As the sun sets during Ramadan—which takes place between May 6 and June 3 this year—families and communities meet to break their fast with a meal known as iftar.Unlike some other countries with a predominantly Muslim population, eating and drinking in public during the holy month is not forbidden in Turkey. The vast majority of restaurants stay open, and in many parts of Istanbul it is hard to notice any real difference. In some of Istanbul’s more observant neighborhoods, however, many people will be more discreet when eating and drinking in public, out of respect for those who are fasting.
Ramadan culinary traditions in Turkey
A must for breaking fast, Ramazan pidesi is baked specifically during this time. This puffy and circular pita bread is made from one hundred percent white flour and adorned with sesame and nigella seeds, laying the groundwork for the rest of the meal. Look for a freshly baked Ramazan pidesi straight out of the baker’s oven as iftar time approaches.
Made from the addition of melted sugar to water, spices, and various kinds of fruit, şerbet is the thirst quencher of choice for the Ramadan period. The most notable flavor is demirhindi (tamarind), prepared with 40 different spices.
Brittle, translucent leaves of dried corn starch soaked with rose water and sweetened milk, and often garnished with pomegranate seeds and ground nuts, güllaç is the number one dessert during the month of Ramadan, thanks to its light and easily digestible nature.
The finest iftar tables in Istanbul
In Istanbul, as in other countries with a long history of Islam, Ramadan has many dimensions: for religion, family, cuisine, and culture. Because of the holiday’s importance, even those who are not fasting will often meet with family and friends for the iftar meal. This means that restaurants are much busier than usual on iftar evenings—if you have special plans, it is definitely necessary to reserve in advance. To make things easier, most restaurants and hotels offer a set menu or a cold and hot buffet during the month.
Sharing is one of the main ideas of iftar. In collaboration with ShareTheMeal—an initiative of the United Nations World Food Programme—each guest of the iftar buffet at IST TOO will make a donation for two children in need of food. Serving various kind of iftar dishes, şerbet, and pastries, the buffet is accompanied by live traditional Turkish music every evening. T: 0212 275 88 88; Hayrettin İskelesi Sokak No.1, Beşiktaş; www.shangri-la.com
Serving traditional iftar dishes and dessert, the buffet at Atelier Real Food restaurant is 195 TL per person. Children between the ages of six to 12 have a 50 percent discount; the meal is free for those under the age of six. Five TL from each order will be donated to the Guide Dogs Association. İftar events organized for companies start from 165 TL per person. T: 0212 334 41 88; Askerocagi Caddesi No.6, Sisli; www.ritzcarlton.com
Çırağan Palace Kempinski
In the Ottoman palace hotel on the Bosphorus, waterfront Tuğra restaurant offers iftar menu at the price of 410 TL per person, including şerbet, tea, coffee, and juice. With 320 TL, you can enjoy the open buffet at Laledan restaurant. Call 0212 236 73 33 for reservations.
For those who want to organize private iftar events at Çırağan Palace Kempinski, call 0212 326 45 45 for more information. From May 6 to June 3, the Ramadan accommodation package starts from the price of 357 Euro per night, including open buffet meals at Laledan restaurant; call 0212 326 45 00 for details. Çırağan Caddesi No.32, Beşiktaş; www.kempinski.com
The four Divan hotels in the city offer different iftar menus. The open buffet at Divan Istanbul is 189 TL per person. The set menu at Divan Istanbul City starts from 99 TL, including soup, olive oil dishes, main course, and dessert. The open buffet costs 99 TL at Divan Suites Istanbul G-Plus and 119 TL at Divan Istanbul Asia. If a full meal is not what you’re looking for, try some of the sweets from the renowned Divan Patisserie. www.divan.com.tr
The iftar buffet at Rocca restaurant serves iconic Turkish dishes such as gözleme, mantı, lahmacun, pide, döner, and grilled meat. For guests who crave a nostalgic vibe, şerbet will be served by waiters in traditional clothing. Guests can also experience a feast of tastes and fragrances in the spice corner. Including unlimited beverages and tea, the iftar menu is 275 TL per person; 50 percent discount for children between 6-12 years old; free for ages 0-6. T: 0212 924 02 00; Zorlu Center, Zincirlikuyu; www.raffles.com/istanbul
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul
Two restaurants at Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus provide iftar specials. At Aqua, you can enjoy an open buffet as well as the performance of whirling dervishes and receive Turkish marbling and calligraphy works as gifts. At Ocakbaşı, the special menu is accompanied by soft drinks, coffee, and tea. The restaurant also organizes iftar tables for companies and large groups. T: 0552 381 11 11; Çırağan Caddesi No.28, Beşiktaş; www.fourseasons.com/bosphorus
Seasons Restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel at Sultanahmet invites guests to its outdoor courtyard to enjoy traditional flavors in greenery. The buffet menu is prepared weekly, offering diverse tastes during the month of Ramadan. Different options are also provided to groups and companies. T: 0212 402 31 50; Tevkifhane Sokak No.1, Sultanahmet; www.fourseasons.com/istanbul
Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
Accompanied by classical Turkish music, the iftar buffet at Stations restaurant costs 195 TL per person. T: 0212 403 85 00; Büyükdere Caddesi No.76, Mecidiyeköy; fairmont.com/istanbul
Hilton Istanbul Maslak
At Hilton Istanbul Maslak, you can choose from five different set menus and the open buffet for your iftar dinner, where traditional dishes are blended with modern touches. Büyükdere Caddesi No.233, Maslak; T: 0212 305 10 00; www.istanbulmaklak.hilton.com
At Izaka restaurant and bar, you can enjoy Turkish and Ottoman cuisine with a Bosphorus view. Prepared by executive chef Eyüp Çeviklarıs, Izaka offers three choices for iftar: the open buffet (225 TL per person) and two set menus at the price of 190 TL and 210 TL. T: 0212 377 88 88, 0212 377 87 73; İnönü Caddesi No.8, Gümüşsuyu; www.izakaistanbul.com