Though there are many fine eateries in Istanbul, some of my most memorable meals haven't been in restaurants per se. This city loves its street food and if you follow the crowds to the choice spots, a fresh-off-the-grill fish sandwich (balık ekmek) along the Golden Horn, a baked potato preposterously stuffed with multi-coloured toppings (kumpir) by the waterfront in Örtaköy, or a greasy döner kebap at Taksim Square at the end of a long, lively night out in Beyoğlu might be the best thing you eat during your entire trip.
Types of restaurants:
Different types of establishments serve different types of food, so learning a few key words to look out for will help you get the most out of your eating experience. The cheapest, most basic place to grab a bite is a büfe, a kiosk selling tost (simple grilled sandwiches) and perhaps kebab or freshly squeezed juice, along with cigarettes and packaged snacks. A pideci is the rough equivalent of a pizza shop, a çorbacı sells soup, and a börekçi dishes up savoury pastries. A lokanta is a no-frills restaurant, generally serving ready-to-eat home-style food. A sign for a kebapçı or oçakbaşı indicates a place specializing in grilled meats, while a meyhane serves meze (hot and cold appetizers, tapas-style), fish, and kebabs in a tavern-like atmosphere - and is the best bet for an alcoholic drink along with your meal. The anise-flavoured spirit rakı, served with ice and water, the unmemorable beer Efes, and generally so-so wines are the most popular drinks; cocktails are almost always outrageously expensive and often not well made.
Tips for diners:
- Service is often either over- or under-attentive; don’t be embarrassed to flag down a waiter if you need one and keep an eye on half-finished plates and drinks if you don’t want them to disappear.
- Be sure to check the bill, especially at meyhanes. A cover charge of a few liras per person is typical at many places, but whether due to unscrupulous behaviour or simple carelessness, items you didn’t order (or ordered but never received) may end up on your tab.
- Turkey can be a tough place for vegetarians, though Istanbul offers more options than elsewhere. Places that serve meze are usually a good bet, though be advised that vegetable stews are often made with meat stock.
- Credit cards are generally accepted, even at tiny establishments. Tipping 10 per cent is fairly standard.
- Reservations are advised for the weekends or anytime you’ll be dining with a group or going to a place known for its view.