Istanbul was the climax of September’s great adventure in the Balkans with the coolest cab driver in Berlin.
Hungry and determined to eat well on the cheap, we went without a guidebook and found three places to eat and drink that I would recommend to anyone traveling to, or even living in, Istanbul:
1. BALKAN LOKANTASI: The food at this self-service cafeteria in the Sirkeci quarter near Istanbul’s main train station is cheap (spend 5 Euros and you’re full), simple and full of flavor – especially the eggplant dishes and the tomato rice.
If you don’t recognize any of the food on offer, the guys on staff are happy to explain what everything is – and if you’re as nice to them as they are to you, they’ll offer you a glass of Turkish black tea on the house. (Balkan Lokantasi, Hocapasa Mah. Hocapasa Sk. No 12 / Sirkeci, Istanbul).
2. ISKELE BALIK EVI: The fish restaurants below the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn in Istanbul may look tempting and have great views, but they’re expensive. If you love seafood and like to eat with locals, skip the fancy fish and go to the seafood bazaar at the northeast corner of the Bridge, in the Karikoy neighborhood.
A few stalls past the fish vendors, you’ll find two cheap restaurants that serve fish fresh from the market. The second of the two, Iskele Balik Evi, fries the finest salt fish filet (dil baligi) I have ever tasted – and it only costs 7 Euros. If you go after 7:30pm, the staff may be able to find some (off-menu) wine for you, but only if the police aren’t around. (Iskele Balik Evi, Fish Bazaar Stall #11, Karikoy / Istanbul)
3. TURK OCAGI CAY BAHCESI: Between the Blue Mosque and the University of Istanbul, this Turkish tea house and shisha bar sits off the street, in back of a garden that resembles a graveyard. It may not be the best place in Istanbul to drink Turkish coffee (even if you ask them to go easy on sugar, they make it very sweet), but it’s my favorite place in Istanbul to drink Turkish black tea (40 Eurocents a glass) and smoke shisha (apple tobacco, 5 Euros, with free refills).
Even though it’s on the Lonely Planet trail (we saw quite a few foreigners there with this guidebook in hand), this café is also very popular with locals, who sit and chat and smoke for hours. Watching the staff here is like watching a Turkish version of a Henry Ford assembly line – every person does only one job (serving tea, distributing water pipes, refilling tobacco, clearing tables) and does it very well. (Türk Ocagi Cay Bahcesi, Cemberlitas Divanyolu Cad. No 82, Eminonu / Istanbul)
How about you? Know any good places to eat and/or drink in Istanbul? Feel free to share your favorites!