Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul, Turkey: 12 Spots Where Tony Ate

On the whole globe, there are few countries that better encapsulate the meeting of worlds than Turkey. One small body of water divides the capital city of Istanbul and separates Europe and Asia, the East and the West, and Turkey has always been a strategic destination for that reason. Unsurprisingly, Anthony Bourdain is well aware of Turkey’s unique geopolitical position and views its food and people through that lens.

Anthony Bourdain visited Istanbul and Turkey twice, first to film season 6 (episode 2) of No Reservations, and again to film season 6 (episode 8) of Parts Unknown. These were his only on-screen visits to the country; it’s likely he didn’t visit before as he never mentioned it or again afterward given the political climate of the country.

Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul Hero

If you’re planning at trip to Turkey and want to eat at the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul, you’re in luck: lots of the places Tony visited during his travels are still open and ready to serve you the flavors of Turkey today. Read on for a complete guide to everywhere Anthony Bourdain ate in Istanbul and get ready for your own trip.

Want to watch the episodes where Anthony Bourdain visits Istanbul?
The No Reservations episode is available on AmazonHulu, and Apple TV, and the Parts Unknown episode is available on Amazon and Apple TV.

No Reservations (2009)

On his first trip to Istanbul, Anthony Bourdain is joined by two locals: his fixer, Esra Yalçınalp, with whom he dines several times, and a taxi driver-guide named Ihsan Aknur who shows him a different perspective of the city as someone who knows its streets well.

Kale Cafe & Pastane

Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul - Kaymak

Anthony Bourdain begins his exploration of Istanbul with the meal that begins the day. He visits Kale Cafe & Pastane for a “full Turkish breakfast” with his fixer; this includes eggs with Turkish lamb sausage, sheep’s milk cheeses, Kaymak, and honey, bread, olives, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers – and Turkish tea, of course. He also tries another breakfast food: pastrami and Kaşar cheese, pepper tomato, wrapped in pastry

Tatbak

Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul - Lahmacun

After a great breakfast, the next step for any professional travel-and-food TV host is lunch, of course! Tony and his fixer head to Tatbak, to try Lahmacun, a pizza-like dish topped with ground meat, parsley, arugula, lemon juice, Ezme (“spicy salsa”) plus sumac and crushed red pepper for heat. They also enjoy a yogurt drink – called ayran (thanks to Yonca for this detail) – which is common in Turkish cuisine.

Kızılkayalar

As covered during his travels to Berlin, the doner kebab is actually a German dish, invented by Turkish immigrants. Now though, you can find it in Turkey too, and Tony visits Kızılkayalar to try it in its home country. There, he also tries a sort of soggy hamburger dish, ıslak burger – which means “wet” burger. (Thanks again, Yonca!)

Dürümzade

Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul - Lamb kebab

Bourdain’s march through Turkish foods continues at Dürümzade, a restaurant known for its lamb kebab. Tony tries this – and notes that it’s the best thing on their menu – but his primary meal there is a custom series of dishes comprised of nasty bits (lambs head, spleen, and heart) and sweetmeats with spices, served with flatbread with chili oil and the meat fats.

Asitane

Next, Bourdain heads to Asitane, an Istanbul restaurant known for serving “delicacies of the Ottomon era,” as Tony describes it. Some of the dishes he tries include stuffed melon with minced beef and lamb, dates, currants, pine nuts, and almonds, and baby lamb stew with shallots, currants, dried figs, dates, apricot, raisins, and almonds.

Kalamar Restaurant

Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul - Mezze

Based on some research, I believe that the next spot Anthony Bourdain ate in Istanbul is Kalamar Restaurant, a restaurant in the Beyoğlu area of town. There he sits with his fixer Esra and her friend to enjoy some mezze, which includes white anchovies, brain salad, and a number of other interesting dishes. They also try fried Bosphorus small fish and chase it down with plenty of rakı.

Sur Ocakbasi

Lastly, Tony visits Sur Ocakbaşı, a spot that local’s loved before it became popular after his visit. Here he enjoys büryan (lamb slow-cooked in a pit oven) and ayran (yogurt drink) as a traditional meal to cap his incredible first on-screen visit to Istanbul.

Parts Unknown (2015)

What a difference a few years makes: in the time between Tony’s first visit and his second, a series of elections, public demonstrations, and riots dramatically shifted the social temperature of Turkey. Whereas Turkey of the late 2000s looked progressive, inclusive, and welcoming, the tides had turned by Bourdain’s return visit in 2015 and conservatism was on the rise. Naturally, he commented on this both in voiceover and in conversations with locals; again he is accompanied on his travels by fixer Esra and taxi guide Ihsan.

Sahil Balık

Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul - Fish Kebab

First up, Anthony Bourdain eats at Sahil Balık restaurant, known for their fresh seafood. He digs into both grilled fish and fish kebab – a nautical take on the traditional Turkish dish. As one might expect, he enjoys plenty of rakı with his meal.

Karpi

Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul - Pide

Next, Tony heads to Karpi, a spot known for its pide – also known as the Turkish version of pizza! Tony tries one with ground meat, cheese, and onions, which looks delicious and proves that every culture can make a delicious flatbread dish.

Mutfak Dili Ev Yemekleri (CLOSED)

As he often does when traveling, Bourdain next decides to sample one of the cuisines of the immigrant groups that come to Istanbul. In this instance, he visits Mutfak Dili Ev Yemekleri, a restaurant that served Armenian food.

Unfortunately, the restaurant is now closed, but if you decide to sample Armenian in Turkey, seek out the same dishes Tony had, including stuffed grape leaves (similar to dolmas, called sarma) and tomato omelette with rice, which is apparently a particularly Armenian way of doing it.

Akar Lokantasi

Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul - Tripe Soup

Next, Bourdain heads out in search of a meal that’s more in line with his offbeat preferences. To that end, he visits Akar Lokantasi, a Middle Eastern restaurant known for its wide variety of animal cuts and dishes. There he has a bowl of cow foot and tripe soup; it might not be for everyone, but we all know that tripe (done right) is one of Tony’s faves.

Mikla Rooftop Bar

Lastly, and in perhaps un-Bourdainian fashion, Tony ends the episode at a posh rooftop bar. A bit of research revealed this to be Mikla Rooftop Bar, which also boasts an impressive food menu. While there though, he only has gin drinks and rakı and looks out to muse about the future of this global and cosmopolitan yet increasingly-conservative city.

Local Dining Experiences Tony Had in Turkey

It’s worth mentioning a few of the local dining experiences Bourdain had in Istanbul too, as you may encounter opportunities to have similar ones.

  • First off, Tony’s first visit occurred during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims in Turkey fast from sunrise to sunset. During this time, he had a chance to partake of Sahur – fasting before sunrise – and Iftar – the meal that breaks the fast after sunset. If you’re visiting during Ramadan, you might do the same.
  • On that same trip, he also visits some (potentially illegal?) mussel vendors by the waterfront. There he enjoys stuffed mussels with rice, raisins, pine nuts, onions, seasoned with nutmeg and lemon – though offers a fair warning that food poisoning is a risk with this unregulated snack.
  • During his second trip, Bourdain enjoys local homecooked meal by Esra’s mom; she makes a multicourse home-cooked Turkish feast of artichoke hearts, peas, and onions, topped with a puree of fava beans and dill, zucchini Börek, lamb and eggplant puree with Kaşar cheese, and flaky pastry dessert topped with pomegranate seeds. You might see these dishes on the menus at restaurants and should definitely try them if so!
  • He also visits the “Princes’ Islands,” an archipelago off the coast of Turkey. He has a local mezze lunch with rakı including Circassian chicken, fava beans, rice with mussels, eggplant, stuffed grape leaves, and poached eggs with yogurt.
  • Tony’s final meal in Istanbul is a Turkish breakfast picnic in Abbasağa Park with Esra and her friends – this is a perfect bookend to his first meal (also Turkish breakfast with Esra) at the beginning of his first episode.

Food Tours to Try in Istanbul

Food tours are a great way to sample different flavors, and as you might expect, Istanbul has some great ones. These are a nice way to discover the dichotomies in this city’s culture and cuisine, and here are a few good options to inspire you:

Have any other questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Istanbul, Turkey? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Valerie is a travel writer currently based in Cleveland, but her favorite destinations are Alaska, London, and Jordan – only one of which Bourdain ever visited! You can find her writing on Lonely Planet, Forbes, and her travel blog, Valerie & Valise.

    2 Comments

    • yonca

      Hey! So the jogurt drink you are referring to is called ayran, the soggy burger must be ıslak burger meaning wet burger. The shop is not called “Kizilkayapilar” but rather “Kızılkayalar”. The stuffed grape leaves are a kind of dolma and are called: sarma. It’s Sahur and not Suhur. Last but not least, unfortunately I have not seen the picnic scene but I think you mean Abbasağa Park.

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