There’s a lot to love about Turkish food. The succulent meats, aromatic spices, toasty breads and fresh ingredients, all coming together to sock you in the mouth with a punch of flavour.
Istanbul certainly has no shortage of tasty meals but you really don’t have to spend a lot to experience them. In fact, you’ll find most of the best eats will cost you next to nothing – you just have to know where to look.
Here’s a list of my favourite cheap eats from around Turkey’s most vibrant and populous city; Istanbul.
Lahmacun is a Turkish-style pizza made up of minced meat, minced vegetables and herbs, all spread across a thin piece of dough. These make for a great snack as they’re light, tasty and ridiculously cheap. Typically served with a small salad and wedge of lemon, these tasty little critters won’t cost you any more than 3TRY each. Just make sure you order at least two as one will only leave you wanting more.
You can find Börek in quite a few countries, usually just with slight variations in name or spelling. One thing that remains the same though is the feeling you get when taking your first bite of that wonderfully buttery, flaky pastry. Börek comes in a variety of fillings and although appears light, is usually quite rich. Just a little something to bear in mind before ordering that half kilo.
There are a lot of places in Istanbul you can find Börek but finding one that’s both good and cheap is just that little bit more challenging. I used to frequent a place called Kaiş Börekçisi. The price is fair at only 4TRY and the quality and flavours are superb.
If you don’t eat meat and find the cheese just a tad too rich, try the potato option for an equally delicious alternative. A fairly decent baclava is also available if you feel a sudden craving come on.
Kaiş Börekçisi – Bülbül, Turan Cd. No 50, Beyoğlu/İstanbul.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not opposed to vegetarian but the meat-free option for me isn’t often considered. The falafel from ŞamKapasi however is so good, I’d pick it over many of the meat kebaps I’ve come across, any day of the week – it’s just that good.
The place however is quite hard to find. It’s a small, hole-in-the-wall type eatery with the entire shopfront’s signage in Arabic, so make sure you keep an eye out otherwise you’re sure to miss it. The very friendly owners also speak very little English, so prepare to point and mime your order.
First, choose a plate or wrap. Next, watch the salads and sauces combine while your freshly made falafels take a dive in oil. Lastly, tip your head back, open your mouth, and savour that first, heavenly bite.
Combined with the crunch of the salad, the creamy mayonnaise and the zing from the chilli, this falafel is the real deal. And at 5TRY, it’s an absolute steal.
ŞamKapasi – Kocatepe Mah, Dolapdere Taksim Cd., G2, Taksim/İstanbul.
The perfect late-night snack, these steamed burgers are exactly what you need to soak up those extra few drinks you promised yourself you wouldn’t have.
Coated in a tomato spice paste, these little pillows of awesome encase a garlic meat patty which guarantees you a one metre bad-breath-barrier for the remainder of the night.
There’s a tonne of kebap shops offering these but none as popular as Kizilkayalar Hamburger in the centre of Taksim Square. Although not the most traditional item on the menu it won’t bother you one bit, especially at only 3.5TRY. Just make sure you grab enough serviettes for the stumble home.
Kizilkayalar Hamburger – Katip Çelebi Mh., Sıraselviler Cd., Beyoğlu/İstanbul.
Syrian isn’t actually a cuisine I’d heard much about before arriving in Istanbul. I’d alike it a lot to Lebanese food, which isn’t much of a surprise given both countries’ proximity to one another.
A friend insisted I try the chicken shawarma at a place called Alrayan and boy was I glad I did. Sure, the chicken is nice but in my opinion not the star of the show. It’s the creamy garlic mayonnaise, crunchy zesty pickles and warm crispy bread, dabbed in the chicken’s fatty juices that make this extremely tasty wrap the legendary feed that it is.
Prepare to wait as they’re usually quite busy, but at a measly 4TRY each, it’s easy to understand why.
Alrayan – Şht. Muhtar, Atıf Yılmaz Cd., No 14, Beyoğlu/İstanbul.
You’ll see köfte ekmek stands popping up all over Istanbul long after the sun goes down. The first thing you’ll see is the smoke signals coming from the grill, followed by the smell of grilled meat filling your nostrils, right before hearing the sweet sound of köfte sizzling on the grill.
Choose between wrap or roll, onion, tomato, parsley and chilli. These bad boys pack a lot of flavour and value for such a simple snack at only 5TRY.
If you have a low tolerance to chilli make sure to ask for it without. It can really pack a punch!
The chicken and chickpea rice cart glows in the night like a beacon for the hungry. Misleadingly bland in appearance, the rice is actually really flavoursome while the chicken manages to remain sufficiently moist.
Servings are generous considering the price and a perfect in-between snack or light meal for dinner. Ketchup is usually offered but in my opinion not required.
Grab a tub for 3TRY and request a few pickled chillies while you’re at it. Just make sure you keep an eye out as vendor times and locations tend to vary.
Ok, so lentil soup may not sound like the most exciting dish but there’s something special about the way the Turkish do it.
Especially enjoyable on a cold day, the mercimek çorbasi is steaming hot and wonderfully spiced, often accompanied with some bread to dunk and mop.
Haci Kebap Salonu & Dürümcü do a particularly nice one and for very cheap, at only 4TRY a serve.
Haci Kebap Salonu & Dürümcü – Şehit Muhtar Mahallesi, Turan Cd., No 12, Beyoğlu/İstanbul.
Adana Kebap Dürüm
How could I create a list of Istanbul’s best cheap eats without including at least one kebap? These can be found all over Istanbul but in my opinion the best can be found at a place called Mangal Keyfi.
The cosy setting invites you in for a seat, while the smells of charcoaled meats and vegetables pouring in from the kitchen make you want to order without wasting any time looking at a menu.
If you’re on a budget or a light eater, try the adana dürümler for 8.5TRY. It provides the perfect combination of fresh ingredients, toasty bread and deliciously juicy meat. If you can afford the extra money and have a monster hunger, try the karışık kebap or “mixed grill” for 27TRY; it’s worth every lira. Wash it all down with an ayran yoghurt drink for the complete Turkish experience.
Mangal Keyfi – Şht. Muhtar, Öğüt Sk. No 8, Beyoğlu/İstanbul.
What have I missed that should have made the list? Comment below.