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  • Nia Alexander Campbell

Çay, Waffles, Döner, & Ice Cream

What You’ll Find in This Post:

  • The kind of food I found in Istanbul

  • The types of restaurants, street food and markets I encountered in Istanbul


Does anyone else feel like the baklava is smiling too?

Food in Istanbul was easy to find, affordable, and versatile. There was something for everyone, which was very exciting coming from your resident lactose intolerant pescatarian with oral food allergies. This is a very simple post, you guys, so tell you what: I’ll just get right into listing the deets.

Drinking çay at Çiya Sofrasi. We stayed so long, talking after eating, that the waiter was confused as to whether we had been served already.


Çay—pronounced “chai”—is Turkish for “tea. It’s a kind of black tea that was always served in a small, curvy glass with a saucer, often after a meal. When it was served after a meal, it was always complimentary. That said, çay could just as easily be a part of your meal or drank solo in place of coffee. I found this cool because it was totally normal to just roll up in any restaurant, especially ones with outdoor seating, and order only çay. Çay just seemed to promote a very casual, chill, easygoing, welcoming atmosphere.

Hey, and here’s a fun fact for you: Turkey has been one of the world’s most tea consuming and tea producing countries in the world in the 21st century.

Lahmacun at Çiya Kebap. Mine is vegetable & herb, my partner’s is minced lamb or beef.

Plenty of options for vegetarians

I would rank Turkey right under Morocco when it came to how many vegetarian dishes were easily available. One of my favorites was lahmacun because it was cheap and light, the perfect thing to eat when you want a sit-down snack. There were also a considerable number of purely dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants, especially in the hip area of Kadıköy.

Lots of seafood

There were plenty of seafood options both in sit down restaurants and tiny fried fish joints along the Bosporus. I’ll be real with you, though, the fish sandwiches smelled good—and the one bite I had tasted good—but I couldn’t finish the whole sandwich because the fried fishes had eyes. However, my partner—who is not at all a fan of seafood—ate the whole thing and enjoyed it. Though . . . I can’t tell if that’s a good sign or a bad one.


Plain pistachio and chocolate baklava from Karaköy Güllüoğlu


We got baklava from Karaköy Güllüoğlu, which had plenty of options and the ones we tried were really good. What’s best is that they give you the option to vacuum seal your purchase so that you can transport it internationally.

Turkish ice cream I got near Galata Tower

Ice cream

Turkish ice cream, also called dondurma, is not only a good dessert, but an experience. I got lemon and caramel flavor, which I’d never seen before. It was great! Turkish ice cream is one of my favorite desserts for two reasons: 1) It’s consistency and 2) It’s not nearly as cream-heavy as other ice creams I’ve had (which means even without a lactase supplement, it’s rather easy on my tum tum).

I also tried MADO ice cream for the first time which was genuinely very good in its simplicity.

A bubble waffle my partner got near M Migros, a small grocery store in Kadıköy

There was also this thing called a bubble waffle, a very trendy dessert I saw for the first time in Istanbul. Imagine a waffle, but instead of square indentions it’s got convex bubble and comes in a cone! It came in different flavor combinations, but the one my partner got was Oreo crumbs + a bunch of other sweet, chocolatey things. I haven’t got much of a sweet tooth, so I just had a few bites, but wow, those few bites were top notch.


Some kind of meat kebap with vegetables, herbs, and some wraps in the background.

Turkish lunch/dinner restaurants

Meat, bread, vegetables, and herbs: Turkish food was essentially a variety of these things mixed up in the best ways. There were always plenty of places to get kebaps, lahmacun, and döner (like shawarma). I will say, though, we ate at Çiya Sofrasi and Çiya Kebap—one restaurant with two different buildings on opposite sides of the street—and had two very different experiences. When we ate at Çiya Sofrasi for dinner one night, it was great. When we later ate at Çiya Kebap for lunch, the food was still great, but my partner got sick later.

The Turkish breakfast we ordered near Karaköy Güllüoğlu


Turkish breakfast was pretty cool, though I will admit there wasn’t much for me to eat considering it was all meat, cheese, and olives (the latter of which I can’t stand). So, I ordered a side of eggs to go along with the platter, which worked out because I’m not much of a breakfast person. I don’t like eating so early in the morning, so for me fried eggs, jelly bread, and a little bit of cheese was perfect.

I will say, though, that the place we went—right around the corner from Karaköy Güllüoğlu—was incredibly dismissive of us at first. We kept trying to get the server’s attention, but it was a surprisingly difficult task. When we finally did get a word in with him, telling him what we wanted to order and asking where we should sit, he decided to ignore us as soon as he realized we didn’t speak Turkish. I was offended and more than content with leaving—after all, his actions were rude, language barriers be damned—but my partner convinced me to stay. Then, after about 15 minutes, we got the attention of a random waiter who took us to a table.

An omelette and . . . meat bread from SoBe Café in Kadıköy.

There were plenty of options for “standard” breakfast too. I especially liked SoBe Café. I ate here twice (getting takeout the second time) and it was fantastic. Simple & tasty, plus a very welcoming and casual atmosphere in the restaurant itself.

Unique restaurants

There were a lot of unique food spots around Istanbul, especially Kadıköy. Vegetarian places, that bubble waffle stand, random street food, and, one of my favorites: A restaurant called Crazy Flakes that sold only variants of cereal and ice cream.

Pide restaurants

Pide from Sampi Pide and Çiya Sofrasi

Pide is like pizza, but 100x better. It’s a kind of flatbread stuffed with meat and whatever else you want to throw in there. There was a Sampi Pide across the street from our apartment and it became our go-to. There were lots of unique options for meat eaters compared to American pizza and the cheese pide was way more flavorful than any cheese pizza can compare.

Fresh markets

A fish stall in Kadıköy

There were plenty of fresh food markets and shops around Istanbul. Fish, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and, my personal favorite, bakeries. My partner and I swore every day we’d get some bread from the bakery we passed every day on our way to the boat taxi hub. We never got around to it, but mark my words, next time.

Street food

My kumpir. Even for a loaded baked potato, I went a little overboard. Less is more, my friends.


One of the most exciting things was kumpir, a sort of ultimate loaded baked potato. We got them in Ortaköy, which was quite a long and crowded bus ride away from Emirgan Park, but I’m glad we went because it was a cool experience. There are at least 20 stalls selling kumpir and all the salespeople call out to you, trying to convince you to buy from their stall and not their neighbors’. Unlike every other time a salesperson or shopkeeper has yelled at me in an attempt to spend my money on their product, I wasn’t annoyed by these potato peddlers. When they did it, it genuinely came across as playful, like everyone was in on the joke, like it was part of an experience. It also helped that some of the salespeople yelling were women (in contrast to the typical brutish, arrogant salesmen I usually have yelling at me).


Istanbul had many chestnut stalls, especially around Sultanahmet. From this experience I now know I don’t like chestnuts . . . they were strangely tasteless, bland in a way I definitely didn’t expect.


Street pizza! I had never seen slices of pizza for sale on the street, aside from television shows set in New York.


Roasted corn I bought in Sultanahmet

There were two types of street corn I came across in Istanbul: Whole roasted corn and hot corn kernels. That said, I was on a personal mission to find street corn after missing out on it in Morocco. So, when I saw corn for sale outside Gülhane Park, I went for it and it was . . . awful. Yeah, that corn sucked. It was dry to the point of not being able to bite it properly and I was pulling corn strings out of my teeth for the rest of the day. The cup of corn kernels I got in Kadıköy, though, that was perfect. Some of the best corn I have ever had, and I got it on the last day.

Juice stalls

The most intense ginger juice I’ve ever encountered

There were plenty of juice stalls around Istanbul. I made the mistake of buying a ginger drink that was waaaay too strong, and that’s saying something because ginger is one of my favorite foods—I keep a bowl of dried ginger on my coffee table instead of peanuts and mints. The drink I bought though, the salesman said it was “for health” and warned me about it before I bought it. He even gave me a sample, and that sample tasted fine, but when I tried to drink a whole cup of it? A cup that was supposed to be taken as a shot? Oh no. Just sipping on it beyond sip #2 made me nauseous. I should not have been so bold. All the other juice on the street, though? That was good.

Random things

An eggplant kebap from Dürümcü Emmi

One of the most exciting moments I had was getting the bill for my first meal in Istanbul. It was so cheap for a good amount of good quality food. What was better was that every restaurant, café, food stall, and dessert bar we ate at for the next 11 days were also fantastically affordable. Istanbul was built for people ballin’ on a budget.

One of our at-home dinners. It’s essentially potatoes, meat, and bread. You’ve also got a glimpse of my MP3 player.

I recommend getting a hotel, hostel, or AirBnB with a fridge. It will really come in handy if you decide to sample a lot of foodstuffs as you walk through neighborhoods. You can always bring home leftovers and store it for a snack tomorrow! Plus, grocery stores in Istanbul—even the small corner markets—had things that would definitely be familiar to an American, so you may want to just buy some food to cook in your apartment.

Look beyond my severely clashing costume and somewhat disturbing restaurant décor and focus on the yellow barrel. There you shall find two packs of wetnaps in a smiley face package.

Every restaurant served wetnaps with their meal. It’s the little things, you guys.

Alright, that’s it

I told you guys this was a simple post. Here, I’ll leave you with this picture of a donut I bought at a Turkish mall that looks like a Muppet.

I may not be a big fan of Krispie Kreme, but I do like sprinkles and the color purple.


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