Food – Part 1: everyday food culture, top restaurants and traditional street food

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Food – Part 1: everyday food culture, top restaurants and traditional street food

The delicious flavors of Turkish food culture are renowned worldwide. In this post, I am delighted to guide you to expert-recommended favorites: the best and most popular restaurants in Istanbul in 2023, as well as traditional street food. But first, let me share a bit about the everyday food culture in Istanbul.

My experience and everyday food

Typical Turkish weekday meal in Istanbul: freshness, colors, "Lavaş" bread, and "Ayran" drink (a healthy beverage made from yogurt, salt, and water).
Typical Turkish weekday meal: freshness, colors, “Lavaş” bread, and “Ayran” drink (a healthy beverage made from yogurt, salt, and water). Our family’s food specialist insists that every meal must include genuine natural yogurt in some form – as it is a guarantee of our health.

I confess that food is not a passion for me; it primarily represents health (or sometimes just visual appeal and colors). Unfortunately, I am not the best presenter of Istanbul’s food culture. However, I can share a few observations about everyday meals based on my experience.

"Köfte”, which translates to meatball, is a common everyday dish in Istanbul, but there are various versions of it. This, "Çığ Köfte" is a spicy meatball traditionally made from raw meat.
“Köfte”, which translates to meatball, is a common everyday dish, but there are various versions of it. This, “Çığ Köfte” is a spicy meatball traditionally made from raw meat. Nowadays, it can also be prepared as a vegetarian alternative using bulgur.
Due to a favorable climate, fresh vegetables and fruits are available throughout the year in Istanbul.

Firstly, freshness is crucial in Turkish cuisine, besides the obvious delicious taste. Due to a favorable climate, fresh vegetables and fruits are available throughout the year, ensuring that all food in Istanbul is undoubtedly fresh – both at home and in restaurants. In seafood restaurants, for example, you can even choose your upcoming meal from the freshly caught fish.

In seafood restaurants of Istanbul, you can even choose your upcoming meal from the freshly caught fish.
What kind of seafood would you like to taste today?

Secondly, breakfast (kahvaltı) is another crucial meal, in addition to the late dinner (around 8-11 pm). Breakfast is also consumed late. In fact, I think Turks don’t really have breakfast; their breakfast is what we Finns consider lunch. Whether you enjoy breakfast at home or in a restaurant, it is usually wonderfully diverse and visually beautiful. In our family, I’ve noticed that even children, from a very young age, eat in the same food rhythm and have the same foods (albeit pureed as babies).

Breakfast for two in Istanbul, Turkey.
Breakfast for two. Although, I notice that nuts and eggs are missing from this photo of our breakfast. And, of course, it ´ s essential to remember that the variety of Turkish breakfast is limitless.

Thirdly, a significant part of Turkish food culture is mezes (meze) – small, fantastic food portions that you can combine into your desired combination at a restaurant. Mezes are enjoyed as appetizers, side dishes for the main course, or with Rakı in Rakı nights. (Rakı is an anise-flavored spirit, almost like the unofficial national drink of the Turks.)

In a restaurant of Istanbul, the waiter brings a large tray of mezes to your table and gladly explains what they contain.
In a restaurant, the waiter brings a large tray of mezes to your table and gladly explains what they contain. This makes the choice easy, although the abundance of delicious options can sometimes be a problem.

Fourthly, a couple of remarks about home-cooked food. Firstly, all food is always made from scratch (including in restaurants). Semi-finished or ready-made products are not used, and therefore, they are also not available in stores.

In addition, I have been pondering whether every family has a Michelin-star chef because all the home-cooked meals I’ve tasted have been unbelievably delicious. Or does this only indicate the high level of general expertise in Turkey, a country with a traditional food culture?

Such a sweet yet reasonably healthy snack appeared as a surprise on my desk as I wrote this blog post at home in Istanbul.
Such a sweet yet reasonably healthy snack appeared as a surprise on my desk as I wrote this blog post at home. I’ll talk more about these sweet treats, pastries, and desserts soon, in the second part of my food posts.

After these general observations of everyday life, in this post, I want to give a voice to the experts. I hope you find your favorite restaurant on the “Gastrocity Istanbul” website and also delve into the secrets of traditional street food with guidance from “Aladdin’s Turkey.”

Gastrocity Istanbul – discover the best restaurants

Gastrocity features over 50 restaurants recommended as the best in Istanbul (2023) according to the Michelin Guide. It includes Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as other high-quality, delicious, and charming options. You can directly explore each restaurant in detail on the website and easily find them on the map.

Michelin-starred restaurants are familiar to everyone, but Gastrocity also introduces more widely recommended, selected restaurants on its site (Selected Restaurants). Additionally, you’ll find Bib Gourmand-awarded restaurants on the site. These Bib restaurants are unique and high-quality but share a simpler cooking style that is recognizable and easy to eat. Plus, they come at a reasonable price.

You can find all the mentioned restaurants here: Gastrocity

Please remember to select Istanbul from the city menu for each section.

In Istanbul the Kubbeli Lounge at Pera Palace Hotel is among Gastrocity's recommended selected restaurants.
The Kubbeli Lounge at Pera Palace Hotel is among Gastrocity’s recommended selected restaurants.

Street Food – taste at least these in Istanbul

"Dolma," or stuffed foods, is a fundamental aspect of Turkish food culture. In this photo, you can see "Midye Dolma," or stuffed mussels with various fillings in Istanbul.
“Dolma,” or stuffed foods, is a fundamental aspect of Turkish food culture. In this photo, “Midye Dolma,” or stuffed mussels with various fillings, is particularly popular street food as a late-night snack.

In Istanbul, you see and experience food everywhere. In addition to restaurants, there are countless street food places. So, there are plenty of options – and some might completely surprise you.

"Pide" is a boat-shaped hybrid of pie and pizza with countless filling options in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Pide” is a boat-shaped hybrid of pie and pizza with countless filling options.

Do you know what “Kokoreç” is? It’s the kind of dish friends use to make funny jokes on tourists like me. You eat it eagerly when presented, and only afterward are you told what it contains: lamb or goat intestines wrapped in seasonal organ meat. It is usually prepared by grilling. Delicious? Absolutely!

In the following video, you’ll learn more about this and many other street food options. Please note that the prices mentioned in the video (2020) have increased.

Hopefully you enjoy the delicious taste of Istanbul. “Afiyet olsun!”

The delicious dinner in Istanbul, Turkey.

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