Cut the crises – cheap eats in Istanbul
photo by tomislavmedak

No one should miss out on Turkey’s tasty cuisine, no matter what their financial situation. Sure, you should definitely treat yourself to a gourmet meal in one of the many waterfront classy restaurants. But who can afford to eat like an Ottoman sultan everyday? Choose from some of the following cheap dishes and you might find you can. These are just a few of my favourite things.

Breakfast

Menemen: the fact that this dish sounds like ‘many men’ will at least get you smiling in the morning. And when it’s served, your grin will get wider as you taste the Turkish version of scrambled eggs. Cooked in a mini metal skillet, the eggs are carefully mixed with finely chopped tomatoes and peppers. From this point, anything can be added: for a bit of local flavour, try it with sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage), beyaz penir (Turkish white cheese), or kavurma (dried beef). If you find a local joint full of people, don’t let worn floors and simple furniture deter you – they’ll serve the best eggs by far. The plain menemen is suitable for vegetarians.
5-10TL depending on the extras

Simit: cheap, tasty and filling. You’ll probably see locals carrying this sesame-covered bread ring on the streets. It’s a doughy treat, somewhere between bread and bagel. Try it with a small wedge of cream cheese, or toasted with melted yellow cheese.
1TL plain, 1.50TL – 2TL with cheese

Lunch

Lentil (Mercimek) soup: it’s a staple starter to any good Turkish meal. The thick lentil soup is made with yellow or red lentils, and you’ll see it served from big piping pots. Bread is usually provided for free.
3TL.

Fish sandwich (balik ekmek): follow the line of fishermen on Galata Bridge to Eminönu, where the smell of tasty cooking will lead you to rocking boats parked at the water’s edge. Join the long lines to grab fried fish on a half loaf of fresh Turkish bread, cooked and served while navigating the sway of the anchored boats. It’s cheap and will give you a truly local experience as you watch the crowds go crazy for this treat.
4TL

Dinner

Manti: these pasta parcels stuffed with meat are often titled as Turkey’s ravioli. However, with hand-rolled pastry and a topping of garlic yoghurt, it’s in a class of its own. Accept their offer to drizzle a touch of red oil that has been stewed with spicy peppers – it’ll add a punch to your meal.
No more than 10TL depending on the restaurant

Kuru Fasulye: an otherwise awkward word to say (ku-ru fa-soo-li-ya), this local dish consists of cannellini beans served over rice. The bright red sauce is the result of the white beans being stewed in a special tomato sauce. So much bigger and better than canned baked-beans. A top choice for vegetarians!
No more than 10TL depending on the restaurant

Meet the author


After leaving Australia in 2003, Casey's path landed her in Istanbul for a summer stint only. Once addicted to Istanbul's eccentricity and charm, Casey failed to find reason to leave six years later. An avid traveller of sorts, Casey spent most of her time roaming across Europe and the Middle East looking for adventure and cultural experiences. Now a freelance editor and writer working from Madrid, Casey spends her days finding the words to excite the inner traveller in everyone.