Istanbul street food, what to expect when eating in Turkey
In no particular order, we give you a rundown on some of the best street food and drink in Istanbul:
Let’s get this popular dish out of the way. A kebab consists of small pieces of broiled or roasted meat, usually cow, sheep or chicken. Look out for iskender kebab, adana kebab, patlican kebab and sis kebab.
You’ll encounter huge doner spits slowly revolving on just about every street corner, but especially on the Taksim side of Istiklal Caddesi. The grilled lamb, beef or combination of the two, is shaved off in small pieces and used in dishes, wraps and sandwiches. Look out for stalls serving up vegetable side dishes for a healthier option.
This tasty flaky pastry snack consists of several thin layers, stuffed with spinach (Ispanakli borek), cheese (peynirli borek ), minced meat (kiymali borek) or potato (patatesli borek). The best time to buy borek is early morning when they are freshly baked.
This slightly leavened, flat pizza-like bread is chewy and delicious. Pide comes in different styles, with Kasarli (cheese) and Sucuklu (cheese and spicy sausage) two of the city favourites.
Pizza lovers will adore this Turkish-style pizza. Using a thin, crispy pide as a base, lahmacun is topped with a pepper sauce, and then ground beef, onion, parsley and spices. You’re generally provided with greens and lemon wedges to garnish your meal. Locals roll their lahmacun up and eat it with their hands.
This freshly boiled or grilled corn on the cob won’t need much explanation. The succulent corn is sprinkled with salt or spices. You’ll find this snack is more common during the summer months and is sold out of small carts. In the winter the same vendors will sell roasted chestnuts (kestane).
Balik ekmek, or ‘fish bread’, is fresh fish grilled as you wait and then stuffed inside a big piece of bread with a bit of coleslaw. If this sounds like your thing head down to the Galata Bridge, where three fishing boats act as sandwich stalls. Not surprisingly, these delicious sandwiches are popular and there is usually a queue.
This commuter favourite is Istanbul’s crispier version of bagels. Thousands are consumed every day - just look around for the ubiquitous simit cart to gauge the popularity. Coated in sesame seeds and shaped into a ring, there are two versions of this snack: sokak simit, the crispier version which is sold on the streets, and pastane simit, sold in shops and a bit softer.
Islak (Wet) Burgers
They may not look too appealing but these burgers stuffed with doner meat are popular with the city’s youth, especially when the sun goes down and partygoers look for sustenance. The burger is wet thanks to a good sousing with an oily, tomato-y sauce and subsequent incubation in a steamy burger hamam. Not the healthiest snack you’ll find, but certainly satisfying after a few beers.
These rice-stuffed mussels are a must-try if you’re visiting Istanbul. The mussels are topped with rice flavoured with toasted pine nuts, onion, garlic, pepper, tomato, raisins, fresh mint and dill, garnished with fresh lemon juice and parsley. Dolma are like bite-sized seafood risottos, packed full of flavour and fishy goodness.
Although cig kofte translates to ‘raw meatball’, this favourite Turkish snack no longer contains raw meat, thanks to hygiene laws. So unless you’re eating homemade cig kofte, the version you’ll find on the street will have ground walnut instead of meat, mixed with bulgur, chopped onions, tomato, pepper and spices. A favourite way to eat cig kofte is wrapped up in lettuce leaves, accompanied by ayran to alleviate the burning sensation brought on by this very spicy dish.
This delicious snack is often avoided by visitors as it consists of grilled sheep intestines. However, adventurous eaters will be rewarded with a spicy, flavoursome treat, often served on a pide and garnished with greens. Top tip: the Kokorec is grilled on a horizontal spit, which makes it easy to differentiate from the vertical doner spit.
This delicious yogurt drink is Turkey’s version of a lassi. It’s served up all across the city, in restaurants and on the street, as well as in packaged forms. Ayran consists of yogurt blended with water and salt. It’s known to be a healthy probiotic as well a being a great accompaniment to some of the spicier dishes.
No shopping trip is complete without traditional Turkish tea. Cay is consumed in shops, banks, bazaars and on the side of the street. Cay is served black, with plenty of sugar. As well as being a refreshing drink, cay is used as an icebreaker, and a lubricant to help along a social interactions. If you’re imbibing at a cafe there will usually be herbal alternatives, and the more tourist-oriented joints serve apple tea, too.
Halka is a sweet, sticky, deep-fried ring of dough. Soaked in sugary syrup, it’s deliciously sweet treat that’s found all over the city.
Halka is also known as ‘the brothel dessert’, as it is especially popular in the district of Karakoy, once a prominent red light district.