Local Cuisine You Must Try in Istanbul

Don’t leave Istanbul without trying the most delicious local cuisine and refreshments, which have been influenced by Turkey’s historical eras, peoples, rituals, and fertile lands. Sample menus of fresh mezes, Ottoman cuisine, regional kebabs, and local desserts, and wash it all down with drinks such as Turkish tea and hazelnut-flavored coffee. Will you come back for more? The answer lies in a Turkish coffee reading (fal) offered by Istanbul’s eager fortune tellers in Taksim!

Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi, Erzak Ambarı Sok. No:92, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar may be a global tourist trap, but isn’t nearly as rage-inducing as the squawking group tours inside the Grand Bazaar. Here, a remnant of authenticity lives on in this 17th century building, created by commission for Sultana Turhan Hatice. Visually-arresting piles of spices and Turkish delight, and rows of pushy men, make for a wild afternoon of souvenir shopping and colorful conversation. Inside the Ucuzcular stall the sellers are friendly and happy to let you browse. A bag of “love tea” ensures romance in a pot. In that vein, on my way through the bazaar, a man trotted up to me and said, “Excuse me. I think you dropped something...” I looked puzzled. He smiled and theatrically clutched his chest, "...my heart.” He probably does that for all the Westerners, but I pretended it was as real as the magic in the spices.
Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
There’s no cost attached to one of Istanbul’s most distinctive photo ops, and the only lines are from fishing poles. Cross the historic Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge, where fishermen from every walk of life jostle for space, and tourist restaurants line the lower level (stop in for a drink if you’d like, but the food tends to be overpriced and mediocre). Galata Bridge isn’t beloved for its architecture (fun fact: It is supposedly the bridge for which the card game is named), but rather its views: Topkapı Palace and several domes and minarets in the Old City on one side, and the Galata Tower on the other.
Istanbul, Turkey
One morning outside Sultanahmet I saw what I believe to be a suffi. He looked somewhat like a Turkish version of Santa Claus (which was odd because it was late December), but I don’t really know what else he would be with that beard.
Teşvikiye, Vali Konağı Cd. No:40, 34365 Şişli/İstanbul, Turkey
If you’re keen to experience the medieval practice of “kahve falı" or “fal” (fortune telling with Turkish coffee) then make an appointment at Symbol Café in Nişantaşı with Tunc, one of the few English-speaking coffee readers in the city. Once there, order a Turkish coffee with “sade” (no sugar), “az” (little sugar), “orta” (medium sugar), or "şekerli” (sweet), and savor the flavor of a rich aromatic coffee as you ponder your life’s ambitions. When the last drop leaves your lips and all that is left are the grinds sunk deep in the demitasse (small cup), take the saucer and gently seal it atop the cup. Swirl the cup and saucer clockwise three times and then flip them both toward you, holding them firmly so as not to spill the grinds. Relax as the grinds dry out, and wait for Tunc to find you in the cozy café filled with locals who are also eager for readings. When Tunc hypnotically gazes at the grinds to interpret the patterns before his eyes, expect to hear about your past, present, and future with uncanny accuracy (or at least that’s what happened to me). Facts about your life, love, career, money, family, and travel will spill out of the cup for Tunc to interpret without you mentioning a word. Symbol Cafe is at Valikonağı Caddesi (Street) No: 34 Nişantaşı - İstanbul - Telephone: (0212) 291 75 40. The closest train stop to Symbols Cafe is Osmanbey Metro Station, one stop from Taksim Square.
Yıldız Mh., Çırağan Cd. No:32, 34349 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
The five-star Çırağan Palace Kempinski Hotel, right on the Bosphorus near Ortakoy, boasts some the most expensive and elegant hotel rooms in town. A-listers swoon to stay here to make the most of the hotel’s luxurious offerings all housed in the walls and gardens of a restored 19th century Ottoman Palace. For those of us who can’t afford the room rate, there is another somewhat affordable option to take in the hotel’s services and location. Save up those pennies to partake in a long Sunday brunch at Çırağan’s Laledan Restaurant. With over 250 exquisite items to indulge in, a late breakfast and early dinner is possible by slowly grazing from 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm. Regional cuisine, organic produce, vegetarian options, seafood (even sushi), desserts, and endless cups of tea, coffee and juices are on offer. Just make sure you leave enough room to sample the goodies from the chocolate room. Simply follow the aromas of cocoa emanating from the room fit for the sultans who once lived here. This legendary Sunday brunch costs 195 – 210 TL (as of April 2015) and reservations are a must.
Hold off on that second bite of pistachio baklava, and re-think that serving of semolina halva, because there’s another dessert to try in Turkey that never disappoints. It’s called künefe. This sugary, crunchy slice of sweet goodness is made of white unsalted cheese, strips of phyllo dough, butter and milk. It’s baked and drizzled with a generous pouring of sugar syrup and topped with the vibrant color of pistachio nuts. The best künefe is found in south eastern Turkey, but there’s plenty of restaurants in Istanbul that serve this delightful dessert to guests. Best served hot with a dollop of Turkish sticky ice-cream, sharing with others is advised - that’s if you can bring yourself to do so after your first spoonful.
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