The Ultimate Istanbul Food Guideby Akshayaa RaniM, 11 May 2023
Welcome event planners! You know that food can make or break an event, so we’re here with the ultimate guide to food in Istanbul to add some local flavour to your upcoming event!
Istanbul is famous for its diverse and delicious cuisine, and our guide has got you covered with the most delicious local delicacies you can add to your event catering menu in Istanbul. From traditional Turkish kebabs to mouthwatering street food, our guide will help you navigate the culinary landscape of Istanbul with ease.
Whether you’re hosting a small dinner party or a large corporate event, our guide has options for every taste. So get ready to learn what to eat in Istanbul as we take your taste buds on a culinary adventure!
1. Turkish Drinks You Can't-Miss
When it comes to Turkish cuisine, drinks are just as important as the food. Although alcohol is legal in Turkey - most restaurants and bars serve it - it’s also frowned upon in certain parts of the country.
Not to worry, though! There are plenty of traditional non-alcoholic Turkish drinks that we’ll talk about in this Istanbul food guide. Trust us when we say that they are so good, you won’t miss alcohol.
One of the most popular drinks in Turkey is cay (pronounced “chai”), which is a strong black tea served in small, tulip-shaped glasses. This tea is slightly stronger and sweeter than traditional European teas and is a must-try in Istanbul.
Speaking of tea, we can’t possibly talk about Turkish drinks and miss mentioning the famous Turkish coffee. We highly recommend serving your event attendees this strong, aromatic coffee that’s brewed in traditional copper pots to help them stay alert during long meetings!
Another drink to include in your menu for event catering in Istanbul is Ayran. This refreshing yoghurt-based drink is made by mixing yoghurt, water, and salt. Its tangy taste is especially popular during Istanbul’s hot summers.
And outside of summer, our Istanbul food guide also has a popular Turkish drink for winter. Salep is made from a type of orchid root and has a creamy, slightly floral taste. You'll often find salep served with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.
Now, turnips might not be what you would usually put in a drink, but before you say no to the idea, try Şalgam. This fermented drink is made from turnips and is often enjoyed as an accompaniment to kebab dishes. It has a unique taste that's both sour and savoury and is often served in a tall glass with a slice of lemon.
Finally, if you’re looking for something alcoholic, we’d like to introduce you to Turkey’s unofficial national drink, raki. This anise-flavoured spirit is traditionally served with mezze(small plates of food) and is a hit at every event.
2. What to Eat in Istanbul: Breads
When you’re hosting an event in Istanbul, you might want to ask your guests to ignore any dreams of a diet, because bread is a staple part of Turkish cuisine. And you don’t want a menu that leaves out this delicious carb!
One of the most well-known types of bread is the Turkish dish Simit. A round sesame-covered bagel. It’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and is a popular breakfast and street food.
Another popular bread in Istanbul is the Turkish version of pizza called pide. It’s an open-toasted bread that is topped with a variety of ingredients such as cheese, meat, and vegetables. If you’re planning on serving pide at your event, we recommend asking your event caterer in Istanbul to have a live counter since pide tastes best when it’s hot and fresh out of the oven.
There are also several other famous breads in Turkish food, such as ekmek (a crusty white bread), gözleme (a stuffed flatbread), and more.
In fact, Istanbul is also home to some unique and regional varieties that are worth seeking out. For example, there's the black bread of the Black Sea region, which is made with a mix of wheat and corn flour and has a dense, chewy texture. Then there's the lavaş, a thin and flexible flatbread that's commonly used to wrap up döner kebab or grilled meat.
- N.B. If you’d like to sample some of these delicious Turkish foods before you book a caterer for your event, we suggest checking out the 5 cool group dining venues in Istanbul.
Moving on… we can’t write an Istanbul food guide without mentioning poğaça. The small, savoury pastry that's similar to a muffin or a biscuit. It's often filled with cheese, olives, or ground beef, and is a favourite snack among locals.
And if you're looking for something a bit heartier, there's always the Turkish-style bagel known as simit poğaça, which is a hybrid of the simit and poğaça bread. It's filled with cheese, sausage, or other savoury ingredients. With so many varieties of bread to choose from, leave your diet plans at home and enjoy true Turkish cuisine.
3. A Staple in Turkish Cuisine: Street Food
Street food is an essential part of Turkish cuisine. That’s why Istanbul is known for its diverse and delicious offerings in streets around the world, not just Istanbul.
We tried very hard to narrow down Istanbul’s vibrant street food culture to just a few of the must-try street foods in the city for this Istanbul food guide.
You can start your day with a classic simit (mentioned in the bread section)or a hearty breakfast of menemen (a scrambled egg dish with tomatoes and peppers). For lunch, grab a dürüm filled with juicy meat and fresh veggies or indulge in a balık ekmek sandwich filled with crispy fried fish.
If you're in the mood for something spicy, try someçiğ köfte(a spicy meatball-like dish) or acılı ezme (a fiery tomato and pepper dip). Or just simply snack on some delicious roasted chestnuts.
For dessert, satisfy your sweet tooth with some warm and gooeykünefe (a cheese-filled pastry soaked in syrup) or cool off with a refreshing cup of boza (a sweet and tangy fermented drink). You can also find street food vendors in Istanbul moving away from traditional Turkish food and serving a variety of international cuisine (with a Turkish twist, of course!)
In short, street food is an excellent option for event catering in Istanbul. You can check out these Top 5 Food Trucks in Istanbul for ideas on street food caterers for your event.
4. A Must-Try Turkish Food: Meats
We can’t write an Istanbul food guide and leave out the delicious meat that is an integral part of Turkish cuisine.
Since you’re hosting an event in Istanbul, you’re in luck because Istanbul is home to some of the best meat dishes in the country. Here are some popular meat dishes you can ask your event caterer in Istanbul to add to your menu.
First up, we have the kebab. This skewered and grilled meat dish comes in many varieties, including lamb, beef, and chicken. Adana kebab which is made with spicy minced meat is always a hit at any event.
We also love the popular Turkish dish, köfte, which are meatballs made with a blend of minced beef or lamb, onions, and local spices. They’re usually served with a variety of sides, including salads, rice, and bread.
Last but not least, if you think your guests are adventurous, you can include kokoreç on your menu. This traditional Turkish dish is made with lamb intestines that are wrapped around seasoned offal before being grilled. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted but if you want a true taste of Turkish food, you need to try it at least once!
5. A Sweet Ending: Turkish Desserts
Our food journey on what to eat in Istanbul comes to a sweet end with desserts. Turkish cuisine is famous for its delectable desserts, and Istanbul is no exception.
One of the most famous Turkish desserts is probably baklava. It consists of layers of thin, flaky pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. Another favourite is künefe, which is made with shredded phyllo dough, cheese, and sweet syrup.
Other popular Turkish desserts also include the famous Turkish delight, a sweet, jelly-like candy that comes in many flavours and is often served with tea.
You can also ask your event caterer in Istanbul to include sütlaç, a creamy rice pudding flavoured with cinnamon, and revani, a sweet, sponge-like cake made with semolina flour and soaked in syrup in your menu.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of our culinary adventure in Turkey with our Istanbul food guide. We hope you’ve got some ideas on what to include on the menu for your next event.
As always, our local experts are here to help you find an event caterer in Istanbul or help you with anything else you might need to make your event a success.
And finally, in case you’d like to explore event caterers on your own, here’s a list of some of the best event caterers in Istanbul.
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