Must-eat places in Istanbul with vegan options too!

"Balik Ekmek!! Balik Ekmek!!", shouts the ferry vendors hoisted near the Eminonu Terminal. The strong smell of sea, mixed with the grilled mackerel and bread is an enticing aroma to remember.

Food has always been a serious business in Istanbul. Every single day, the locals go for their daily jobs, carrying a sesame-crusted simit in one hand or spending a few minutes wiping down that creamy menemen with a piece of bread. The origins of the true Turkish cuisine began in the palace kitchens of the sultans where the most commonly cooked food was grilled lamb. The recipes were expanded with the introduction of meze platter along with various other meats and baked items. If you travel back in history, know that the first order of business for the Ottoman government in the Middle Ages was the provisioning of wheat for the city of Istanbul.

Even after decades, the traditions hold its ground in some of the restaurants. Although tourism has changed the way Turkish restaurants sources and prepares its food, we can still enjoy some of its authenticity if we avoid the touristy restaurants and search the ones in the deep lanes of Istanbul.

A disclaimer before you proceed with our suggestions - We are NO experts when it comes to Istanbul's hidden gems for the foodgasm experience. We have compiled the list based on where we actually ate per Google reviews, Zomato, local Istanbul blogs, etc. We will provide a few food blog sites at the end of our article to help you navigate through more options. :)

Breakfast Joints

Kadirga Café

Where - Şehsuvar Bey, No: Kadırga Limanı Cd. No:64, 34130 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

Known For - Different types of menemen

Vegan Options - Corba Soup, French Fries, Salad, Vegetarian Kabab, Tea

Cost for two - 30 - 40 TL

Being just 100 m away from my hotel and adjacent to Kadirga Park, this restaurant was my go-to restaurant for breakfast. Tomato and paprika menemen, corba soup, and tea are the highlights for me. The corba soup (lentil soup) was delicious!! Never knew a simple lentil soup could taste so good. ;-) The ambiance is very cozy with rugs spread over the tables and the local news channel tuned in. The only regret I have is not bringing in my laptop to work from here while sipping on my tea in the cold weather.

Bonus - The owner's son is a delight to look at. ;-)

Lades Menemen

Where - Katip Mustafa Çelebi Mahallesi, İstiklal Caddesi, Sadri Alışık Sokak, No 11, Beyoğlu, İstanbul

Known For - Different types of menemen

Vegan Options - Corba Soup, Tea, Salad

Typical cost for two - 30 - 40 TL

Based on Mark Wein's recommendation over his YouTube channel, I strutted off to this place for breakfast from Sultanahmet to Taksim Square. Having been already swept away with the Menemen I was having near my hotel and I was excited to see what was different about this restaurant. Needless to say, it definitely lived up to my expectations!! I absolutely loved the sade menemen (tomato, pepper, egg)!! And that cream and honey dish. I visited twice to have another sinful experience.

If you don't have time to go to a cafe or restaurant for breakfast, have simit/roasted corn from any of the hundreds of stalls placed in every corner of the city. A plain simit costs 2 TL, with Nutella - 4 TL. An ear of half-roasted corn would have you pay 5 TL.

Lunch/Dinner Joints

Zübeyir Ocakbaşı

Where - Şehit Muhtar Mahallesi, İstiklal Caddesi, Bekar Sokak, No 28, Beyoğlu, İstanbul

Known For - Grilled lamb chops, shish kababs

Vegan Options - Grilled Red Pepper, Roasted Aubergines, Fruits, Beer

Cost for two - 80 - 140 TL

On a rainy night, we simply decided to enter the restaurant and was fortunate enough to have been provided a table near the grilling station. Reservations are mandatory to dine here. We had to face the heat of the grilling since there were no other tables available. Ordered lamb ribs, chicken wings, shish kabab, and a beer. Every single dish was excellent. The meat was falling off the bone without exerting any pressure from the teeth. The meat was fresh and of good quality. The ambiance was lively and cozy. Perfect dinner for a cold night.

Şehzade Cağ Kebap

Where - Hocapaşa Mahallesi, Hocapaşa Sokak, No: 6, Fatih, İstanbul

Known For - Cag kebabs, Kadayif Dolmaci (dessert)

Vegan Options - Corba Soup, Tea, Salad

Cost for two - 60 - 80 TL

Another restaurant suggested by Mark Weins, made it to our list. The restaurant primarily serves cag kebabs consisting of lamb meat. Juicy and succulent pieces of cag kebabs were mind-blowingly delicious!! We were skeptical to try it out but we didn't hesitate to order again when we realized this might be our one-time experience in this lifetime. The dessert dolmaci was equally refreshing and amazing!

Balıkçı Lokantası

Where - Rasimpaşa Mahallesi, Rıhtım Caddesi, Tayyareci Sami Sokak, No: 20/B, Kadıköy, İstanbul

Known For - Different seafoods

Vegan Options - Corba Soup, Tea, Salad

Cost for two - 100 - 200 TL

Another recommended restaurant by Mark Weins did not disappoint me at all! A bit on the costlier side, the restaurant is located near the Kadikoy ferry terminal. I ordered a fresh salad, grilled mackerel and I guess another dish was kingfish which was brought in a sizzling iron pan. Both the dishes were equally delicious and very fresh. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and chili powder and you have the perfect combination of satisfaction. :)