İstanbul has a rich entertainment scene: bars, pubs, nightclubs, and discos are plentiful, and there are countless restaurants offering Turkish cuisine with all its local varieties, not to mention, among others, Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Lebanese cuisine.
The meyhanes, literally “wine houses,” are a special local experience. The main drink on offer here is not so much wine but rakı, an alcoholic beverage made of grapes and anise. Nightclubs provide splendid entertainment throughout dinner, ranging from a selection of Turkish songs to belly-dancing. There are also modern discos, cabarets, and jazz clubs in the district of Taksim-Harbiye. In Sultanahmet, there are a number of restaurants set in restored Byzantine and Ottoman premises which offer a unique setting for an evening out.
Kumkapı is another attractive district with its many taverns, bars, and fish restaurants. People have been meeting for years at Çiçek Pasajı in Beyoğlu for snacks and seafood specialties. Nearby is the narrow Nevizade Street - the best place in İstanbul for eating Turkish specialties and drinking rakı.
On the shores of the Bosphorus, Ortaköy is İstanbul’s prime nightlife location with its nightclubs, jazz clubs, fine seafood restaurants, and bars. At Eminönü, don't miss the opportunity to see the fishermen dressed in traditional Ottoman clothes serving fried fish with bread (balık ekmek) from their Ottoman-style boats.
Turkish Breakfast in İstanbul
Turkish breakfast isn’t just a meal, it’s an experience. Designed to be social, shared, and savored, Turkish breakfast consists of many small plates both sweet and savory, accompanied with bread and endless cups of tea. Usually a Turkish breakfast includes eggs, either fried or scrambled with tomatoes (sahanda yumurta or menemen). Cucumbers and tomatoes are consistently part of breakfast, as are olives, a plate of local cheeses, honey, and kaymak, a dairy product similar to clotted cream. Often there will also be jam, butter, a red pepper paste called acılı ezme, sausages, and börek, a flaky pastry that can be filled with cheese, spinach, or meat.
Serpme kahvaltı is a highly traditional way to enjoy the breakfast for long hours. Turkish people go out on weekends to have breakfast around the Bosphorus with a breathtaking view, to popular cafés and restaurants, etc. The concept of serpme kahvaltı consists of small plates with different products and tastes such as a cheese platter, a tomato and cucumber platter, herbs, jams, tahini and grape molasses, butter, kaymak and honey, different types of olives, olive oil with spices, spicy tomato paste, eggs, omlet, bread and simit, peppers, and Turkish pastries.
Street Food in İstanbul
Although İstanbul is Türkiye’s center of gastronomy with lots of local and international restaurants, street food is also very tasty! Throughout İstanbul, street food culture is a pervasive and common thread of everyday life.
Turkish people come from a nomadic background, and this is one of the main reasons why street food culture is extremely rich and popular all across the country.
While different street food is popular in different regions, the most popular (like simit) can be found nearly everywhere in Türkiye. So, if you are in a rush, or just want to enjoy the vibrant street life in İstanbul, stop and grab a delicious snack.
Here is a list of some of the most popular street foods in İstanbul.
Simit: Freshly baked, molasses-dipped, and sesame-crusted dough. It is a staple of breakfasts on the go. Even day-old simit has its use as seagull feed.
Süt mısır: Boiled corn, served with salt.
Grilled corn on the cob: Turkish for maize, mısır is corn on the cob that is steamed, then lightly grilled and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and other spices. Often a summer staple coinciding with the region's growing season, mısır is a travel-friendly snack sold by vendors lining the bridge atop the Bosphorus.
Kumpir: The ultimate baked potato with a great variety of toppings to choose from: kaşar cheese, sausage, corn, Olivier (or Russian) salad, pickled red cabbage, olives, ketchup and/or mayonnaise as a dressing... Ortaköy is the most popular area in the city to eat it.
Balık-ekmek: A popular fish sandwich that can be enjoyed near Karaköy or Eminönü shore.
Döner: The basics remain the same: pieces of meat are seasoned with suet, local herbs, and spices, skewered on a spit and grilled vertically. Originally the meat used for döner kebap was lamb. Today, in İstanbul, it is made using a mixture of lamb and beef, only beef, or even only chicken.
Kestane kebap: Roasted chestnuts are sold on the streets for those who would like to enjoy them by peeling off the shell when still warm during cold days.
Midye dolma: “Stuffed mussels” is a generic name for plump orange mussels, stuffed with herbed and spiced aromatic rice, and occasionally currants. It is a popular street food snack in İstanbul and İzmir.
Kokoreç: Spiced and skewered sheep’s intestines, served in either half or quarter of a bread loaf with plenty of grease and salt to go with.
Islak hamburger: The simple burger is packed with garlicky flavor and buttery tomato sauce which provides the succulent texture and the spongy buns.
Fine Dining in İstanbul
İstanbul, a metropolis of both Türkiye and the world, is a gastronomic epicenter. Here you can find and taste the best of local flavors from across Türkiye. At the same time, İstanbul is also home to innumerable fine dining restaurants and hosts chefs from around the world who serve international cuisines and flavors.
Most of the fine dining restaurants in İstanbul have a magnificent Bosphorus view to enjoy every sip of your rakı, Turkish wine, or favorite cocktail!
Two of the best fine dining restaurants in İstanbul have been chosen among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2015.
You will also find the fusion restaurants where you can enjoy Turkish cuisine blended with cuisine from various regions of the world.
Some of the international cuisines and delicacies that Turkish people greatly enjoy are Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Russian, Austrian, French, Mexican, and Spanish. You will find high-end chef restaurants, Far East fusion cuisines, sushi places, Parisienne cafés, and a lot more in İstanbul!