8 mins

5 unmissable cuisines in Istanbul

Somer Sivrioglu is an Istanbul chef living and working in some of Sydney's top restaurants. Here he picks the Turkish city's top places to stop for a bite

Istanbul is full of architectural wonders, but make time for the city's variety of cuisines

Istanbul's streets are teeming with restaurants, lite-bites and cool cafes. There are at least 20,000 eateries in Istanbul, which makes choosing where to eat out a difficult decision. As well as thousands of restaurants there's also many different types of food from different regions, with many styles. Here are five types of cuisine in the atmospheric Turkish city and the best places to find them.

1. Best for... Fine dining

Mikla: The Marmara Pera, Meşrutiyet Caddesi 15, Beyoglu

Mikla is owned by chef Mehmet Gurs – poster-boy and genuinely cool guy of modern Turkish cuisine. The menu leans more on New Anatolian Cuisine – a term Mehmet made popular by using fresh regional produce with modern techniques. The food is very satisfying and contemporary, but the views are what makes this place stand out.

Even if you don’t go to the restaurant, make sure you visit the bar upstairs for a wrap-around vista of Istanbul's Old City and the Bosphorus.

2. Best for... Seafood

The Bosphorus is lined with seafood restaurants suitable for every budget, from the makeshift waterside huts frying the catch of the day, served on plastic plates to super-hot villas selling similar fish at ten times the price. Somewhere in between the two and a rare find of its kind is Ismet Baba.

Ismet Baba: Carsi Cad. No: 96 Near Kuzguncuk Port

Ismet Baba was founded in 1951 by Ismet Bey, who originally named the restaurant Yali Gazinosu. After his death in 1981, his children, who are still running the restaurant, changed the name to Ismet Baba.

The place looks and feels old, in fact the only thing looking older than the décor is some of the clientele... Yet in among hip, popular and cool, the restaurant, is like an old friend that does not change, that stays in the same place, doing the same thing, but regardless of years away always feels like home. Part of the charm of the place is attributed to its location, Kuzguncuk on the Anatolian side of Bosphorus, is a popular area for artisans and a meeting point of the religions with both a small synagogue and a church.

Test the delight of eating some of the freshest mezes and best value fish in the region.

3. Best for... Kebaps

The variety of kebaps are too many to count in Turkish kitchens. So are the type of kebap restaurants in Istanbul. For me, one of the definitive reasons for choosing a kebap place is that I have to eat on the bench in front of the charcoal Ocakbasi (BBQ).

Zubeyir İstiklal: Cad. Bekar sok. No: 28 Beyoğlu

Zubeyir is not one of the oldest but surely one of the best examples in this category. Some say it is now very touristy, covered in all the guidebooks, but it is for a reason. The meat and the execution (final presentation, not actual execution) is too good to miss. In winter, try to score a seat at the BBQ and in summer grab one of the few outside tables in the hustle and bustle of Beyoğlu.

Wherever you sit make sure you order tarak (specially chopped lamb chops), beyti (skewered garlic winced kebap) and lamb's liver skewers straight off the grill.

4. Best for... Meyhane

Meyhane is the Istanbul pub, where the drink of choice raki is served with complementing mezes. Although they bring one problem: there are hundreds of choices. Imagine, in only one tiny street of Nevizade there are over 20 meyhanes tucked in like canned hamsi.

One stands out for few reasons: Imroz (Nevizade Sk. No: 24 Balıkpazarı Beyoğlu).

Oldest in the area, Imroz was first opened in Kerpen Arcade – Balikpazari in 1941. Now it is located at Nevizade Sokak. A real meyhane should be known for its delicious fresh mezes, warm and quick service and their local vibe. If there are singers, shows etc it is clearly designed for visitors.

The 82-year-old owner, Yorgo Okumus, is part of what makes Imroz so important. It is one of the only meyhanes that are still owned by the true Levantine/Greek artisans of the meze culture in Istanbul.

Lakerda (salt bonito), sauced bonito and tarama (made by mullet roe and bread) are the most famous ones among the 35 kinds of meze Imroz offers. It is open everyday until midnight. Reservations are accepted until 19.00. A sun-trap terrace is open in the summer.

5. The best of the best

Ciya: Caferaga Mah. Güneslibahce Sk. No:43 Kadiköy

Located in the Fish Market district of Kadiköy, Ciya looks like a typical market restaurant. However, Musa and Zeynep Dagdeviren are not your typical restaurant owners, they are visionaries of regional Anatolian food. What started as a humble worker’s eatery 25 years ago, now represents the best of Istanbul’s offering.

So what’s so special? Partly, it is the traditional kebaps and breads prepared in traditional ovens and mangals, partly it is the unassuming presentation and style, but mainly it is the chef’s undying passion and his intellectual research for regional recipes.

Suggesting just one dish is difficult, since there are 50 different varieties prepared and cooked every day. For the day's recommendation just ask!

Chef Somer Sivrioglu of Efendy Restaurant has dedicated much of his energy to improving the image of Turkish cuisine in Australia, and in the process has established himself as one of Australia’s top chefs.

Somer was born in Istanbul, Turkey, where he spent his first 25 years. With a mother as a chef and restaurateur, Somer grew up around kitchens and gained an early understanding of the diversity of Turkish cuisine, before moving to Australia and opening his own restaurant, Efendy, in 2007.

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