My family have all been to Istanbul on numerous occasions, but oddly, it is the only city that they managed to return from without dozens of restaurant recommendations, so I turned to the definitive Istanbul food guide, Istanbul Eats for guidance. All of the restaurants/stalls below were picked from Istanbul Eats recommendations and were the favourite ones of those we tried.
Karakoy Lokantasi is located on a street that alternates between dark and desolate industrial spaces and the odd baklava shop or restaurant, which is how we spent quite a while walking up and down it trying to find the place, getting increasingly confused. It is next door to Lokanta Maya, which sadly we did not manage to try. It has one of the loveliest decors I saw in Istanbul, with tiled walls of seagreen and navy, big windows, and simple black wooden tables. The waiters are white coated and very efficient. We went for a selection of mezzes which were all excellent, although they did display the tendency to make every conceivable dish into a paste.Smoked wheat with yoghurt and garlic turned out to be a dip rather than the kibbeh style salad I was expecting, but was absolutely delicious. 5 mezzes (plenty with bread) and two beers came to about 60TL. Lokanta Karakoy is open until midnight, and was bustling at 11pm.
Karakoy Lokantasi, Kemankeş Caddesi 37, Karaköy, +90 212 292 4455,
Ficcin is a rather confusing selection of small rooms all along a narrow street. The décor is simple, the service is attentive, fast and polite. We had a selection of mains and mezzes including a traditional Circassian meat pastry, a fantastic muhammara and chicken with walnuts and garlic which also turned out to be a paste/dip. Served with plenty of fresh bread and two beers, our bill came to an incredibly reasonable 40TL.
Ficcin, Kallavi Sokak 7/1-13/1, Beyoğlu, +90 212 293 3786,
Hayvore is a canteen style venture selling Black Sea region food just off the touristy Istiklal Caddesi. It is lined with photos of presumably Black Sea region scenery, mainly beautiful, though the photo we sat under oddly appeared to be of an underground bunker. There is a menu, but it is in Turkish and bears no resemblance to what they actually have, so just head to the hot counter and point. Particularly nice were the stuffed aubergines and dolmas. With two beers and plenty of food, this came to 40TL also.
Hayvore, Sokak 4, Beyoğlu, +90 212 245 7501
Aynen Durum is a durum stall tucked away just outside the silverworkers section of the bazaar apparently beside the money exchange which is not on any maps, beside gate 20. It is bustling and clearly popular with people working in the bazaar, as trays whisk by in all direction. We order a lamb durum and a chicken durum for comparisons sake, and are presented with a tray laden with pickles and sprigs of parsley, and shortly afterwards with our durums. The bread is thick and fresh, the meat has a nice roasted flavour and the whole thing is impressively devoid of grease, feeling fresh and almost (*almost*) healthy. I picked the lamb, but have to say I think the chicken was slightly better. Two durums with drinks came 16TL.
Muhafazacilar Sok. No: 33, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul (are you really going to phone a durum stall?)
Simits are traditional Turkish pastries which you can buy on literally every street corner. Seriously, Istanbul is ruinuous for your health as you are never more than 30 seconds from a street food stall in all of the main Tourist areas. Simits are coated in sesame seeds, and look (and taste) like slightly stretched out bagels. You can buy them plain, or with cheese (peynir) which will set you back about 1.5TL and will stave off the hunger while you wait in the inevitable Aya Sofia/Topkapi/Blue Mosque queues.
Also sampled were lokma, deep fried pastries very similar to churros, except that they decided deep fried dough wasn’t quite damaging enough to your BMI, so they coated it in sugar syrup as well. One of these will set you back about 1TL, add 2 inches to your waistline, and can definitely be shared between two people
Around the Galata Bridge you will also find guys selling mussels with fresh lemon slices from large metal buckets but I did not have the nerve to try these, nor do I know anyone who has. There are foods you take a risk on, and then there is shellfish.
On the European side of the Galata Bridge there are are guys selling freshly grilled fish in bread with a parsley and tomato salad. Every time we passed, we were on our way to dinner/lunch, just back from dinner/lunch and vowed to try them but never did. My brother swears by these, so it is on his recommendation that I pass this one on.