Top Places to eat in Istanbul, on a budget.
Istanbul is the only city I could call home away from home. It is hard to get over the idea of Istanbul. The merger of two worlds in a literal sense, where Europe meets Asia creating a beautiful fusion of culturally diverse entities. It is the most intriguing city I have ever been to. The pulsating vibes of the Metropolis are hard to put into words – this city exudes life like no other. I could write volumes of my endearments for this city without falling short for words.
The city displays layers of history, from the Roman Empire to Ottoman to modern-day Republic. For me, it is the capital of the world. Colors, cultures & cuisines from many civilizations.
When it comes to food, Istanbul is the easiest city in the world. Offering the widest range of options to choose from. Michelin star worthy restaurants to famous salt bae’s restaurant Nusr-et to 2$ meal.
Here are some of my favorite Must visit, quick meal, budget places in Istanbul.
In the heart of Kadıköy lies my favorite restaurant in Istanbul, Ciğerci Hulusi. They offer a variety of options from barbecued chicken to Adana kebaps, tantuni to barbecued heart, but their unique selling proposition is the barbecued lamb liver.
Even their menu says “Akıllı ol ciğerimi ye” translating “be smart and eat liver”
I have had a fair share of meat in my life, but if you take my word, it is the best-barbecued liver I ever had in my life. Meat perfectly cooked and incredibly soft which kind of melts in your mouth. Liver with Lavaş bread (Turkish flatbread) makes a piquant combination.
You usually wait for 15-20 mins for your order, skewers are barbecued only as per order so its always fresh and hot. Your order is served with several side dish and I kid you not, the addons are on the house and complimentary. Here is the list of items served with the meat absolutely free & unlimited.
Ezme Salata – Minced Onions & Tomatoes with spices & pomegranate molasses
Buğulama Soğan – Steamed Onions with spices
Közde Soğan – Barbecued white onions with Turkish paprika
Sumaklı Soğan – fine cut onions mixed with special Turkish spice (Sumak)
Közde Domates ve Biber – Barbecued whole Tomatoes and green chilies
Yeşillik ve Limon – Green salads with lemon
Turşu biber – Special yellow Chilies preserved in vinegar
Lavaş ekmek – Turkish flatbread
Kara lahana salatası – Purple cabbage with vinegar dressing
Çay – Turkish Black Tea.
On your next trip to istanbul make sure you visit Ciğerci Hulusi & always remember
“Be smart and eat liver”
Islak hamburger translates to wet hamburger, yes WET HAMBURGER. And if you are hearing it for the first time, make sure you make it in your to-do-list on your next visit to Istanbul, thank me later.
The burger is called a wet burger because of the uniquely spiced greasing on the bun. The Union of juices from nicely cooked garlicy & spicy meat patty and perfectly balanced combination of hot & sweet sauce on the bun making it wetter, messier, & drool worthy. So heavenly!
I think islak hamburger deserves as much recognition as a normal hamburger, if promoted right, it can be the next phenomenon in the world of fast food all around the world.
Islak hamburger is popular with street food lovers in Istanbul and you can find it at many places, one of my favorite place is kızılkayalar hamburger, they claim to make the best islak hamburger and I do not disagree. They are a chain of restaurants having outlets in almost all major tourist locations.
Breakfast to lunch, dinner to post alcohol snack, islak hamburger in all terms is a 24×7 food. Truly pocket friendly, Truly juicy!
Pro tip: Islak hamburger tastes 10x better if you are drunk.
Köfte/kofta (meatball), a spicy minced meat delicacy found in Turkish, Indian subcontinent, middle eastern, Balkan, and central-eastern cuisine. I have tasted at least two dozen different types of kofte, but the one I had in turkey, tops the charts.
Sultanahmet Köftecisi is my favorite place to have kofte in Istanbul and whenever I am in town, I make sure not to give it a miss.
The restaurant is over a century old with an even older recipe, claims to have the best Izgara Köfte (grilled meatball) in town. Sultan Ahmet koftecesi is strategically located in the heart of Istanbul, facing three major tourist destination in the world, Aya Sofia (Hagia Sophia), Sultan Ahmet famously known as Blue Mosque. And Tom Hank’s Inferno famed Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Basilica Cistern). The location is heavily crowded all around the year.
Lamb kofte is perfectly grilled and served with pickle, red chilli sauce, salads and soft bread, meat is soft and juicy with a flavor that cannot be described in words.
The restaurant has a limited menu, serving Çorba (a soup made up of lentils), Kuzu Şiş (lamb Sheesh Kebap), Pilav which is not exactly the Pulao that I had visualized but plain white rice, and the İrmik Helvası or the sweet Semolina which taste pretty much like Indian suji halwa and ayran (buttermilk).
10/10 for the food, the old restaurant vibe, tables jammed with locals and tourists from all parts of the world, and the smell of freshly grilled meat.
One of the cheapest and tastiest meals one could ask for in spite of the touristy location.
I love to try new food, but when it comes to seafood, I am not the experimenting type, it was recently that I tried octopus and squid and to be honest, not a fan.
Never in my life, I thought I would eat mussels let alone drooling over it, but things changed when I tried Midye (mussels stuffed with marinated rice) for the first time on my first trip to Istanbul. And the next thing I know I was eating 30 midye from a bucket.
Midye can be seen all around Istanbul, from high-end joint to a street vendor selling it on a small tray. But my favorite is midyeci Ahmet and let me specify it Is no normal midye joint it is “The Midyeci Ahmet”, king of mussels. Do not believe me, go, and check them on a busy day.
It is a small place with limited seating, but they do have standing tables outside. Midye is served in a bucket with lemon and an empty bucket is provided for the shells. They are easy to open all you have to do is squeeze some lemon over it and you are good to go. And yeah, don’t worry about getting your hands dirty, the wet wipes are handy. They also make Kokoreç, Kokoreç is grilled, chopped & sautéed lamb intestine sandwich. Squeamish? Just try it.
Bambi is a chain of cafes with the franchise in almost every tourist accessible region of Istanbul. It is genuinely heaven for street food lovers with a very hygienic atmosphere. A wide range of freshly cooked street food and beverages all under the same roof. A concept I wish we had back here in Mumbai.
From Döner, Chicken sandwich, Kumpir (stuffed baked potato), Wet hamburger, Normal Burger, Sausage rolls, Sandwiches, Different types of toast with custom fillings, Meat wraps, Salads stuffed in bread to several freshly squeezed juice, lentil soup and breakfast menu. You name it they have it.
Bambi makes touristing easy. Some of their branches are open 24×7. I have tried almost every item on their menu, never disappointed. Highly recommended!
6.Çakmak Kahvaltı Salonu
Turkey is famous for many things; one such thing is their grand breakfast culture. One amongst many of my favorite breakfast joints in Istanbul is Çakmak Kahvaltı Salonu. Situated on the European side of Istanbul in the very centre of busy Beşiktaş market, cakmak kahvalti is a value for money with a wide range of mouth-watering breakfast options.
Their Menemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes, peppers, and spices) is a must-try, Sucuklu menemen (menemen with Turkish sausage) or Pastırmalı menemen (menemen with aged Turkish beef bacon) are also in the menu. Different types of eggs, omelets, at least a dozen types of cheese, salads, and breakfast combo meals are also available to choose from. Bal kaymak (honey with cream) is one of my favorites. Some of their much simpler items such as Söğüş is also tasty, Domates Biber Söğüş is nothing but sliced chilies, tomatoes and cucumber soaked in olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, but the olive oil they use is of very high quality and taste. Bread is always fresh; waiters are young and very welcoming. Altogether a very warm atmosphere for the first meal of the day.
If you are infatuated with the European style outdoor seating with lip-smacking food, Cakmak kahvalti is the place for you. Exotic yet cheap.
It is a sin to visit Istanbul and not eat Profiterole at inci pastanesi, this eight-decade old joint located in one of the by-lanes of much-crowded İstiklal avenue, inci pastanesi without any doubt makes world’s best Profiterole.
inci has customized this classic French dessert made from choux pastry (pâte à choux) with their secret bitter chocolate and cream stuffing making it crisp, light-as-air, delicious, and toothsome.
I have tried profiterole at least a dozen different places and it always felt incomplete, at times the ice cream filling or the consistency of chocolate sauce or the softness of the puff but inci has mastered the art of making quintessential profiterole, from their cream, soft as a feather puff to their unique luscious chocolate syrup which can put Nutella to shame.
Trip to Istanbul could remain incomplete without visiting this Historic Pâtisserie!
Another budget-friendly easy-to-find Turkish authentic fast-food franchise, Mercan Kokoreç is famous for Kokoreç (grilled, chopped & sautéed lamb intestine sandwich), midye dolma (rice-stuffed mussels), Midye tava (fried mussels with special tarator sauce) & fried calamari.
But also offers a variety of other Turkish delicacies along with chilled beer, making it a favorite among tourists and locals equally.
It is an Istanbul street food classic. A must try!
Börek is a family of stuffed pastries (the less saucy version of lasagna) usually prepared from papery thin dough Filo/phyllo, Turkish Yufka, with a history dating back centuries. A delicacy widely eaten in central Asia, the middle east, and Europe.
If you look for a börek place in Istanbul, it is likely you will find one on every corner of the city, one of my favorite place to eat börek in Istanbul is at Levent Börekçilik, hailing from Adana (a city in turkey famous for Adana kebap and other dishes) Levent Börekçilik has maintained to retain their taste even after 50 years of service.
Make sure to try all their six variants of Börek.
ıspanaklı börek – Börek with Stuffed Spinach
Kıymalı börek – Börek with stuffed Minced Meat.
Zeytinlı Börek – Börek with stuffed olives.
Peynirli börek – Börek with stuffed cheese.
Kavurmalı börek – Börek with stuffed sautéed meat.
Pastırmalı börek – Börek with stuffed Turkish bacon.
Nothing is more satisfying than the combination of fresh Börek and tea.