Here is a short list of my favourite top 10 cheap eats, in and around the Grand Bazaar area. If you ever find yourself around the old city area and craving some tasty local food, these are my suggestions. Afiyet olsun!!!
Molla Fenari Mah. Şeref Efendi Sok. No:45/A , Fatih, İstanbul
This place only offers pressed sandwiches that are called “tost” in Turkish. Basically two pieces of buttered bread, white or bran, filled with cheese, cold cuts etc and pressed. However, their most popular sandwich does not appear on the menu so you have to ask that by name. It’s called “hacı malik” (pronounced haji mah-lik), white cheese, fresh mint, dill, parsley and tomato slices are pressed into a sandwich and the taste is out of this world, especially the taste of mint takes this sandwich to another level. Get a sandwich and a glass of the fresh orange juice and sit outside the benches located on Nuruosmaniye street and just watch the people passing by.
Kapalıçarşı, Beyazıt Mahallesi, Gani Çelebi Sok. No:3, Fatih, İstanbul
If you are inside the Grand bazaar shopping and do not feel like getting out, and have a nice cool place to sit, this is the place to go. The name “havuzlu” (with a pool) refers to the tiny little fountain in front of the restaurant. A place close to my heart as I used to go here with my mother when I was young, every time we visited the Grand Bazaar. My favourite dish here was the “hünkar beğendi, ” the smoked eggplant puree topped with beef stew. It is a type of “esnaf lokantası” (tradermen’s restaurant) where all the food is available on the display steam baths and they run out of it by 2:30-3:00pm.
Kapalıçarşı, Beyazıt Mahallesi, Nuruosmaniye Caddesi, Yağcı Han, No: 13 Fatih, İstanbul
Havuzlu’s sister restaurant Bahar is a smaller version, serving the same delicious home-made food but mostly to locals. As this restaurant is located sort of hidden in one of the hundreds of inns that make up the Grand Bazaar. Try to go here as early as 12:00-12:30 to take a look at the appetizing hot buffet, get your selection of dishes; perhaps a half portion of soup of the day, then a main meal accompanied by bulghur pilaf with mint (my favourite!) or rice pilaf. Finish the meal off with a cup of tea delivered piping hot from the “çayocağı” (teahouse) like a real Turk would do.
Gaziantep Burç Ocakbaşı
Kapalıçarşı, Beyazıt Mahallesi, Yağlıkçılar Caddesi, Parçacılar Sokağı, No:12, Fatih, İstanbul
This is going to be hardest to find, let me tell you this much. But once you’ve found it, you will not regret. Serving a very limited menu of grilled items and the ubiquitous “lahmacun,” I suggest that you go here very hungry. Because in order to get the full experience you need to eat this list of food that I am suggesting; start with a lahmacun (if you really can’t eat too much then you can share one with your companion), followed by a kebab of choice, my favourite is the skewered and grilled lamb chunks a.k.a. “kuzu şiş,” a tomato and walnut salad with pomegranate sauce, and a pitcher of ayran to wash it all down (They have packaged ayran and the homemade one, I personally prefer the homemade one but it’s your choice). If you still have room, I suggest sharing a “künefe” the shredded pastry filled with cheese and grilled to perfection then soaked in syrup. Even though it sounds weird, if you have a sweet tooth you will love it, and order some tea to go along with your dessert.
Dönerci Şahin Usta
Kapalıçarşı Molla Fenari Mahallesi, Kılıççılar Sokak, No:9, Fatih, İstanbul
Another old establishment that has been around since 1969, that serves one of the tastiest ground beef döner sandwiches in İstanbul. They are literally located in a tiny little hole in the wall, where one has to either stand inside the shop which only can fit two people standing, or you have to eat standing outside in front of the shop. They are only open for lunch and usually, there are long lines, so to avoid the line go there as early as noon and get a glass of home-made ayran (the yogurt drink) to go with your döner sandwich. I suggest getting the “pide” as the bread option for your sandwich and if you want to avoid eating too much bread you can also get half a “pide” with the full fillings.
Gül Ebru Kantin
Kapalıçarşı, Beyazıt Mahallesi, Acı Çeşme Sok. No:4, Fatih, İstanbul
Considered in a different league than Şahin, meaning the döner here is made out of beef steaks. At Gül Ebru Kantin you can actually sit down and enjoy the döner, either in a sandwich or on a plate. You can choose the portion sizes as you wish. But when you go here make sure that you don’t sit at the next döner shop which is right around the corner by mistake. They get confused quite easily at times, especially if you are standing there looking lost, the shop next door grabs you immediately under false pretenses.
Located on Gazi Sinan Paşa sok. Parallel to Nuruosmaniye Cad. middle of the street, on a lower lever
Gül, the chef who also gave her name to the restaurant, is smiling at you as you approach the counter where the food is displayed. You immediately feel welcomed in this family run establishment, located close to the rambling Nuruosmaniye street. Here they serve freshly made dishes daily. But my favourite is the home-made “mantı” (the dough dumplings, filled with beef and served with yogurt and tomato sauce), that are made fresh and only served on Mondays, so almost every Monday you can find me there, devouring a plate of mantı.
Bursa Gül Restaurant
Vezirhan Cad. No: 56/A, Fatih, İstanbul
This is actually my favourite soup shop, where I go to drink my breakfast soup, as it is a tradition in Turkey, especially in the winter time. The shop opens at 6:30 just serving two kinds of soups, red lentil soup and red lentil soup with spices and grains. While drinking your soup, you can watch the chef making the köftes, the ubiquitous meatballs that are never shaped as a ball but somehow always translated as meatballs in English. They start serving proper lunch at 11:30, all freshly made home-style dishes on display. I definitely suggest the grilled “köfte” dish, or if you are looking for something lighter go for the slow cooked white beans with rice.
Molla Fenari Mahallesi, Vezirhanı Caddesi, No:53, Fatih, İstanbul
If dining al fresco sounds like you and if you are looking for a quick and filling meal, “dürüm” (the infamous meat wrap) is the way to go. And where to go…of course Mustafa is your guy. Located right on the busy street close to the Grand Bazaar, you situate yourself on tiny stools and give your order, whether its spicy beef wrap called “Adana” or the chicken wrap, order it along with ayran. If you prefer some heat also ask for some roasted peppers on the side. Eat your wrap and drink your ayran while watching the hustle and bustle of the passersby and the large tourist buses. But the taste of the wrap here is definitely worth a visit.
Kapalıçarşı, Beyazıt Mahallesi, Yağlıkçılar Caddesi. Terlikçiler Sok. No: 134, Fatih, İstanbul
This is the place to sit, relax and enjoy that frothy cup of Turkish coffee that will help you get a proper rest after you have shopped your way around the Grand Bazaar and bargained like crazy for that silk pashmina. The coffee here is cooked slowly over hot sand and tastes great due to the slow cooking. If you also feel like your blood sugar is falling you can enjoy a grilled cheese called “kaşarlı tost” that will give the zing that you need, to shop for some more.