Dear Istanbul Eats,
We are planning an upcoming visit to Istanbul with two little ones in tow. My husband and I love to be adventurous with food and want to explore the city’s culinary scene, but are also a bit concerned about finding “child-friendly” places to eat. Can you help?
Foodie Mom, Brooklyn, New York
You’re in luck. We happen to be of the opinion that Istanbul is the greatest city in the world for parents traveling with kids, especially when it comes time to eat. The truth is, save for perhaps the fanciest places in town, almost every restaurant in the city is very “child-friendly,” because Turks happen to be some of the most child-friendly folks around. There are few places in town where other customers will shoot you a dirty look if your kids get out of line or spill their ayran. In some restaurants, you may even find yourself with the entire waitstaff oohing and aahing over your children and offering to take your kids on a tour of the premises, allowing you to have a few quiet moments to actually enjoy your food. And while most places may not have an actual kids’ menu, our experience has been that almost every kitchen in town will go out of its way to make kids happy, either by whipping up something that’s not on the menu or sending one of the busboys out to grab an order of French fries or a tost (pressed cheese-sandwich) from a fast-food spot down the street.
Some specific suggestions: A favorite place among Istanbul families is Kır Kahvesi , an open-air cafe in leafy Yıldız Park that specializes in making gözleme, thin sheets of phyllo-like dough that are wrapped around different fillings and cooked on a griddle. The hilly park has several playgrounds and a duck pond near the cafe, plus fine views of the Bosphorus.
We frequently also direct families towards the Galata neighborhood’s Kiva Han , partially for the food, but especially for the fact that the restaurant has a great outdoor seating area that overlooks the traffic-free plaza at the foot of the Galata tower, leaving the kids with lots of room to run around if they get bored of sitting.
But if you want to have a great day that’s fun for the kids but also allows the grown-ups to do some serious grazing, head over to the Asian side’s Kadıköy neighborhood. Start off with a ferry ride across the Bosphorus, something the kids are sure to love, and then head into Kadıköy’s pedestrian-only bazaar area, which is filled with numerous restaurants, food shops and fruit and vegetable stands.
You will likely want to have lunch at the magnificent Çiya , which always has dozens of dishes on offer (including some very simple and child-friendly kebabs) and has outdoor seating. Baylan , an old-school patisserie and ice cream parlor, is sure to be appreciated by the entire family. And if you’re still feeling a bit peckish, two of our favorite  lahmacun (minced meat flatbreads) makers are in Kadıköy. Since you’ll need a little something to pick you up before heading back to the ferry, go to the charming Fazıl Bey Cafe, another Kadıköy institution, which has been serving dark and strong Turkish coffee for decades. The kids may not drink the coffee, but they will definitely enjoy the little piece of Turkish delight that always comes with it.
(photo by Yigal Schleifer)