taksim/taksim


The area surrounding Taksim square, and especially the side and back streets of İstiklal Caddesi, the pedestrian street with the red tram, are filled with great places for food, really far too many of them to even count...

Not so many taverns (those are to be found closer to Galatasaray - see post here >>>) and Tünel (see post here >>>), however lots of cafes and restaurants, some also serving wine and beer. All of them serve good food in a nice ambiance. I have seldom been disappointed, so I cannot really single just a few out of the crowd and make special recommendations.

You do need to be aware that Taksim and İstiklal are very crowded throughout the day and especially in the evenings, weeknights included. (Local consumer reports put the number of unique visitors to the avenue at somewhere between 2.5 and 3 million over the course of any given weekend of the year). In recent years the area has also become very popular with visitors from all over the globe, so they too will be adding to the local crowds during the summer months. 


View Taksim food places in a larger map


Istikal Caddesi is almost 2 kilometers long, with very narrow blocks, so there are lots of side streets going in both directions. Almost all of them are lined with cafes, I just took a couple of random shots to give you an idea of what you will find.

Kurabiye Sokak (Cookie Street in Turkish) is a particularly pleasant (and relatively quiet) back street running parallel to İstiklal on which you will find a number of restaurants, including one or two which are vegetarian. Zencefil, which is semi-vegetarian, is one of the nicest on the block.

Eating at the side street cafes will cost between 8 and 20 Euros for a meal with soft drinks, wine/beer will add to the bill. The restaurants on Kurabiye Sokak may be a bit more expensive, so for those you should calculate up to 25 Euros for a meal, and again add to that for wine and beer.


Two self-service restaurants directly on İstiklal Caddesi are worthy of an extra mention: Afacan Restaurant and Borsa Lokantası both serve Istanbul cuisine all day long. While the ambiance may not be terribly inspiring, the quality of the food, as well as the low prices will probably make up for this lack, especially if you are looking for a fast, filling meal, which with soft drinks will cost between 7 and 12 Euros at either one.

Hacı Baba, (separate post is here >>>) on İstiklal, on the left side of the avenue as you enter from Taksim, is a very well known, almost 100 year old tavern especially renowned for its very good food, which is typical Istanbul cuisine, and not only for the meze but also the main courses. Hacibaba is in just about every Istanbul guide book, and deservedly so. The result is however, that you will always see more visitors than local folk when you are there. A full meal, with raki or wine will cost from 45 to 60 Euros - but money well spent!

Not exactly food, but nonetheless something to watch out for on İstiklal Caddesi is the Rebul pharmacy: This place is renowned for lavender water (which is indigenous to Asia Minor) and all sorts of other body products which may make for some very cool gifts at relatively low cost.

And finally, no post on food places near Taksim would be complete without a mention of Hacı Abdullah Restaurant, for which there is a separate post here >>>.

karaköy

When you take the red tram all the way to the other end of the line from Taksim this will set you off in front of Tünel, from where you can take a one stop ride on the metro which takes you down to the harbor at Karaköy, which is a small but nice area for food. And added to the food attractions, Karaköy is also one of the locations from where you can take the ferry across to Kadiköy on the Asian side. 

Fish taverns on the Karaköy waterfront. And no, this is not downtown Odessa! For some reason some of the taverns on the Karaköy waterfront have become a favorite meeting locale of the Russian community living in Istanbul, and of course visitors from Russia too. And as for food/drink prices look at this image here >>>, but to sum up - roughly 30 to 40 Euros.

Walking just a few steps across a small square from the waterfront will take you to a row of 4 cafes which I think make a "food" visit to Karaköy very worthwhile indeed:


Namlı who is one of Turkey's biggest cold cuts manufacturers has set up a big shop with a cafe where you can shop and also eat. Not only cold cuts but also all kinds of cheeses (which are all local) and a huge selection of salads and tapas as well.


Güllüoğlu is one of Istanbul's best baklava shops and although there are plenty of places which proclaim to be Güllüoğlu, the real thing is only to be found in Karaköy. Right next door, Çerkezköy is another very well known deli and cold cuts manufaturer and they too have set up a shop/cafe in Karaköy (check out an image of their salads here >>>) Eating at these cafes (none of which serve alcohol by the way) will cost from 8 to 15 Euros.

Walking down the street a block or so from the 4 cafes above you will come to Karaköy Lokantası, probably my fave restaurant in all of Istanbul. Despite the fancy decor this is actually just a straightforward tavern, where a rakı meal will cost between 30 and 50 Euros.

Liman Lokantası is an old and very well known tavern which is located in one of the harbor administration buildings, with an amazing view over the harbor and very good food. They have a fixed menu which is 100YTL (about 40 Euros), which covers unlimited tapas, unlimited local alcoholic drinks, a choice from 3 main courses and dessert - which I would say make this one of the best deals in town! Visit their website for reservations here >>>.

local wines

Before all else I have to own up to the fact that I am not much of a wine drinker - or any kind of a drinker, for that matter. If/when I do have a drink it is usually raki, and that only once in a great while. So, in order to make this post I took some expert counsel from my sister Fatma and my brother-in-law Can, who are the wine connoisseurs in my family ;-).

The wine shelf at my grocery store shows a selection of some of the more popular local wines.

Although it may seem somewhat unexpected in a Muslim country, nonetheless Turkey has a strong agricultural tradition in winery, which goes back for millennia and has flourished during the Ottoman reign also. Historically there have been numerous Sufi Muslim sects which have delighted in wine (as Khayyam's poems are evidence of), and also of course the Greek Christian population of the empire hugely contributed to the upkeep of the wine industry in Asia Minor. With the founding of the republic in 1923 however, large scale commercial wineries were also initiated, of which Kavaklıdere (site here >>>) still remains as one of the largest.

Although wine is not as popular as raki or beer, it is nonetheless a good contender - to the point where according to wikipedia in the first half of 2009, wine consumption in Turkey reached 20,906,762 litres. And not only that - in recent decades Turkish wines are increasingly becoming international award winners and are being widely exported. While wine from all over the world is imported, Turkish wines still manage to compete very well in the local market, and not only in terms of price but also in terms of quality. An excellent website for local wines is vinografi (site here >>>). Unfortunately this site is in Turkish, however you may be able to make sense of it with google translate. (Note: When I searched for a website on Turkish wines in English I also came across this one here >>>, which seems to be quite a nice one as well).

While international grapes are widely used, Turkey also has a number of grapes which are indigenous to the soil. Famous amongst them are Kalecik Karası (read more here >>>), Öküzgözü (read more here >>>), Narince (read more here >>>), Emir (read more here >>>), and Karalahna (read more here >>>).

What follows are images of the output of three selected vineyards which I was especially told by my advisers to mention:

A mixture of local and international grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Karalahna and Öküzgözü are grown to make the Corvus wines which originate from a small island in the northern Aegeis, Bozcaada: http://www.corvus.com.tr/v2/en-US/. The price of a bottle of Corvus wine in a restaurant will vary from 40 to 50 Euros, depending upon vintage.

Kavklıdere Selection is a range of limited edition wines which are made from a blend of grapes which also include Turkish varieties such as Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karası and Narince. A bottle of these at a restaurant will be from 40 to 50 Euros. Kavaklıdere also has cheaper ranges which I was told are perfectly acceptable, notably Ancyra and Yakut, and a bottle of these will cost around 20 to 30 Euros in a restaurant. And here is an extra tip from my sister: Keep a special look out for Egeo which is also brought out by Kavaklıdere. Not a cheap tipple she says, but apparently worth every penny spent. 

Sarafin is a range of fine wines which are produced by Doluca, one of the biggest wineries in Turkey (site here >>>). These will set you back between 40 and 50 Euros in a restaurant. However, Doluca has plenty of more modestly priced wines as well, and the ones to look for are DLC, Villa Doluca and Antik, which will be from 20 to 30 Euros in a restaurant.
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