Time to hit the Turkish streets to discover what local eats are worth every cent of your Lira with this best of Istanbul street food guide.
Istanbul is the Grand Bazar of culinary adventures when it comes to street eats in Turkey. Heavenly spices, doner kebabs, pides and (of course) Turkish Delight are familiar items when salivating at the thought of Turkish cuisine but it’s not only those much-loved foodstuffs that should be appreciated when walking the bustling streets of Istanbul.
Istanbul street food
Istanbul is the epicentre of a dramatic shift in cultures. It is where Europe meets the East and with that comes enriching cultural flavours that are reflected in its street eats. To get the best of both worlds, it is time to unwrap the best of Istanbul’s street eats.
Islak Hamburger ‘Wet Burger’
Think the cheeseburger is the ultimate guilty pleasure? It is time to think again! These burgers may be small on the ingredients, but they pack a punch in flavour. As it is doused in a garlic tomato sauce, the bun acts as an oyster to a small beef burger patty hidden inside.
With the burgers having their own ‘spa treatment’ stacked on top of one another in a glass burger Hammam ready for purchase, it results in these small yet simple burgers to become soggy. It is here that looks can be deceiving but do not be fooled folks, even if you are sober! The Islak’s grease absorbing fluffy bun only heightens the flavour making it one finger licking, orange looking treat!
Served up in an open paper bag, these popular sinful treats can be found in Taskim Square.
The ingredients of Kokoreç is not for the faint-hearted, but the taste of it will warm the insides of many. With nothing left to waste, this popular Turkish fast food dish is comprised of sheep intestines layered and spit-roasted over a charcoal fire. With intestines usually chewy, it is chopped up in small pieces and seasoned with a mix of thyme, oregano, salt, pepper, fresh tomato and parsley and served up in a bread roll.
While sold at kiosks and small eateries, a bite into one of these rolls will give you a peculiar flavour sensation that will make you bite your way with curiosity more so until its all out of your hands and into your stomach!
Brussels may be the place for mussels, but it is Turkey than knows how to flex them! Time to drop the fork as this treat that is fun to eat with the mussel itself acting as a utensil! Midye Dolma, aromatic rice-stuffed mussels are a popular hawker treat both street and beachside throughout Turkey. It is a seafood, and spice lovers dream as these mussels are filled with a heavenly combination of herbs, spices, pine nuts and raisins to create a palatable snack or entrée best served chilled or at room temperature.
To get your senses going, break off the top shell, squeeze a little bit of lemon zest over the mussel and scoop the fragrant stuffed mussel using the loose shell as a scooper. The Midye Dolma is one catch of the day you cannot allow yourself to miss!
How could this list not include the holy grail of late-night guilty pleasures, the döner kebab! Never have I tasted one so damn good in my life than on the streets of Istanbul. Not only is Turkey the epicentre of kebabs, just seeing the sheer monstrosity of both the beef and chicken on a vertical rotisserie is the stuff of meaty dreams.
Once the meat is shaved off the mammoth spit, the kebab can be served either with a salad, such as tomato, lettuce, onion, cucumber (fresh or pickled) and drowned with a sauce (garlic, mayonnaise) or sandwiched all together in a flatbread such as lavash or yufka.
This is the ultimate street food to get bang for your buck in terms of tasty goodness and keep you going for a while.
If you are one for savoury carby delights, the Gözleme will do the trick. Made from fresh dough, this flatbread and pastry dish stuffed may be stuffed minimal ingredients yet it is maximum in flavour. (Spinach and feta cheese is usually my go-to.)
The dough is made up of flour, salt and water but sometimes can also be made from yeast dough. While it is cooking on a hot plate, it is lightly brushed with oil or butter because fat makes everything tastes better right?
Fresh Pomegranate Juice
I have to admit, I am a lover of grape juice i.e wine but when I tried fresh pomegranate juice for the first time on the streets of Istanbul, it literally blew my mind! Not only is pomegranate good for you (ah hello high levels of antioxidants), it is that delicious too – make that three times more antioxidants than green tea! Did you know it can also help reduce inflammation and protect cells from damage? Nope? Well, even more, the reason to glug, glug, glug it down on the streets of Istanbul.
You can find many street vendors freshly squeezing these ruby red fruits right before your very eyes and only for loose change too.
Simit (Turkish Pretzel)
And you thought it was only the Americans and Germans were the only ones’ crazy about the pretzel – think again! Simit, which translates to ‘life saver’ is the ultimate carb lovers treat in Istanbul and can be easily found with vendors appearing on street corners, plazas and in stores too!
Mostly consumed at breakfast or with Turkish tea, these sesame seed salty dough pretzels are perfect for that on-the-go snack and cost no more than a few Liras.
A small and cheerful red and white cart billowing a small cloud of smoke is a common sight along the streets of Istanbul – and one you would want to get closer too.
Take a few steps closer and let your nose take in the wafting smells of the freshly cooked right-before-your-very-eyes, roasted chestnuts or Kestane as the locals call it.
This popular Istanbul snack, found especially in tourist hotspots Taskim and Sultanahmet, is sold by the weight for in a paper bag for a pittance with the cheapest option less than $2 for 100 grams.
Being a staple choice across Southern Europe and a star feature in Ottoman cuisine, these freshly roasted chestnuts are best enjoyed in winter as it warms the soul with its sweet taste and subtle texture. Best of all, it’s a healthy treat too!