Istanbul is a true foodie’s delight. The city offers an abundance of spices, herbs, local specialties, and of course, world-famous Turkish sweets. Much like the city itself, food-shopping experiences and venues range from the traditional to the thoroughly modern.
One of the city’s best-known food shopping and tourist destinations is the Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar). Built during the 1660s as a part of the Yeni Camii mosque complex, today it is a colorful, crowded market full of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meats, local cheeses, olives, and pastırma (cured meat), as well as a fair number of touristic trinkets.
Within the Spice Bazaar, one of the best known shops is Malatya Pazarı, which dates back to 1870 and sells a variety of dried fruits and nuts, lokum (Turkish Delight), pekmez (molasses made from grapes or other fruits), and various other sweets. While this is their best-known location, there are also several other branches in the vicinity. Another noteworthy store is Urfa Pazarı, which carries an excellent selection of regional Turkish specialty foods, such as cured meat pastırma from Kayseri and honey from Siirt. For all kinds of spices, visit Ayfer Kaur, whose sahlep mix comes highly recommended. Just around the corner from the Spice Bazaar, you’ll find Kuru Kahveci Mehmet Efendi, which carries the best Turkish coffee beans. Just follow your nose, you won’t be disappointed.
Another traditional food shopping venue is the Balık Pazarı, which means “fish market”, located in Galatasaray just next to the Çiçek Pasajı. Despite the name, you’ll find much more than fish at this traditional and atmospheric market. There is a vast selection of produce, including hard-to-find items like tere (garden cress), Beluga caviar, and crème fraîche. Other products include fresh duck, geese, turkey, quail, regional cheeses, farm eggs, herbs, and spices. The selection of fish varies by the season — winter brings tuna and swordfish, while in summer, you can find fresh salmon and trout at reasonable prices.
If you’re after a sugar rush, Istanbul offers an abundance of options that will satisfy even the most ravenous sweets lover. For deliciously gooey baklava, head to Karaköy Güllüoğlu, considered by many to make the best baklava in the city. Güllüoğlu still uses its original 1871 recipe, although now there are many varieties available, including chocolate baklava, and şöbiyet, a flaky, triangle-shaped pastry stuffed with pistachios and cream.
For a wide range of traditional Turkish sweets, head to Şekerci Cafer Erol, a virtual treasure trove of treats. The company has been on the sweets scene since 1807, which gives it considerable weight as a brand. Choose from lokum (Turkish delight), akide şekeri (hard candies), ezmeler (Turkish marzipan), jöle (soft fruit-flavored jellies), draje (sugar coated nuts), and their special line of chocolate. Another excellent option for hard candy and chocolates is Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir, a family-run business that has been around for hundreds of years.
Cemilzade is also a very well-known purveyor of Turkish sweets. Founded in 1883, Cemilzade’s dessert chefs still make their lokum in small batches, according to the original recipe. For the traditional Turkish delicacy kestane şekeri (chestnuts cooked in sweet syrup), try Kafkas, which specializes in candied chestnuts. Their products can be found in their own stores as well as in many grocers.
While many visitors will enjoy shopping in these atmospheric markets, there are also many stylish and modern stores where you can pick up Turkish specialties. One of Istanbul’s best Turkish delight shops, Lokum Istanbul offers updated versions of Turkish delights in a high-end and tasteful setting (they now also have a London boutique). Their lokum are available in a range of classic and unique flavors, including pistachio, ginger, lemon, cinnamon, rosewater, mint, fig-walnut, and violet. You can also pick up the Turkish hard candies known as akide in lavender, cinnamon, violet, mint, lemon, bergamot, fig, and ginger. Even better, all of their sweets come in beautiful high-end packaging, finished with grosgrain ribbons, some boxes playfully shaped like a fez or tambourine. While you’re here, you can also pick up the book Lokum, which tells you everything you ever wanted to know about Turkish delights. Selamlique is another stylish store, which offers Turkish coffee with a twist, in flavors such as chocolate, cinnamon, or mastic.
For quality Turkish olive oil and other gourmet products, you can drop by TA-ZE on the city’s Asian side, or the Laleli store in Bebek. Another retailer that specializes in top-quality oil olive is Nar Gourmet, where you can find special varieties of olive oil (including Early Harvest olive oil and naturally pressed olive oil), as well as olive oils flavored with various herbs and spices, including pepper, rosemary, basil, bay leaf, oregano, and mandarin orange. You can also pick up a wide range of organic vinegars, molasses, organic spices, organic teas, soaps, hazelnut and pistachio oils, dried fruit, honey, jams, and more. Nar Gourmet has a store in IstinyePark mall, and their products can also found in Armaggan and Macro stores.
To stock up on Turkish cheeses, visit Antre Gourmet in the bohemian Cihangir neighborhood. This store carries 40 varieties of regional Turkish cheese, as well as international cheese, homemade jams, baklava, and appetizers. For meat and cheese lovers, there is no better place than Namlı Gurme in Karaköy. Namlı produces a wide range of meat products, including sausages and cured meats, as well as their own cheeses, olives, and breads.
The charming and upscale Bebek neighborhood, located on the European shore of the Bosphorus, is also an excellent food-shopping destination and a good place to stock up on hard-to-find ingredients and foreign foods. The delightfully old-fashioned Meşhur Bebek Badem Ezmesi was established in 1904 at its current premises, and is best known for its almond and pistachio marzipan, while also selling a range of candies and other sweets.
Chocoist is a small shop that specializes in high-quality, home-made chocolate. You can find unique chocolates, such as Rondo A La Turco (white chocolate with tahini, pine nuts, cranberry, almond, hazelnuts, and cinnamon), and Pink Paradise (white chocolate with pink pepper, gojiberry, vanilla, rose petals, and liqueur), as well as a variety of truffles. Godiva, the world famous Belgian chocolatier, is now owned by a Turkish company, and has branches throughout Istanbul, including in Bebek (within the Chilai restaurant). Synonymous with elegant gourmet chocolate, you can stock up on everything from truffles to chocolate bars. The dark, milk, and white chocolate varieties are all mouthwateringly delicious.
Meanwhile, Bebek Brasserie and Patisserie, part of the Divan Group, has been serving customers for some 20 years, and has gained a loyal following for their excellent cakes and pastries. The entrance level is filled with Divan delights, including chocolates, cakes, and cookies. Their signature product is their Rococo Ice Cream Cake, but their marrons déguisés (chocolate covered chestnuts) are also heavenly. For fresh fish, try the spotless Bebek Balık Evi, where the specialties include bottarga, a local delicacy of cured fish roe, and lakerda, salted bonito.
THINGS TO ENJOY WHILE IN ISTANBUL
As tempting as it may be to try to pack goodies in your suitcase and take them all home with you, some things are best enjoyed in situ. These are our recommendations for things that are best to enjoy while in Istanbul.
Traditionally served on chilly winter evenings, boza is a creamy and slightly sweet yet acidic drink made from fermented wheat, and is best enjoyed at Vefa Bozacısı.
A manav is a traditional greengrocer, and despite being located in the modern IstinyePark shopping mall, the IstinyePark Park Manav offers one of the widest and best selections of fresh fruit and vegetables you will find anywhere in Istanbul. They can also vacuum-pack anything you buy for travel.