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Istanbul Dining

Nightlife in Istanbul
Istanbul Dining
Istanbul is one of the world's great food cities. Drawing on a long tradition of using flavors and cooking techniques from all over the region, Turkey has been eating slowly and locally long before it was fashionable elsewhere.
By Jessica Lee , AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Moritz Hoffmann/age fotostock
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    Nightlife in Istanbul
    Nightlife in Istanbul
    For a boisterous night out in Istanbul, have a meal at a meyhane, a traditional tavern, often with live music. The menu is mostly meze (shared small plates), grilled meats and fish, and it is said that “fish cry without rakı,” a spirit mixed with water until it turns a creamy white. Nevizade Street is the most concentrated area of meyhanes, try the long-standing IMROZ. Nearby, 1924 Istanbul puts a Russian spin on the meyhane. More of a wine drinker? Solera Winery and Viktor Levi showcase some of Turkey’s best wines. Craft beer is growing in Turkey, try brews for the people at Populist.
    Photo by Moritz Hoffmann/age fotostock
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    Turkish Treats
    Turkish Treats
    Istanbul is both a sweet tooth's dream and your dentist's nightmare. Like grown-up versions of Willy Wonka's factory, shops throughout the city are crammed with pyramid piles of lokum (Turkish delight) and trays of nutty, sticky baklava. Look for Turkish delight at the Spice Market and try all the varieties of baklava at Karakoy Gulluoglu. For something cooler, experience stretchy and chewy Turkish ice cream at Mado.
    Photo by Megan McMurray
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    Dining with a View
    Dining with a View
    In a city as atmospheric as Istanbul, a view is as essential to a special meal as good service and fresh ingredients. To see the city spread before you while you dine, take an elevator to the rooftop: start with drinks at the Grand Hotel de Londres roof terrace or 5. Kat or book dinner at the renowned Mikla restaurant. Though you'll pay more for the views than the food quality, the Galata Bridge has many fish restaurants with unbeatable Old City views. On a fine summer night, the Bosphorus is the place to be, especially if you can score a seat at the House Cafe in Ortakoy or Assk Kahve.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Turkish Breakfast Club
    Turkish Breakfast Club
    Turkey has a long tradition of drinking coffee, beginning with the sultans in the 16th century, so it's no surprise that third-wave coffee culture has become ubiqutious in Istanbul. Karabatak was one of the first cafes to open in Karakoy combining retro-modern design and proper espresso drinks, while Brew Coffeeworks follows a similar formula in Eminonu. As famed as Turkish coffee may be, it is çay (tea) that is more commonly consumed throughout the day in Istanbul, starting with several tulip-shaped glasses at breakfast. For the morning meal, expect a generous spread of fresh vegetables, cheese, and jams, plus menemen egg dishes and creamy kaymak and honey. Van Kahvalti Evi sets the gold standard for breakfast, while the The House Cafe and Assk Kahve serve eggs with a Bosphorus view.
    Photo by Roberto Giobbi/age fotostock
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    Lokanta Homemade Cooking
    Lokanta Homemade Cooking
    Traditionally, a lokanta is a lunchtime working-man's restaurant serving simple, made-from-scratch food. The menu might change daily according to seasonal ingredients, and you can avoid a language barrier by simply pointing at what you want. Mucver and Gram are modern cafes with expert chefs serving unassuming dishes like dolma (stuffed vegetables) and mercimek corbasi (lentil soup), while Namli also serves deli items like smoked meats and cured olives for takeway. If you'd prefer a white-tablecloth environment to enjoy traditional dishes with a glass of wine, try Delicatessen and Kantin.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Anatolian Flavors
    Anatolian Flavors
    Turkey's heartland is Anatolia—its vast Asian territory—and migrants have brought the rich culinary traditions of the land to Istanbul's restaurant scene. Take a ferry to the Asian side and ample the spices of southeast Anatolia at Ciya Sofrasi in Kadikoy. In Beyoglu, Mikla restaurant is known for its "new Anatolian kitchen" turning out ancient recipes and cooking techniques with a modern twist. For more of what the country's farthest corners have to offer, explore the Fatih district, which is full of delis that sell spices and cheese from the east. This is also a top place to discover the succulent, slow-cooked specialties of buryan (pit-baked lamb) and perde pilavi (pastry stuffed with spiced pilaf), which originated in the Siirt province near the southeast borders.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Street Eats
    Street Eats
    Istanbul is a city made for street snacking. Everywhere you look, you'll see vendors selling freshly baked simit (sesame bread rings, like bagels) from carts and stalls hawking doner kebaps and kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes). A grilled fish sandwich is the perfect accompaniment while walking over the Galata Bridge. Adventurous eaters might try raw mussels stuffed with rice, fried meat-and-bulgur içli köfte, or a kokoreç (sheep intestines, but maybe better you don't know what's in it) sandwich; Culinary Backstreets leads tours of street food if you'd like professional guidance.


    Photo by Riccardo Sala/age fotostock
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    King of the Kebabs
    King of the Kebabs
    Turkey is the home of the kebap (or kebab, skewered meat), and grilled meat in a dizzying array of varieties continues to dominate Istanbul's culinary scene. Popular menu items include fistikli kebap (minced, pistachio-encrusted lamb meat), patlican kebap (skewers of meat with chunks of smoky eggplant), and Adana kebap (slightly spicy minced meat served with onions and parsley). For the ultimate indulgence, order an Iskender kebap slathered with tomato sauce and butter at Bursa Garaj. On the Asian side, Ciya Sofrasi serves a variety of classic kebabs from all around Turkey as well as Syria, Georgia, and Iran. Should you need fuel for haggling at the Grand Bazaar, take a lunch break at Gaziantep Burc Ocakbaso. If you'd like higher education in grilled meat, there's no better teacher than a tour with Culinary Backstreets.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Foodie Tours
    Foodie Tours
    Dig into Istanbul's culinary roots and you'll find a mix of Iranian, Armenian, Arabic, Mediterranean, and Anatolian influences. This fusion of flavors from ethnic communities, migrants from the countryside, and traders and travelers throughout Turkey's history has made Istanbul a foodie epicenter. If you're serious about eating, there's no better way to discover Istanbul than through a food-focused tour. Culinary Backstreets explores the markets, street carts, and back-alley favorites of locals on food walks and cooking classes where few tourists have gone before.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Savory Pastries
    Savory Pastries
    Even in a city with Turkish delight and baklava on every corner, savory pastries are also readily available and delicious fast food options. Traditional bakeries serve hearty parcels of borek that make a filling lunch or midmorning snack, sold by weight from hole-in-the-wall borekcis. Cheese, spinach, potato, or meat is layered on flaky yufka (phyllo) pastry to make this hearty and filling Turkish pie. Look for su boregi (water borek); the dough for this specialty is boiled in water, stuffed with a filling, and then baked in the oven. Pide is the Turkish answer to pizza, baked in a traditional wood-fired oven, and generally oblong with a raised dough edge that surrounds a filling. Cheese, pastirmi (cured beef), tomatoes, peppers, and ground beef are typical toppings. Also look out for lahmacun, a pizza with a paper-thin dough base smeared with a spicy meat paste.
    Photo by Stephanie Chen