Istanbul (née Constantinople, née Byzantium) has traveled a long path in life, and changed hands many times over many centuries—the Romans, Byzantines, the Ottomans—to become what it is today: the cultural, historic nerve center of modern Turkey, and a great European culture capital beyond that. Surely you’ve heard writers and travelers and passers-through wax poetic about this city’s cosmopolitanism and beauty, its soaring minarets and sweeping Bosphorus views at the crossroad of two continents; the grand Ottoman palaces and charming fish shacks, the covered, crowded bazaars scented by a rainbow of spices. None of the heaps of praise is exaggerated. Istanbul is one fascinating, seductive, delicious city.

Given its epic history, you could spend years studying and sampling the gastronomy of Istanbul, especially considering you can find regional dishes from across Turkey within its confines. Most visitors don’t, of course, have that luxury of time, so here we’ve focused on a good handful of foods and drinks most quintessential to Istanbul—the greatest hits, you might say, from history and popular culture, from ancient boza (a fermented bulgur drink) and everyday döner to street simit and late-night kokoreç. Here is your guide to the dizzying array of dishes known as Turkish breakfast (kahvaltı) and, later in the day, meze; here you’ll find the cultural significance of Turks’ favorite beverages—çay, ayran, rakıexplained. Eat and drink these things and you’ll savor the city’s essentials, meet its food producers/vendors, and wander through its myriad neighborhoods. In a word, you’ll really experience Istanbul…in the best-tasting way possible.