When most people think of Istanbul street food, kebabs spring to mind; however, this vast and diverse Turkish city offers much more fantastic food to adventurous visitors. Utilising fresh ingredients and zesty flavours, Turkish street food has something to offer any palate, and street foods in its biggest city are the world’s best. This melting pot of a city has adapted the best dishes from around Turkey to sell on the go. Street vendors sell these dishes in markets, along the riverside, on street corners and in tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants, so here is our rundown on some local food and drink options in Istanbul to tempt your appetite.
9 Istanbul Street Food Variations to Eat
1: Doner Kebab: Popular Turkish Street Food
Find huge doner spits slowly revolving on just about every street corner, but especially in the Taksim area of Istiklal Caddesi. Using a long, sharp knife, vendors shave off grilled lamb, beef, or both in small pieces. They then sprinkle the meat in a durum wrap or between half a bread loaf, top it with onions, tomatoes, and mayonnaise and chilli sauce. This street food is tummy-filling and an excellent option for people on a budget, but do not forget kebabs are about much more than the doner. Indeed, over 40 variations exist, including Iskender, Adana kebab, Eggplant, and shish kebabs. More about our top picks of kebabs to try.
2: Borek and Simit
Borek, a 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 freshly baked borek is early morning. Otherwise, simit, a commuter favourite is Istanbul’s crispier version of bagels. Istanbul Turks eat thousands every day - 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, and pastane simit, sold in shops and a bit softer.
3: Misir – Corn on the Cob
Everyone loves corn on the cob covered with lashings of melted butter. This popular food to eat everywhere reminds us of BBQs and summertime. The succulent corn, sprinkled with salt or spices, refreshes the palette in summer. If you do not want it on the cob, some vendors also sell tubs, and you can mix the corn with other ingredients. This seasonal street snack goes out of favour during winter, so vendors sell roasted chestnuts instead, a perfect warmer upper on a cold Istanbul day.
4: Balik Ekmek Sold from Galata Bridge in Istanbul
Balik ekmek or fish bread is fresh fish grilled as you wait and then stuffed inside a big piece of bread with salad toppings. If this is your thing, head down to the Galata Bridge, where three fishing boats act as sandwich stalls. Not surprisingly, these famous delicious sandwiches generate a long queue. Additionally, fish features heavily in Turkish cuisine, and you can find out more about what to expect in our fish guide here.
5: Juicy 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, infused with garlic and subsequent incubation in a steamy burger hamam. Not the healthiest snack, but certainly satisfying after a few beers. We warn that the addictive flavour after tasting one means long queues when the nightclubs close.
6: Midye Dolma Sold by Street Vendors
These rice-stuffed mussels are a must-try when you visit Istanbul. The mussels are topped with rice flavoured with toasted pine nuts, onion, garlic, pepper, tomato, raisins, fresh mint, and dill. Dolma is like bite-sized seafood risottos, packed full of flavour and fishy goodness, and Istanbul locals use the shell as a spoon to eat this moorish street food. Don’t forget to squeeze lashings of lemon juice over it to enhance the flavour. Our top tip is to only buy Midye Dolma from vendors who sell it straight out of a refrigerator. The reason being is rice carries food poisoning bacteria if not refrigerated correctly.
7: Cig Kofte
The original cig kofte always had raw meat as its main ingredient. Despite this, the strange food was rather tasty. Unfortunately, when Turkey caught up with a 21st-century living, the ingredient was outed because it encouraged food poisoning. So, unless you are eating homemade cig kofte, the street version has ground walnut instead of meat, mixed with bulgur, chopped onions, tomato, pepper and spices. A favourite way to eat cig kofte is wrapped in lettuce leaves, accompanied by Ayran to alleviate the burning sensation of this time-honoured street food.
8: Tasty Seasoned Kokorec
Tourists often raise an eyebrow when they first hear about the ingredients of Kokorec. Herb infused lamb offal, stuffed in intestines, is grilled then chopped up into small pieces. The best way to eat it is on bread or in a durum wrap, combined with fresh tomato and finely chopped onions. We also love smothering our Kokorec sandwiches in lashings of mayonnaise. Know that Kokorec is one of Istanbul’s favourite street snacks, so do try it at least once. Adventurous eaters enjoy a spicy, flavoursome treat. Top tip: Kokorec is grilled on a horizontal spit, making this street food easy to differentiate from the vertical doner spit.
9: Kumpir from Ortakoy in Istanbul
Finally, this is our favourite real food and comfort dish to satisfy the tummy and soul. Istanbul locals say vendors sell the best kumpir (baked potato) on kumpir avenue in the Ortakoy district. Imagine a crisp outer skin, fluffy insides mixed with lashings of butter and a variety of toppings. We love corn, cucumber, onions, red cabbage, cheese, tomato, a sprinkling of chilli flakes and lashings of mayonnaise. Sold to go, we often take a bench seat and watch the Bosphorus traffic go by.
Other Traditional Turkish Food to Eat
Pide, a 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 Istanbul’s favourites. Pizza lovers will adore Lahmacun, a Turkish-style pizza. Using a thin, crispy pide as a base, Lahmacun is topped with a pepper sauce and ground beef, onion, parsley, and spices. Garnish your meal with greens and lemon wedges. Locals roll their Lahmacun up and eat it with their hands. If you want to sample more tasty food but in a sit-down environment, head to a traditional lokanta. Additionally, this article lists the best food and Turkish dishes to try.
Turkish Drinks to Try in Istanbul
Ayran, a delicious yoghurt drink, is Turkey’s version of lassi and sold across Istanbul in restaurants and on streets, as well as in packaged forms. Ayran consists of yoghurt blended with water and salt, making it a healthy probiotic and great accompaniment to spicier dishes. However, no shopping trip is complete without traditional Turkish tea. Turks drink cay in shops, banks, bazaars, tea gardens, houses and everywhere they can. Usually, tea shops sell it black, but Turks add plenty of sugar. As well as being a refreshing drink, cay is an icebreaker and a lubricant to help social interaction. If you are imbibing at a cafe, there will usually be herbal alternatives, and more tourist-oriented joints serve apple tea—more about Turkish drinks sold in Istanbul.
Turkish Food Culture
Traditional Turkish cuisine serves up many delights apart from Istanbul street food. From fried snacks and meats to five-star dining options offered by gourmet chefs, and vegetarian dishes, no foodie needs to go hungry. However, look past the delight of Turkish gastronomy to understand the culture and traditions behind the national cuisine. While in Istanbul, some tourists sign up for sightseeing food tours to know all about it. However, if you want to tempt your tastebuds before visiting, read our article about the food and culture that will change the way you see Turkey.
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