Tuesday, July 12, 2011

TIPS ON WINING & DINING in Istanbul...

One of the things I was aware of when I started my blog (just a little over 10 days ago) was that I needed to make it interesting to ensure that more and more people view my pages.

I have been trying to keep my articles light, fun to read  and diverse. I hope to an extent I am realizing this, but since I have not really gotten any comments - I can't be quite sure! I hope in time that I start getting comments so that I know whether I am in the right direction or not.

One thing I do want to do (not sure if I will be able to accomplish this) is to make sure that I post everyday! I am now waiting for approval to go ahead on two major projects - which I should have by the end of today - then, my time will be more limited, so I might have to skip a day or two... I just have to see how things go.

Having said this...I now want to get to the subject at hand. As in all cities, there is a certain etiquette and rules and regulations that should be followed to ensure that your wining and dining experiences are all pleasurable. Whether you currently live in Istanbul or are planning on visiting for business or pleasure, the following are some things that you should keep in mind.

Where to go:
This is usually the hardest question to answer! You are in a foreign city and pretty much don't know where to go. I recommend the following:
  • If you are staying at a major hotel, more than likely they have guidbooks in the rooms - specifically The Guide Istanbul. I'm not recommending this magazine just because I was at the helm of it for 10 years, but because it has been around for almost 20 years and its publisher and current staff are very carefully on the places that are included in the listing/information section and you can feel comfortable visiting any of the places mentioned with ease. You can also visit their website www.theguideistanbul.com
  • Continue following me!!! Sure, my list will be much smaller as I can't write about every place in town worth going too, but you will notice that I include recommendations in almost all of my articles.
  • There are other local publications in English (Time Out Istanbul, Where Magazine), however, Time Out does not have a very detailed and updated listings section and Where Magazine is still too new for me to make any judgements about them.
In almost all cases, tips are NOT included in the bill as is common in most cities in Europe. But, to be sure, just look at the menu and you will see that in almost all cases, it will state that the prices only include VAT (sales tax). The average tip to pay is 10% of the total bill - if you feel you have received extra service, then you can tip more. However, tips can only be paid in cash and cannot be added to your credit card bill.

Credit cards:
Credits cards are widely accepted in Turkey with MasterCard and Visa the most heavily used and accepted. American Express has also grown quite a bit in the last few years and is accepted at more and more establishments.

Dress code:
As it is the case all over the world, it is best to "dress the part" when you are dining out. Jeans, t-shirts and especially sneakers are usually a "no-no" in most fine dining establishments and trendy clubs - like Reina, Sortie, Anjelique, etc. Now, when I say no "jeans and t-shirts", I don't mean the "designer" and "smart" jeans and t-shirts. But, no matter the situation, sneakers are frowned upon.

It is always a good idea to make a reservation at the more trendier restaurants as they are usually full and have to away back walk-ins. This is also true for some of the trendier cafes (like Lucca, Delicatessen, Mangerie, etc.). If you are not sure, just make a reservation - for lunch or dinner. The concierge or front desk at your hotel will be more than happy to assist you.

The majority of restaurants and cafes have menus in Turkish and English. Unfortunately not all of the menus are up to par on the English front! Some explanations or names of items might be confusing - feel free to ask if not sure of what the item means. More than likely, there is someone at the venue that can assist you - especially in the fine dining establishments - more than like most of the waiters know a bit of english.

Seafood restaurants:
Do not at all be surprised if you are not given a menu at seafood restaurants! Has nothing to do with the fact that you are a foreigner... Turks don't get one either. If you really really want to see one, they will give it to you, but it is not very meaningful.. because.. the price and selection of fish can change daily! Because of this, most of the prices of the appetizers are also affected - especially if they are seafood based. I recommend that once you are told what fish are available is to ask your waiter to tell you the price before you order so that you are not surprised when the bill comes. Appetizers and salads are priced per portion. For example, if you are a party of 4, unless you specify, the appetizer you order will be prepared for 4 people and you will be charged accordingly - so it best to specify the number of portions you want. I personally had a bad experience like this when we ordered a green salad and got charged nearly 50 TL for it because we were 6 people - even though the salad was NOT that huge!!!

Night Clubs:
It is best to stick to the known clubs for partying - which you will find a list of in The Guide Istanbul and I have mentioned some of them in my other articles. Also, most of them have independently owned multi-restaurants under one roof. However, you can also go to these places just for their bar and music. Now that it is the summer, all the trendy clubs are lined up along the Bosphorus waterfront between Ortaköy and Kuruçeşme with a few that double as clubs/restaurants in Asmalımescit. They are extra crowded on the weekends, but still quite crowded almost every night. You cannot make a reservation to go to just the bar, but keep the following in mind:
  • You will more than likely not make it past the bodyguards at the door if you are not dressed properly, already a little tipsy and show it... and are a group of men with no women in your group. Usually 2 guys is the limit when there is no women accompanying them.
  • There can be a cover charge (which usually includes one drink).
Smoking is only allowed in the outdoor section of restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels etc. Additionally, smoking is not permitted at concerts, sporting events, etc. - even if they are in open-air theatres and arenas.

Drinking water and ice:
I do not recommend that you drink tap water and instead order a bottle of water (the price is usually minimal at most places, but very high at hotel bars and restaurants - a beer is usually cheaper!). You do not have to worry about the ice that is placed in your drinks as venues purchase them in bulk from reputable distributors.

Final words:
  • At almost all the cafes around town, the mayo, ketchup and mustard are not refrigerated and kept outside. This can be a problem during the summer months with the heat. Especially be careful with the mayo!
  • You should try some of our "street food" - like simit (similar to a big bagel with sesame seeds), kumpir (baked potato stuffed with different toppings), midye dolması (stuffed mussels), etc... but again with caution! There are some reputable street vendors who offer these goodies - more than likely your local friends can steer you in the right direction.
  • Definitely try typical Turkish "home style" cooking! Most of the "best" selections can be found at the "no frills" mom/pop restaurants around town where the service is "cafeteria style" in that you select the food from a display and the waiter brings it to you. The prices are quite modest and more than likely, alcohol is not served. For a more "refined" experience, I recommend Hünkar (alcohol is served and reservations recommended) with branches in Etiler and Nişantaşı. They do not have a website and the telephone number for the Nişantaşı branch is Tel: (0212) 225 46 65 .
 Finally, the current exchange rate is as follows:

1 USD = 1,63 TL
1 Euro _ 2,3 TL

Enjoy Istanbul!


    1. Hi Dani, your blog is very interesting and I wish you great success in this new venture. It would be great if you could post an article of where to go with little kids in Istanbul (short trips, sites, playgrounds, restaurants, etc). Many thanks


    2. Thanks for your comment Luigi - I will do my best to do an article on this as soon as I can!