The scents of Istanbul

People often say that Istanbul is a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures. I’m not sure what I was expecting that to look like, but having now been for myself I personally think it’s not as simple as that. Yes, there may be influences from both East and West but I think the result is something totally unique. I adored Istanbul and spent my time there feeling totally charmed. To give you a flavour of the place, here is a tour of Istanbul by scent.

Grilled fish

The grilled fish sandwiches of Istanbul (specifically, Karaköy) are legendary. The fish are pulled right from the Bosphorus – you can see the fishermen at work on the Galata bridge as well as numerous boats chugging around. We ate our fish in a restaurant under the Galata bridge itself because as a coeliac, I can’t eat the bread. So grilled fish non-sandwich it was for me. I think the restaurant option is a slightly expensive way of doing it, and the restaurateurs under the bridge were on the pushier side of pushy, so I wish we were able to buy from these guys. They look like they take the whole thing pretty seriously.

Fresh fish

As previously mentioned, with so many fishermen around things can get very fishy very quickly. We decided to visit the Karaköy fish market, which we were surprised to discover still open at around 5pm. They had all sorts of exciting looking fish, some still alive, which we didn’t buy any of. However, if we came back I’d definitely stay in an AirBnB instead of a hotel and then I’d be all over these fish stands.

However, seeing as we weren’t buying, the highlight for me was seeing a heron just casually perching on a roof right next to the market. It was definitely looking down its beak at the rabble of seagulls that surrounded it, focused on the task in hand: every now and again, a stall holder would come out and chuck the heron a bit of fish, which it would nonchalantly catch perfectly. Every time.

What a dude.


We couldn’t let the trip go past without visiting the famous Egyptian spice market. Inside was a total bun fight and we had to keep a close track of each other at all times just so we didn’t get swept away by the crowds – but we were rewarded by some pretty stunning spice displays. And not just spices either; gorgeous displays of dried fruit, nuts, pickled things, all piled high. We ended up buying a few spices from this shop, mostly because I found it hilarious that they had a spice blend called “Chilli for Mother in Law”. Apparently it’s super hot…

Contrary to advice muttered darkly from colleagues, I did not get taken hostage by any stall holders, heckled for being a blonde(ish) woman, or sold into white slavery. Yes, people try and get you to visit their stalls, but a smile and a joke go a long way and nobody was ever in the least bit threatening.

Roasted chestnuts

More than once we got a face full of smoke from these cute little carts which pepper the streets of Istanbul. Still, they make a great, cost efficient gluten free snack so are definitely not to be sneezed at (literally). There are almost identical carts selling simit, which are tasty looking rings of bread covered with sesame seeds. Obviously not gluten free, I had to give those a wide berth but S had one and it was a cheap (1TL/25p/35¢) way to tide him over to the next meal.

Grilled meat

The delicious scent of fresh meat being grilled was responsible for many sudden fits of hunger from either S or me. This is a döner vendor, and they don’t usually look this bored. They’re usually standing in the middle of the street waving their arms, along with every other döner or kebap proprietor in the area, trying to get you to visit their restaurant.

Fun fact: you can also see an Ayran machine behind the vendor. This popular drink is a watery, salted yoghurt which S ordered from the menu without knowing what it was. He tells me it’s an acquired taste.


The smell of delicious baked goods was everywhere. Torture for a coeliac, I have to say. All the little lines of pastries looked so good, I just wanted to eat them all. Luckily for me my chivalrous husband decided he wouldn’t eat any either, so we mostly just hurried past all the delicious bakeries. This is the only sad thing about being a coeliac, but I try not to wallow in it. Much.

Have you ever been to Istanbul? What scents have stayed with you?


P.S. Want more Istanbul? Try here and here.

Linking up with EmmaAngie, Jessi, and Sus for Travel Tuesday



  1. 31st March 2016 / 21:21

    Ohhh lovely, I often think of Istanbul as a fragrant place, despite never having been there! I love the sound of the grilled fish sandwiches and I would seriously love to visit one of their famous spice markets 🙂

    • 1st April 2016 / 14:38

      You know, it wasn’t as fragrant as I thought it might have been, but it was pretty cold when we were there so that may have affected things… I found it an absolutely fascinating destination, and so much fun. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

  2. 1st April 2016 / 01:30

    I’ve never been, but I would love to go! I love how you broke down the city into different scents. I can almost smell it 🙂

    • 1st April 2016 / 14:39

      I’m so glad! I hope you are able to visit one day. I loved my time there, I want to go back already…

  3. 1st April 2016 / 03:25

    What a brilliant idea to do a quick tour by scent! One of my favorite things about travel is actually all the local smells– fragrances fresh and foul. I really want to visit Turkey one day; I’ve only been to Ephesus and that was for just a few hours!

    • 1st April 2016 / 14:39

      I can claim absolutely no credit for the idea, it’s the theme of the link up I’m joining! However I loved the prompt, scent is so evocative so I was keen to try and capture some of that here. I’d love to go to Ephesus, how did you find it?

  4. Jaklien van Melick
    1st April 2016 / 11:37

    Ah that smell of grilled fish. What a nice one to remember Istanbul by.

    • 1st April 2016 / 14:40

      Yep it was pretty delicious. I love smell memories, they’re often the strongest.

  5. Kerri Taylor
    1st April 2016 / 14:14

    mmmm baklava. so sweet! and those spices – swoon! ok all of it. love this idea for a post, you creative thing you 😉

    xoxo cheshire kat

    • 1st April 2016 / 14:43

      The post idea was totally not mine, it was the idea of the very creative person who thought of the link up theme 🙂 Still, glad you liked it! I had fun remembering all the different scents, and of course they’re all food related. Ha.

  6. 1st April 2016 / 18:22

    Lucky I am reading this just before supper time really…. Lovely smells, I hope to go there one day

    • 3rd April 2016 / 22:37

      I hope you make it, too. I had such a fabulous time. I hope you enjoyed your dinner 🙂

    • 3rd April 2016 / 22:38

      Haha, yep, I am a lady who travels on her stomach! The spices were incredible, every blend you could imagine.

  7. 1st April 2016 / 20:52

    mmmmmm baklava. my husband would 100% not be that chivalrous haha, hence why i always end up making myself sick when i travel lol

    • 3rd April 2016 / 22:39

      #coeliacproblems, amirite? He’s not always so chivalrous, sometimes hunger wins, but on the whole he does good. But then I feel bad because there’s no real reason for him to miss out too…

  8. 2nd April 2016 / 10:51

    The “pushier side of pushy” is the most annoying thing when you’re on holiday, trying to enjoy yourself! I love the smell of roasting chestnuts too, it says “Christmas in London” to me though x

    • 3rd April 2016 / 22:41

      I know! It’s just endemic to some places it seems. At least it was all done good naturedly. It’s funny how closely smells are tied to a place, isn’t it?!

  9. 2nd April 2016 / 19:54

    I have just come back from Istanbul yesterday, and your pictures make me miss the city already! The smell of kebab always made me hungry 🙂

    • 3rd April 2016 / 22:41

      Ahh! I’m glad/sorry? to hear it! I had such a great time, I hope you did too? The smell of kebab was so tempting, at basically any time of day.

  10. Clare Thomson
    2nd April 2016 / 20:27

    Great idea to describe your visit to one place by its smells. It works really well. I visited Turkey last summer but never made it to Istanbul – I’d love to go.

    • 3rd April 2016 / 22:43

      Sadly it wasn’t my idea at all, so I can’t take any credit for it! It was the idea of Sus, one of the link up hosts. I was all too happy to run with the idea though, I think it’s great too. I visited more rural Turkey when I was younger, I have to say Istanbul is a whole different kettle of fish. I highly recommend it!

  11. 3rd April 2016 / 01:00

    I loved seeing all of your snaps of your trip to Istanbul! It looks so magical! It definitely seems like the city is full of a lot of different smells, but several of them would have me very hungry!

    • 3rd April 2016 / 22:44

      Glad you enjoyed them! I sort of got a bit carried away at one point, and then completely forgot to snap anything for ages. Sigh, I’ll do it properly one day! It really was totally unique, I loved it. I spent my trip in near perpetual hunger I have to say, everything smelled so good all the time!

  12. 3rd April 2016 / 05:47

    Such a great way to share your time in Istanbul! I’ve never been but it does sound like a fun place to experience. I have a few family members who’ve been and recommend it 🙂

    Glad you had a fun time there, even if the pastries were overly tempting!

    Away From The Blue Blog

    • 3rd April 2016 / 22:45

      I’ll add my recommendation to the pack, I had a fantastic time. It was so different than anywhere I’ve ever been before, lots to do but all with a chilled out attitude. The pastries were incredibly tempting but I resisted, hurrah. Only because I’d taken my own stash of chocolatey snacks with me though 🙂

  13. 4th April 2016 / 02:11

    The Baklava looks the best – I can just imagine biting into those flaky layers, but I loved your story about the Heron!

    • 6th April 2016 / 09:22

      I found the look of it so aesthetically appealing, lined up so neatly and all shiny. The heron was so cool, he just owned that fish market.

  14. Jen
    4th April 2016 / 14:58

    I would love to be surrounded by all of those spices!!

    • 6th April 2016 / 09:22

      It was such a treat, let me tell you 🙂

  15. 4th April 2016 / 19:57

    Mmm my nose is twitching just thinking about all of the city’s smells. Definitely the grilled meat wafting out of restaurants and street carts and enticing us in. And the almost overwhelming but incredible Spice Market! Thanks for linking up 🙂

    • 6th April 2016 / 09:24

      Grilled meat! Always tempting. The spice market was an assault on the senses – not only all the smells, but the sights of so much stuff piled up high, and people shouting, and everything being so busy… But it was so much fun! And the possibility of finding something to make your next dish great made it awesome.

  16. 5th April 2016 / 09:19

    I loved taking in the smells of Istanbul too! I had one of those fish sandwiches because they looked and smelled good, but unfortunately it was not so good. I found it funny that they put the entire fish (bones and all) into the sandwich so there was no way I could eat it without my mouth getting pricked by the bones! I drooled at the picture of the baklava. I give mad props to your husband for deciding that he won’t eat any too! I don’t think I could have resisted.

    • 6th April 2016 / 09:25

      Oh really? That’s so disappointing. I hate picking out fish bones the whole time, it’s just so annoying. Now I don’t feel so bad about missing out on a iconic Istanbul experience, so thank you! I am very impressed by my husband’s self restraint, I’m a very lucky coeliac 🙂

  17. 7th April 2016 / 04:30

    Wonderful portrayal of one of my favourite cities. My favourite scent from Istanbul is apple tea…and those spices!

    • 18th April 2016 / 10:57

      I’m glad you liked it! It’s an amazing place isn’t it? I did try the apple tea, and despite generally not liking tea I actually got along with it quite well. It’s very sweet though, that’s probably why I liked it so much!

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