50 Hours in Istanbul: markets, meze and meyhanes in Türkiye’s food-rich metropolis

Cemre Torun - 23/05/2022

In the latest edition of our global gastronomic travel series, Cemre Torun takes on our food-lovers’ tour of her home city over an extended weekend

Istanbul has an ever-changing vibrancy, and its culinary landscape is a perfect reflection of that. From humble meyhanes on cobblestone streets to contemporary fine dining with majestic views of the Bosphorus, it is packed with infinite gastronomic possibilities. The epicentre of empires over millennia, Istanbul is a medley of many different communities. It is also a cultural and literal bridge between the East and the West, a city where tradition and innovation co-exist. Today, a trip to Istanbul would be incomplete without trying one of its many contemporary restaurants with an intense focus on bringing local ingredients and techniques to light.  

Istanbul is a vast, multi-cultural metropolis. Even locals have a hard time grasping all its characters. Of course, there are plenty more incredible gastronomic delights to experience in the city than those listed below if you have more time, including the likes of Aheste, Alaf, Apartıman Yeniköy, Basta, Mürver and Turk Fatih Tutak or traditional experiences like Karaköy Lokantası, Kıyı, Lokanta Kru, Seraf, Tatbak and Yanyalı Fehmi. You can also dive into the array of local artisanal shops around Karaköy and Cihangir. It is a daunting challenge to plan a 50-hour trip in such a multi-layered location, but here is a handy guide to some of its current and essential experiences.  

Day 1

Yeni Lokanta

Kumbaracı Yokuşu 66 Tomtom, Beyoğlu, 34433 İstanbul
+90 (212) 292 25 50
Off the bustling Istiklal Street in Beyoğlu, Yeni Lokanta is a perfect blend of comfort and elegance. The atmosphere, service and the food are relaxed yet refined, with chef-owner Civan Er and the team skillfully putting a contemporary spin on local ingredients and traditional dishes. Make sure to try the delicious mantı with dried aubergines and salted Antakya yogurt, a dish that has become a modern classic since the restaurant opened its doors in 2014. Fresh herb fritters with tarragon and sour cherry sorbet bring out the best of the seasonal produce, while signatures include lamb sucuk with Denizli burnt yogurt, Kilis grapes and mulberry molasses, and the oven-roasted beef ribs flavored with isot chilis, cumin and yogurt. A great stop for lunch or dinner any day of the week except Sundays.

Zübeyir Ocakbaşı
Şehit Muhtar Mahallesi İstiklal Caddesi, Bekar Sok. No.28, Beyoğlu, İstanbul
+90 (212) 293 39 51
Istanbul boasts many ocakbaşı - grill houses that specialize in skewered kebabs - and Zübeyir is one of the best, situated just off the pedestrian-only Istiklal Street. The gavurdağı with finely diced onions and tomatoes is a must especially during the summer months, when local tomatoes are at their best. Off the grill, spicy Adana kebab, crispy chicken wings, lamb chops and ribs are all outstanding. The dining experience also includes a colorful array of meze, mostly comprising chopped vegetables, herbs and dips. Make a reservation in advanceto get a seat by the grill and watch the owner, Zübeyir Ertaş, do his thing.

Kadıköy Çarşısı
Caferağa, Güneşli Bahçe Sokak, 34710 Kadıköy, İstanbul
The historical district of Kadıköy on the Asian side is home to one of the most vibrant open-air markets in the city. With fish restaurants, kebab houses, bakeries and shops specializing in everything from seasonal fresh produce to offal, fish, cheese, spices, olives, and pickles, Kadıköy Çarşısı is an essential stop for food lovers. The market may be well known internationally, but it is still frequented mostly by locals. The smell of roasted chickpeas leblebi and freshly baked pastries like simit linger in the air as shoppers of all ages line up along market stalls. The fourth generation Özcan Turşuları is a pickle shop, selling over 50 kinds of artisanal pickles and pastes. It is customary to stop by and grab a glass of pickle juice to recharge during a shopping day in Kadıköy. Gözde Gourmet Şarküteri is another don’t miss spot, with an impressively large variety of olives, cheese, and take-away meze. Also on the main market street is Ulaş Baharat, a tiny spice shop with strings of dried aubergines, okra and peppers hanging from its ceiling, and all kinds of spices including the essential cumin, sumac and smoky isot pepper.

Fahri Konsolos
Caferağa Mah. Dr. Esat Işık Cad. No.30/C, Kadıköy, İstanbul
+90 (506) 844 38 12

Walking distance from the main market street in Kadıköy is the innovative cocktail bar Fahri Konsolos (meaning ‘Honorary Consul’ in Turkish) in the fashionable Moda neighborhood. Owners Emir Ali Enç, who also is behind the copper kitchenware brand Soy, and mixed-media artist Burak Ayaz concentrate on local concepts, homemade liquors, bitters, infusions and regional delicacies like pomegranate molasses, cherry vinegar, and sumac. Aside from dropper bottles, old medicine cabinets, fresh herbs and dried flowers, the tiny space houses eye-catching bright blue design details and shiny copperware on the bar. Try the Mardini, a refreshing concoction of gin, sumac, pomegranate molasses and parsley or the Martı, named after the Turkish word for seagull and inspired from the combination of simit and yogurt-based drink ayran.

The Marmara Pera, Meşrutiyet Caddesi 15, 34430, Beyoğlu, İstanbul
+90 (212) 293 56 56
Established in 2005, Mikla may be one of the longest standing contemporary dining experiences in the city, yet it is still one of the most relevant. Chef-owner Mehmet Gürs launched his groundbreaking New Anatolian Kitchen at Mikla in 2012, and since then many have adopted the similar approach of taking local ingredients and culinary heritage to a new dimension. Working with hundreds of small farmers and producers all over Anatolia, the menu brings together the best of the region in creative dishes. The service is refined and genuine at the same time thanks to a long-standing team. Start with sunset drinks at the rooftop bar with an unparalleled view of the city, head down to the vibrant restaurant and opt for the tasting menu with the carefully curated wine pairing.

Day 2

Bebek Hotel
Bebek Mahallesi. Cevdet Paşa Cad. No.34, 34342 Beşiktaş, İstanbul
+90 (212) 970 78 36
Waking up on the Bosphorus is a fairy-tale like experience. Located in Bebek, a charming neighborhood filled with designer stores, coffee shops, restaurants and bars, Bebek Hotel has served as a landmark since the 1950s. Though its mid-century glamour is still on display, thanks to a recent refurbishment the hotel offers luxuriously modern rooms with stunning views, a rooftop bar and a restaurant with a terrace perched at the water’s edge.

Levent Mahallesi, Nispetiye Cad. No.13, 34330 Beşiktaş, İstanbul
+90 (212) 289 80 39
Born in Balmain, Sydney in 2007, Efendy may not be new to the culinary world, but its Istanbul outpost is the most recent addition to the city. Chef Somer Sivrioğlu brings the same energetic and welcoming feel to Istanbul with an impressive open kitchen, fun atmosphere, colorful dishes and friendly service. The focus is on local techniques and ingredients from the Aegean and the southeastern regions of Türkiye. Try one of the innovative cocktails and food from the menu to share.

Rüstempaşa Mah, Balık Pazarı Kapısı Sokağı ½, Mısır Çarşısı, Eminönü, Fatih, İstanbul
+90 (212) 527 39 09

Pandeli is a historic and beautiful lunch spot located on the first floor of the Spice Market, serving classic Istanbul cuisine with modern touches. Some of the many signature dishes are Hünkar Beğendi, charcoal roasted eggplant purée served with braised veal, Hamsili Pilav, fragrant rice with Black Sea anchovies, and Vişneli Tirit, bread soaked in sour cherry syrup and served with clotted cream. Aside from a peaceful lunch, one can enjoy a perfect cup of tea or Turkish coffee while watching the ferries come and go at the Eminönü pier just outside.

SALT Galata, Bankalar Caddesi, Karaköy 34420 İstanbul
+90 (212) 244 00 16, +90 (551) 447 45 45
Set inside the 19th Century Art Nouveau building and modern art gallery Salt Galata, Neolokal looks out to a spectacular view of the Historical Peninsula and the Golden Horn. From the kitchen emerge contemporary dishes based on flavors engrained in tradition. For Chef Maksut Aşkar, embracing the past and finding inspiration in nature are vital in moving forward. He creates flavorful dishes with an emphasis on gorgeously detailed presentations. Before going up to the restaurant, take a tour of the building, which also houses the Ottoman Bank Museum and a two-tier giant vault. Opt for the six-course tasting menu paired with carefully selected Turkish wines or the three-course menu featuring seasonally changing dishes.

Asmalı Cavit 
Asmalı Mescit Mah., Asmalı Mescit Cad. 16/D, 34430 Beyoğlu, İstanbul
+90 (212) 292 49 50

The meyhane is an intrinsic part of Istanbul life, embodying the conviviality and energy of the city. It is where regulars have their special tables and strangers become friends by the end of the meal. There are many great meyhanes scattered around the city and the family-run Asmalı Cavit is a long-time favourite. Some of their must-try dishes include the buttery purée of dried fava bean with caramelized onions, Muska Böreği, small, triangular pastries stuffed with ground beef, and the Yaprak Ciğer, thin slices of lamb liver fried with onions. They also serve perfectly grilled seasonal fish and delicious meatballs with homemade tomato sauce. All beautifully accompanied with glasses of the aniseed-based distilled spirit, rakı.

Day 3

Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı

Kemankeş Mah., Hamam Sok. No.1, 34425 Tophane, Karaköy, İstanbul
+90 (212) 393 80 01
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı is like a sanctuary in the middle of the city, tucked away from the busy streets of Karaköy. Commissioned by the Ottoman admiral Kılıç Ali Paşa, this hammam was built by the architect Mimar Sinan between 1578-1583 and has been meticulously restored. The moment you enter the building with its majestic dome and marble tiles, you get a sense of serenity and calm. Make sure to make an appointment and take time to rest with a cup of coffee, tea or homemade lemonade after a refreshing hammam experience. Don’t miss the store next door, featuring a beautiful collection of hammam towels, copper bowls and many other detailed pieces letting you take a bit of hammam style home with you.

Güllüoğlu Karaköy
Rıhtım Cad. Katlı Otopark Altı No.3-4, 34425 Karaköy, İstanbul
+90 (212) 293 0910
No trip to Türkiye would be complete without a sampling of pistachio-entrenched baklava. Karaköy Güllüoğlu, owned by the Güllü Family, has been masterfully making baklava for six generations. The syrupy layers of silk-like thin pastry with generous amounts of pistachios, walnuts and clotted cream come in different sizes and shapes, but all feature the best ingredients sourced from the same producers for many many years. Other than the standard baklava, they also serve gluten free and vegan options.

Muuto Anatolian Tapas Bar
Kılıçali Paşa Mah., Meclis-i-Mebusan Cad. No.8, İç Kapı No.102, 34433 Beyoğlu, İstanbul
+90 (507) 243 40 40
Galataport is Istanbul's brand-new mega cruise port and large-scale urban development project located at the waterfront neighborhood of Karaköy. The port hosts a myriad of cultural, dining, shopping and entertainment options. An authentic spot at which to round off the trip is Muutto, spearheaded by Chef Umut Karakuş. Inspired by Anatolia and shaped by the Turkish meze culture, the menu presents colorful dishes all meant for sharing.

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