Street food in Istanbul: to try or not to try
Street food is part of life in this great city. And if you are visit Istanbul for the first time, do not miss this amazing trip through unbelievable tastes!
While walking the Istanbul streets, you can see many street vendors and small stores which sells things like fried chestnuts and corn, fish-bread nearby seafront, salep, lokma, tulumba (OMG, what is it you are asking) and, of course, famous Turkish ice cream!
Here’s an overview of the main street food that you can see on the Istanbul streets: with our instruction you will know what it is, I have to try it and then not regret it!
- 1 Simit
- 2 Chestnuts (Kestane) and corn (Mısır)
- 3 Turkish tea (Çay)
- 4 Salep
- 5 Fresh pomegranate juice (Taze sıkılmış nar suyu)
- 6 Marash ice cream (Maraş dondurma)
- 7 Street sweets (lokma, tulumba)
- 8 Flaky pastry (Börek)
- 9 Fish bread (Balık ekmek)
- 10 Stuffed mussels (Midye dolma)
- 11 Stuffed potato (Kumpir)
- 12 Meat roasted on vertical skewer (Döner kebab)
- 13 Bread with grilled sheep`s intestines (Kokoreç)
Simit is known as a symbol of Istanbul (you could see it on different photos of the city). You can buy a simit almost everywhere: on the streets while walking from one historical place to another, near piers and seashores, on ferries and, of course, in bakeries. It’s great helper for those who hadn’t breakfast for some reason or got hungry while traveling by ferry. It’s inseparable couple: Turkish tea and simit.
Also, near simit, you can see another type of donut-shape bun: it is açma, soft and a little oily, but very delicious.
In Istanbul, a classic simit cost starts from 1.75 lire. In cafes and pastry shops, the cost of simit may vary.
Chestnuts (Kestane) and corn (Mısır)
It’s impossible to pass through Hippodrome Square and not smell the fried chestnuts which coming from pushcart peddler. Just ask for a small (100 grams) or bigger portion (200 grams), seat in front of Sultanahmet Mosque or Hagia Sophia and enjoy your tıme and meal!
100 grams of fried chestnuts can cost from 10 to 15 lire, grilled corn will cost about 5 lire/piece, and the price of boiled corn is 4 lire/piece.
Turkish tea (Çay)
Çay or turkish tea is a part of the culture and life of Turkish people. It’s a tradition: drink this fragrant tart tea from a cup in the form tulip and have a long and unhurried conversation. Not only in different cafes and tearooms you can see people drinking tea, but also on ferries, near the seashores on small stools. Inside bazaars, like Grand Bazaar or Egyptian Bazaar, people who carry the small trays with tea cups can attract your attention.
One cup of tea can cost from 2 to 5 lire (the cheapest tea in teahouses, ferries, state cafes and canteens. Also, you can have free tea in restaurants, after the main meal).
Salep is a feature of Istanbul. The drink was very loved by the Turks during the reign of the Ottoman dynasty. Centuries later, he did not lose his popularity. Modern Turks respect their traditions very much and respect the salep, claiming that it helps with colds, sore throats and has an excellent warming effect.
Special flour called “salep” is used as the main ingredient for preparing the drink, which is obtained by grinding the dry rhizomes of orchids growing in mountainous areas (Orchis mascula and Orchis militaris). It is known that these plants are rich in nutritious starch (polysaccharide).
Ground nuts or cocoa, coconut shaving and cinnamon give salep a unique and refined taste. The result is a drink with a rather viscous consistency, which must be drunk hot.
You can try salep both on the Istanbul streets and in a cafe. This drink is sold, as a rule, only in the winter.
Salep costs 12-15 lire.
Fresh pomegranate juice (Taze sıkılmış nar suyu)
Literally in any part of Istanbul there are street stalls that surprise and attract attention with an abundance of colors. A variety of fruits are arranged on them in random order: pears, apples, oranges, pomegranates, etc. Anyone can choose from this fruit splendor what he loves the most, and quick sellers using a special machine will immediately make delicious fresh-squeezed juice.
As practice shows, tourists most often prefer pomegranate juice, while locals often choose fresh-squeezed juice from oranges.
Marash ice cream (Maraş dondurma)
If you have been in Turkey before, you could see vendors in a traditional costume screaming “Ice cream” and striking the bell. For those who decided to buy a dondurma there will be a special show: the seller will do everything to make you laugh and not be able to catch your ice cream. So be ready for this fun and for very delicious ice cream, which traditional recipe came from place in Turkey called Marash.
Street sweets (lokma, tulumba)
Lokma is one of the oldest dishes that came from Ottoman cuisine: this sweet was served to the Padishah table. It is a sweet dough balls, fried in oil, and when served, dipped in honey or sugar syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon. Such yummy is sold on Istanbul streets. Eat it with a fork or skewer. There is a similar sweetness prepared according to the same recipe, but of a different form, and it is called Tulumba.
Tulumba is a tube of dough, which is fried until golden brown and generously doused with syrup. Lokma and tulumba is a pleasure for real sweet tooth. And for those who want just to try it, one portion of the tulumba for two is enough.
Such sweetness sold, as well as simit and chestnuts, on special carts. You can buy them by weight: 1 kg of lokma costs 14 liras, the cost of a tulumba is 15 liras/kg.
Flaky pastry (Börek)
Another Turkish delicacy is borek. In fact, this is puff pastry, inside of which there are a wide variety of fillings. Borek is offered in absolutely all Istanbul districts, and in almost every place it is cooked in its own way. The most popular fillings are meat, spinach, cheese, potatoes. Have you already started drooling?
Sigara boreği is a special kind of borek in the form of a tube filled with cheese. Su boregi is the same borek with cheese, but having a square shape. There is also kiymali borek: a square patty with meat filling, as well as with potatoes (patatesli borek) and with spinach (ispanakli borek).
Most often, borek is sold by weight at a price of 25-30 lire/kg. Or in portions (portion size depends on a particular place/cafe) at a price of 10-15 lire apiece.
By tradition, this dish is consumed for breakfast or as a hearty snack for tea.
Fish bread (Balık ekmek)
Fish bread is associated not only with Galata Bridge and Eminonu, but also with Super Mario! Who is it? It’s a legend of fish bread, well-known in Karakoy District and also around the city. Especially tourists love fish, because it’s really delicious, and watching the cooking process is exciting!
So, let’s go and try balik ekmek near Karakoy fish market and see real Super Mario (here it is called Emin Usta).
Local residents recommend eating balik ekmek with a special drink called salgam (şalgam suyu), which is similar in color to red wine, and tastes like a pickle known to all of us.
Stuffed mussels (Midye dolma)
Despite the fact that Istanbul is rich in seafood, it is almost impossible to find cooked mussels in their pure form. As a rule, they are served at the table, stuffing them tightly with rice, ground nuts, spices. This traditional Turkish dish is called Midye Dolma. Stuffed mussels are also offered on the streets (mainly in the evening). The dish has a spicy taste. To taste better revealed, it is recommended to sprinkle seafood with lemon juice.
It should be noted that no matter how hard you try, you won`t be able to eat a lot of midye dolma. Not because it is too sharp, but because it is very satisfying!
Stuffed mussels are usually sold in portions. One piece can cost from 1 to 2 lire.
Stuffed potato (Kumpir)
To try really delicious great kumpir, you should go to Ortakoy Mosque, which located a little further than Besiktas Pier. You will see a really amazing mosque, which is very different from other mosques in Istanbul, but especially here you can find a big variety of kumpir kiosks.
Kumpir it’s an enormously big potato stuffed with pickles, olives, cheese, corn, salad, spicy things, etc. You can enjoy it near the seashore or on the cafe terrace.
Meat roasted on vertical skewer (Döner kebab)
This is a traditional Turkish food, suitable for true meat-eaters. The dish is based on layers of chicken, beef or lamb, which are fried on a vertical skewer and flavored with aromatic spices. When the meat base is sufficiently cooked, it is wrapped in thin lavash and sprinkled with herbs. Also, it is customary to add tomatoes, onions, peppers and lettuce. The result is a juicy, delicious dish that will relieve you of hunger for a sufficiently long time.
Another doner kebab is not cooked with whole pieces of meat, but with fried minced meat. This version of the dish is called kavurma. Rumor has it that the most delicious kavurma is cooked in Beyazit Square.
Bread with grilled sheep`s intestines (Kokoreç)
Is that thing which you can recognize by its smell. Especially Turkish men like to buy kokoreç. Before cooking, the sheep`s intestines are thoroughly cleaned and then fried on a vertical skewer.
Kokoreç can be tasted not only in public catering establishments, but also right on the streets. This dish smells very appetizing! Maybe that’s why queues always gather near him. If you decide to try it, then get ready: it will be very tasty!
In Istanbul, you can buy a half portion of a kokoretsi for 15 lire (or more).
When traveling to Istanbul, be sure to try some goodies from street food: you are guaranteed a new experience. Do not be afraid that a lot is being prepared right on the street. Oddly enough, the Turks care about the quality of their goods and try to offer only freshly prepared food. If a line of local residents has gathered around the seller, then it should be delicious!