If you are in any of the tourist areas, there are a lot of dining options that are generally expensive and cater to the tourist crowd. But there are also a lot of very cheap, street food options that make it easy to grab some food on food on the go and continue to sightsee, take back to your room to enjoy or enjoy picnic style. What we saw was a lot of roasted chestnuts which I thought was little strange because I thought those were a winter food but those stands seemed pretty popular! Corn on the cob was also a fixture on most streets as was simit (kind of like a bagel with toasted sesame seeds on top and sometimes filled with olive paste). The most popular however was definitely the döner kepabs. Here, we call it schwarma. But it’s meat that’s cooked basically on a vertical rotisserie. It’s usually chicken but it can be lamb too. J ate a lot of döner. They are usually served in a pita like bread but some of the stands but them in a big bun. J thought that was too much bread and it took away from the taste of the meat. The price of the street food seemed to depend on how “toursity” the area you were in or sometimes even the time of day that you were getting food! But generally you can pick up any of these items from 2 to 9 lira (about $1.15 -$5.00 US).
The same was true about a glass of beer as well. The local turkish and on tap everywhere brew is Efes. It’s a pilsnen that was generally smooth nor overly bitter and I personally enjoyed it much more than the Czech Urquell (also a pislner). Now, if you were getting a brew, say at one of the tourist restaurants outside the Grand Bazzar you could pay as much as 19 lira ($10.50 US) for a 500ml (about a pint) of draft! Most other places the price was around 5-8 lira and a bit cheaper if you wanted a double.
So where would I recommend you head? One of our favorite places was the Red River Pub. A beer there cost 8 lira ($4.50 US) the food was good and the service staff were very friendly. Bonus, they had free wifi to check facebook. Oh and the people watching was FANTASTIC. Also, it was just down the hill from the Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace so we stopped in to have a brew and relax several times during our stay.
Another must in Istanbul is to enjoy the spectacular view from a rooftop restaurant. We went to The Byzantium Hotel and had lunch on their rooftop terrace (choice of indoor or outdoor) after wandering through the Basilica Cistern. The meal was so so and kind of spendy (about $50 US fo the two of us with beers) but the atmosphere was pretty chill and again, the view was spectacular.
For a quick, cheap meal that’s not street food there’s a chain called Simit Sarayi. There red signs are pretty easy to spot and their food is pretty tasty. They have yummy sandwiches, mini pizzas and pastries that are all ready made and they’ll heat up for you.
Last, but not least, some advice on Turkish sweets. Do try them!! Eat lots of turkish delight! Try the rose flavor one. And the pistachio. And the double pistachio! They really like their pistachios, btw. And have some baklava! In Turkey the baklava is made with pistachios as well, btw. Ohh and the figs that are stuffed with walnuts…yum!!! But get your sweet fix from a bakery or sweetshop! You’ll pay less than if you pick them up from the hawkers at the Grand Bazzar or the Spice Market.
Hope you make it to Istanbul sometime soon!