Istanbul Street Food: TOP-20 You Must 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, dürüm and döner, salep or pomegranate juice, lokma and tulumba (OMG, what is it you are asking) and, of course, famous Turkish ice cream from Maraş!
Here’s a Food Guide 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!
Turkish Street Food – 20 must-eat Turkish street food staples
Turkey is the bridge between Europe and Asia. Its location allowed travelers to cross the two continents courtesy of the silk road for thousands of years.
The culture of Turkey was shaped in large part by the people who passed through it. Some stayed in Turkey and laid down roots, while others simply left an influence on the culture.
Turkey’s cuisine is one of the most diverse in the world. It has the many travelers that passed from Europe to Asia and vice-versa to thank for its many nuances. Turkish street food is one of the most exciting aspects of any trip to the country.
Famous Istanbul Street Food
Food stalls and small restaurants that line the streets are popular places to dine. Not only will you have a great meal, but dining on Turkish street food allows you to sample a piece of the country’s culture.
Istanbul’s street food has some of the most exciting dishes you will find. Some travelers may be worried about eating from food stalls in Istanbul. Locals and travelers regularly dine on the city’s street food, and it is one of the best ways to get a delicious, budget-friendly meal. You won’t want to miss the dishes on this list.
Köfte Ekmek (Meatball Hero)
Italian Americans have the meatball sub sandwich, and Istanbulites have the köfte ekmek. The köfte ekmek is similar to the Italian-American sandwich, but it has a Turkish twist, making it the ideal sandwich to try on the streets of Istanbul.
The sandwich consists of grilled köfte meat in bread with onions, parsley, grilled green peppers, and tomatoes. The meatballs are seasoned with cumin, allspice, and black pepper to give them a spicy flavor.
The sandwich spread across Turkey during the Ottoman Empire. Today, it is a popular food sold and eaten outside of football stadiums on a matchday. You will find plenty of food stalls and sellers outside of football stadiums selling sandwiches to fans.
Islak Burger (Wet Burger)
An Islak burger is completely different from the burgers you may have eaten before. The big difference between an Islak burger and a traditional hamburger is its preparation. Islak burgers are steamed rather than fried or grilled.
A beef burger patty is seasoned with tomato sauce and garlic before being placed on white burger buns. The burger is then placed inside a steam box. The burger remains slightly wet as it is steamed.
Wet burgers are a popular food for locals and travelers after a night out. Shops around Istanbul’s Taksim Square are known for selling Islak burgers.
Tavuklu Pilav (Chicken and Rice)
Rice is a staple food around Turkey and is eaten with many meals. Due to its popularity, you will find it served at corner shops and street food stalls.
Tavuklu Pilav combines boiled chicken, rice, and chickpeas into a filling dish. Turkish rice is flavored with buttery, and it is very different from steamed white rice from eastern Asia. It is more flavorful.
Tavuk Pilav is a budget-friendly bowl of soul food. It is comforting and perfect for travelers needing a pick-me-up. Locals eat the dish with fresh black pepper and pickled mini peppers that provide a spicy kick.
Balık ekmek (Fish bread)
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
Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza)
Lahmacun combines pita dough, minced meat, onions, tomatoes, and parsley together into an exciting dish. Lahmacun is then cooked over a wood fire. It is often called Turkish pizza due to its round shape.
Turkish pizza is quite spicy and often consumed for lunch or dinner. Locals may top the dish with fresh lettuce and lemon juice. It is common to see other diners roll their lahmacun into a wrap before eating it. This allows the flavors to combine.
Çiğ köfte (Raw Meatballs)
Çiğ köfte is ground lamb, onions, bulgur, garlic, hot pepper paste, and tomatoes combined into one satisfying meal. Çiğ köfte is a very spicy dish, so don’t order it if you have an aversion to hot foods.
The lamb in the Çiğ köfte is cured with spices. You should eat the dish fresh when it is at its best. If the dish isn’t eaten shortly after it is produced, it can cause digestive issues. It is one of Istanbul’s most famous street foods, and is found around the city.
You can also get Çiğ köfte without meat. The meatless version of the meal makes it popular with vegans and vegetarians on holiday.
İçli Köfte (Stuffed Meatballs)
İçli Köfte is a traditional appetizer in Turkey. It can be eaten as a main meal, and you can find it on menus at street food shops around the city.
The dish’s name translates to stuffed meatballs in English. The dough is a combination of potato, spices, and bulgur. Then beef or lamb mince is used to fill the dough balls. İçli Köfte is cooked by grilling or boiling, and eaten hot or cold. İçli Köfte has become a delicacy in recent years throughout Turkey.
Dürüm is made from yufka or lavash flatbreads. The wraps are filled with different types of kebab meat. Wraps are extremely popular and versatile in Turkey, and you will find them across Istanbul.
The most popular types of wraps around Turkey are the Urfa dürüm Adana dürüm. They are made using lamb or beef mince, and the meat is put on a skewer and grilled. The wrap is then built with the meat, onions, lettuce, parsley, and tomatoes.
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 6 lire. In cafes and pastry shops, the cost of simit may vary.
Kestane (Chestnuts) and Mısır (Corn)
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 40 to 60 lire, grilled corn will cost about 10 lire/piece, and the price of boiled corn is 20 lire/piece.
Çay (Turkish tea)
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 4 to 8 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.
Taze sıkılmış nar suyu (Fresh pomegranate juice)
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.
Maraş dondurması (Marash ice cream)
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.
Lokma, tulumba (Street sweets)
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: 200 g of tulumba costs 30-35 liras, the cost of lokma is 10 lire for one piece.
Börek (Flaky pastry)
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 80 lire/kg. Or in portions (portion size depends on a particular place/cafe) at a price of 50-65 lire apiece.
By tradition, this dish is consumed for breakfast or as a hearty snack for tea.
Midye dolması (Stuffed mussels)
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.
Kumpir (Stuffed potato)
To try really delicious great kumpir, you should go to Ortaköy 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.
Döner kebabı (Meat roasted on vertical skewer)
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.
Kokoreç (Bread with grilled sheep`s intestines)
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 110 lire (or more).
Tantuni combines julienned beef or lamb stir-fried in a lavash with chopped onions, tomatoes, and parsley. The dish comes from Mersin, which is located on the Mediterranean Sea. Tatuni’s popularity grew as it spread across Turkey in the 1980s.
Originally, Tatuni was street food for poor people, but due to its taste, it has become a popular dish no matter a person’s economic background. The dish originally called for beef lung in the recipe. However, chicken is regularly used in the dish today.
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!