”, which is what we know as Turkish delight. Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir has been in the Turkish delight and confectionary business for centuries.

Not just Turkish delight but we also drank three different kinds of sherbets and each was mindblowing. The flavors were tamarind, mint with lemon, and raspberry. For me, the tamarind sherbet was the perfect drink at the end of the tour because it was a bit sour and sweet.

Sherbet and Lokum at Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir Istanbul
Sherbet and Lokum at Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir Istanbul

As for me, Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir was the only place in Istanbul where I enjoyed dessert because it wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet. Out of all the different flavors of Turkish Delight that we tried, the best one for me was made with just almonds. I also tried one with walnuts and it was really good too.

I am not much of a sweet eater but if you are, then I’d like to tell you that this place also has halva, which is a popular Middle Eastern dessert that’s made with tahini and sugar. Halva originated in Iran but is popular all over the world. We also have an Indian version that’s made with dark flour.

9) Turkish Coffee at Spice Market

Beta Yeni Han Coffee House in Spice Bazaar Istanbul
Beta Yeni Han Coffee House in Spice Bazaar Istanbul

One of the best things that you can drink after eating loads of food is coffee (or tea). Head to Spice Market, and walk around here to get that much-needed cardio to burn some calories.

Make your way to Beta Yeni Han Cafe, which is one of the best coffee houses. This place is relaxing, and stunning and will give you that much-needed break after walking on bustling streets and experiencing delicious Turkish foods.

Inside Beta Yeni Han Coffee House in Istanbul
Inside Beta Yeni Han Coffee House in Istanbul

Yes, you will find traditional Turkish Coffee, Turkish Tea, and also international coffee. So drink what you want and get caffeinated.

This brings us to the end of the food tour in Istanbul. This entire process of eating so many delicious things and trying new drinks lasted around 5 hours.

If you are in Istanbul for a solo trip, then I highly suggest that you book a food tour because that will also be a bit like a city tour since that will take you from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side, with a boat ride included. Of course, you will experience the yummy food but also the culture of this amazing historic city.

My food tour was just on the European side but you shouldn’t miss the fish market area of the Asian side of Istanbul. But still, I was so impressed with it and I have now decided to do food tours in many other destinations that I visit solo.

Taksim Square and Istiklal Street
Taksim Square and Istiklal Street

If you are doing a self-guided tour, then I also suggest you add Taksim Square because this area is super lively at night. I did mention in my Istanbul itinerary post that you can experience the city’s amazing street food on Istiklal Street, which is right next to Taksim Square.

If you do end up going there, then try kebab, Baklava, Turkish ice cream, and more. Just experiment with new foods while you are here. Just don’t buy apple tea because it isn’t traditional but is something that’s just made for tourists.

Another memorable food experience that you shouldn’t miss out on while in Istanbul is a traditional Turkish breakfast, which is super lavish because it contains different kinds of cheeses, honey, yogurts, olives, herbs, tomatoes, eggs, bread, and meats. If you stay in a hotel, most likely you will end up eating a traditional breakfast buffet which is worth it.

Where to Stay in Istanbul?

Sunset view from my bed in CVK Park Bosphorous, Istanbul
Sunset view from my bed in CVK Park Bosphorus, Istanbul

I highly recommend CVK Park Hotel, it is along the Bosphorus Strait and is fantastic. My room had a view of the bosphorous and I didn’t even have to get out of bed to enjoy the sunrise every single morning.

For around EUR 200-300 per night, my room also had luxurious Roberto Cavalli toiletries, a bathtub with a view, and the most comfortable bed.

Moreover, the service and the buffet breakfast spread in CVK Park Bosphorus Hotel were excellent. I will stay here when I visit Istanbul again.

Other Travel Blog Posts for Turkey

Disclosure: My trip to Istanbul was sponsored as a part of the Istanbul Travel Influencer Summit 2023. However, all the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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