While backpacking nobody wants to pay too much for meals. Happily, Istanbul has plenty of delicious food options that you can find everywhere for a reasonable price.
1. Köfte (Meatball)
Turkish cuisine becomes even rich when it comes to meatballs. There are about 50 different types of meatballs such as İzmir Köfte, İnegöl Köfte, Kadınbudu Köfte, etc. The best ones in the city are found in Sultanahmet for, maximum, 15 TL with a drink. “Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta” just near the tram stop, is the first producer of famous Sultanahmet meatballs. As an alternative, Galata Köftecisi in Galata would also be a good choice.
2. Mantı (Dumpling)
The stunning taste coming from dough wrapped around boiled meat is a must-try meal in Turkish cuisine. You will be addicted to mantı, which are sized like tortellini, steamed or friend, served with yoghurt and (optional but hugely recommended) spicy sauce on top. You can try it at “Minda Mantı ve Ev Yemekleri” on Sıraselviler Avenue in Cihangir.
Pide, which originated in the Black Sea region, is somewhat like a Turkish pizza – a dough-based dish covered by cheese and other options, such as ground meat, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc. It is the best way to feel extremely full, extremely cheaply. You can have one of the best in Şimşek Karadeniz Pide Salonu, a small restaurant in the Asmalı Mescit neighborhood of Taksim.
Classic, yet irreplaceable. It is made from veal, beef or chicken and served on a plate or inside a bread. My recommendation is döner inside a pita, called “tombik döner”. You can find it almost everywhere as “meat döner” and “chicken döner”. It costs 5 TL at most, chicken döner even cheaper. You can have a good one in Bambi Cafe all around the city.
Fish sandwiches are a great snack by the sea, such as in Eminönü or Karaköy. The sandwiches, called “balik ekmek,” are served off of a few boats floating on the Golden Horn, and cost only 5 TL in most places. You can easily recognize these fancy boats near the Eminönü ferry port.
6. Rice Pilaf
Would you believe me if I told you that Istanbul has restaurants that specialize in only pilaf? How about if I told you that you will find food carts full of rice and chickpeas for pilaf on-the-go? Primarily a rice dish, pilaf is served with different kinds of food, from beans to chicken. In some places you can have it for only 5 TL with ayran, the popular yogurt drink. If you see any “pilavcı” on the street, don’t miss it!
This is another take on Turkish pizza: spicy, ground meat spread on a thin crust. To do like the Turks do, you put greens inside and add lemon juice before you eat it. At only 2.5 TL per lahmacun, it would be impossible to stop if we didn’t feel like we would burst after one or two. You can find it at any kebab restaurant, but one of my favorite places for it is Borsam Taşfırın Lahmacun in Kadıköy.
Wrap is basically kebab being wrapped by a special bread called “lavaş”. They also add sauces and spices inside. So tasty, so cheap. The best wraps in the city are found in Dürümzade in on Kalyoncu Küllük Avenue in Beyoğlu and Leşker Street in Beşiktaş, which also received the appreciation of Anthony Bourdain.
Tantuni is a thinly diced beef cooked with Turkish spices in a way particular to the southern city of Mersin. It served in a simple bread, but it’s unique taste has led to a boom in buffets just for tantuni. You can enjoy it in “Suat Usta 33 Mersin Tantuni” on Istiklal Avenue.
10. Home Cooking Places (Lokanta)
If you don’t really like meat dishes, then you should try home-cooking restaurants, where you can find mainly vegetable dishes made with olive oil, such as dolma (rice stuffed sweet pepper), sarma (rice stuffed vine-leaves), beans, etc. These places are often self-service or partial-service buffets where you have a large variety of options for a very reasonable price; they are also usually non-alcoholic. You load up your plate, weigh it, and either hand it to the staff to warm it up or eat it as-is. Balkan Lokantası in Akmaz Çeşme Street in Beşiktaş is my favourite.