Eating Your Way Through Istanbul’s Kebabs

Vegetarians, be warned! While Turkey has plenty to offer you, from falafel to stuffed grape leaves, it’s time to focus on purely about Istanbul’s signature dish: the meat kebab. What exactly is a kebab, you may ask? While we hear about “kebabs” in everything from shish kebab (on a stick) form to the döner (inside bread), the traditional kebab in the Middle East simply means meat cooked over flames, served in a variety of styles, served on plates or in sandwiches. While you will find chicken or beef kebabs, the traditional Turkish kebab meat is lamb. I spent a long weekend in Istanbul with one my main missions set as finding the most flavorful, satisfying and all around awesome kebabs (döner or otherwise) in the whole city! Here were some of my finds:

Kasap Osman When it comes to the döner, these sandwiches really are a dime a dozen in Istanbul, as you will find them around literally every corner. But of those I tried, none compared to those at Kasap Osman! Right around the corner from the Sirkeci train station, this little restaurant serves up perfectly spiced lamb kebabs either as a sandwich or as an Iskender kebab over chopped flatbread with peppers, tomatoes, tomato sauce and then quick-fired in the oven to crisp up the bread and meld all the flavors together. A dollop of yogurt balances everything out perfectly.

Hocapa?a Sokak 22, Sirkeci, +90 212 519 3216

Ciya Kebap This spot is notable for its variety of kebabs on the menu. You’ll find kebabs made with pistachios and poppy seeds, a mixed version with 3 kinds of meat and a “sour kebab” with shallots, eggplant, pomegranate syrup and tomato paste. They even have several vegetarian options for those non-meat inclined! You’ll never have enough time to try all the variations on the classic dish here, but definitely give it your best shot!

Güne?libahçe Sokak 43, Kadiköy, +90 216 330 3190

Durumzade This place focuses on the durum- or kebab wrapped in lavash, a Turkish tortilla. They’re located right near nightlife so it’s a great pick for a late-night snack, but this durum is equally fantastic at any time of day. The standout here is the lavash which is rubbed with spices and provides a great chewy texture around the tasty chicken, beef or lamb meat inside.

Kalyoncu Kulluk Cad. 26/A Beyoglu 212-249-0147

Zubeyir Atmosphere and excellent food make this restaurant a total standout in the Istanbul kebab scene. If you’re looking for an experience of a meal, this is the place to go- it’s somewhere perfectly between the no-frills joints on the street and the over-the-top fancy spots bound to blow your budget. The place is always packed with people having a great time, and the meat is superb, perfectly seasoned and they even offer some unusual choices such as lamb ribs and ram’s testicles! (which I did not try, so you’ll have to be the judge on that one if your adventurous side is so inclined!)

Bekar Sokak 28, Beyoglu 212-293-3951

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