What to eat in Istanbul

May 18, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. ET

In addition to being a cultural, religious and historical capital of the world, Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, is a food lover's paradise. Get the skinny on what local specialties to try while you're there.

What to eat in Istanbul - Baklava and more!

While exploring the incredible churches, mosques, baths, and monuments of Istanbul, you will be lured by the sights and smells of the food coming out of every restaurant and street cart. Simple, fresh food is the name of the game here, and there are treats to satisfy meat-eaters, vegetarians and sweet lovers alike. Don’t miss a trip to the bustling spice market, where many of these specialties are available. Here is a small sampling of some of the most iconic Turkish dishes to watch for:

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Hundreds of thin layers of delicate phyllo dough are stacked together along with honey and nuts to create one of Turkey's most famous desserts. Prepare to be amazed by the sheer variety of baklava available, which comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors in Istanbul. Walnut and pistachio variations are most common.


These savory phyllo pastries also come in a variety of shapes and with many different fillings. They can look like turnovers, cigars or even lasagna and are typically filled with mild white cheese, vegetables (most often spinach) and/or ground meat. They can be eaten for breakfast or as a snack at any time of day.

Doner kebabDoner kebab

One of the most popular kinds of street food in Istanbul, doner kebab is what is known as shawarma in the rest of the world. Compressed chicken, beef or lamb is pressed onto a large spit, roasted and shaved. Get it in a pita, tortilla-style wrap or on a sandwich.


These spiced Turkish meatballs are another delicious meat dish. Usually made with ground beef or lamb, they are flatter and smaller than the usual meatballs. Kofte are typically grilled and served on a pita.


Better known as Turkish delights, these chewy, sweet confections are another specialty of the region. If you've only had stale Turkish delights that pull out your fillings, give them another go in their native land. You won't be disappointed. They come in a variety of flavors, from pistachio to rosewater and coffee to pomegranate.


These tiny meat-stuffed dumplings are a must try. They are usually boiled or steamed and topped with a sauce made from yogurt, butter and garlic. Manti resemble mini tortellini and make for a filling meal.


A rich milk pudding, be sure to sample muhallebi while in Istanbul. There are entire shops, called Muhallebicisi, devoted to this sweet dessert. Have your pick of flavors like orange blossom water and mastic.

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