Every city has its own iconic foods, products and places. Some are simply meant for tourists and aren’t worth wasting time on, but others are very important parts of the culture and are truly appreciated by locals – these are the ones worth discovering. Senem, our local ambassador for Istanbul, lists 10 famous symbols of her city that all visitors should experience.
1. Authentic Turkish coffee
There’s an old saying in Turkey: “A single cup of coffee can create a friendship that lasts 40 years”. This explains why coffee is such an important part of life for Turkish people. You can find excellent, authentic Turkish coffee at Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi. This place has been around since 1871 and holds a special place in the hearts of all coffee-loving locals. Be prepared to queue for your freshly made hot cup of deliciousness.
Photo credit: Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi
2. Mouth-watering Turkish delight
Turkish delight (“lokum”) is a common souvenir to bring back from Turkey – the real thing beats the knock-offs you can find in your home country any day. Hacı Bekir is another family-owned place that has been around for ages (since 1777 to be exact), so if anyone knows their Turkish delight, it’s them! The shop itself is fascinating because a lot of the original décor has been preserved. Be sure to try the double pistachio Turkish delight.
Photo credit: Doug
3. Legendary Beyoğlu chocolate
If you’re not a fan of Turkish delight, another sweet treat you can take home is a famous Beyoğlu chocolate bar. Zambo, an Istanbul-based confectionery company, began producing them in 1950. These chocolate bars were first sold in Beyoğlu, hence the name, and even today tend only to be found in the small kiosks of Beyoğlu. Luckily, Zambo recently upgraded its production capacity and began distributing to other neighbourhoods as well. Keep an eye out!
Photo credit: if you love me
4. Istanbul’s favourite yoghurt
Yoghurt is one of the most widely consumed foods in Turkey, and Istanbul’s Kanlıca neighbourhood is famous for its tasty and extra creamy yoghurt. Kanlıca yoghurt contains no additives, plus the milk comes from cows and sheep that feed on natural fodder.
Photo credit: j f grossen
5. Istanbul’s first profiterole shop
İnci Pastanesi was established in 1944 by a Greek migrant who claimed to have invented the profiterole himself. Whether or not this is true, they sure do make amazing profiteroles. They also sell a tempting selection of cakes, chocolates, cookies and sweet pastries, as well as homemade lemonade. This is the place to visit when your sweet craving is out of control!
Photo credit: Foursquare
6. Iconic diaries and notebooks
Afitap is a charming little stationary shop that was founded in 1882 by a 14-year-old boy. His “Ece Ajandası” diaries became very popular throughout Turkey, and today they hold a special place in the hearts of Istanbulites. If you’re looking for an extra special souvenir or gift, an Ece diary or notebook is an excellent choice.
Photo credit: Afitap
7. Homemade ice cream and waffles
Prinkipo Dondurma & Cafe is a popular local ice cream spot that has been around for generations. Located just a few steps from Büyükada ferry terminal, Prinkipo welcomes you with a smell of freshly baked waffles and a rainbow of ice cream flavours. Toppings include sauces, nuts and any possible fruit you can think of. Don’t forget to Instagram your tasty masterpiece before digging in!
Photo credit: Canan S.
8. Boza – one of the oldest drinks in Turkey
Boza is a fermented drink made with semolina, water and sugar, traditionally topped with roasted chickpeas and a sprinkling of cinnamon. It’s only consumed during the winter months. Dating back to the 4th century, it’s one of the oldest drinks in Turkey. Vefa Bozacısı serves really tasty boza that’s a bit thicker and tarter than traditional versions, and it’s made by the great-great-grandchildren of the original owners.
Photo credit: Vefa Bozacısı
9. Simit – the king of Istanbul street food
Simit is a bagel-shaped bread covered in sesame seeds. It has been the number one street food in Istanbul for centuries. Locals love it because it’s cheap and you can get it everywhere! If you want to try the traditional version, visit Boğazkesen Simit Fırını where they still bake them in a stone oven. Like with all baked goods, they’re best when fresh out of the oven.
Photo credit: if you love me
10. Maiden’s Tower – A place of legends
According to a popular Turkish legend, the Byzantine king imprisoned his daughter to this tower after an oracle prophesised that she would die of a venomous snakebite on her 18th birthday. When the day finally came, the overjoyed father brought her a basket of fruit as a gift, but unbeknownst to him, the killer snake was hiding inside. In addition to this cool legend, the Maiden’s Tower is a great place for a 360-degree view of Istanbul. You can get a boat to the island from either Kabataş or Üsküdar-Salacak.
Photo credit: Kız Kulesi – Maiden’s Tower
Special tip: For a more authentic Istanbul experience, get the Like A Local mobile app
Cover photo credit: Moyan Brenn