AsiaThe Ultimate Foodie’s Guide for Istanbul Street Food
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The Ultimate Foodie’s Guide for Istanbul Street Food

What Istanbul street food everyone should try?

In my opinion, it is one of the main attractions of the city. Without it, the ancient city would lose its flavor; it would simply not be the same Istanbul that we fell in love with. To visit Istanbul and not to try street food is not excusable. 

Istanbul, All Its Delicious Secrets Revealed

Istanbul is an ancient city with centuries-old customs. Once known as Constantinople, it used to be the center of the civilized world. Turks are proud people are well known for enjoying themselves over a good cup of tea or coffee, and plentiful food from land and sea. 

The city’s streets are an enormous restaurant on themselves, as an immeasurable variety of street food specialties, both sweet and savory, overwhelm your senses at every turn. 

Here’s my experience exploring the city of Istanbul, and I’m happy to share with you all the hidden gems and secret spots you can’t miss on your own travels. I hope you’re hungry because this will be one tasty ride!

Istanbul Street Food, amongst the best in the world

Experience walking by the most tender and aromatic roasted chestnuts ever; they’re all over the city. You need to taste the decadent honey-scented sweets, and you can’t miss the silly jokes from Turkish ice cream sellers — it’s called Dondurma. 

Drink tea from tulip glasses and the world-renowned Turkish coffee. Then there’s the famous Turkish bagel – Simit a sesame crusted, circular bread, it will forever be one of your brightest memories in Istanbul, it’s that good! 

Street food will satisfy your hunger during lengthy walks around the city, and it’s also a real culinary adventure. The food on the streets is as varied as any menu at a popular Turkish restaurant, and those are extensive menus. 

You’ll literally find food stalls in every corner of Istanbul, and they’re surprisingly attractive and colorful. Some of them sell fruit where you’ll find artfully arranged pears, apples, oranges, pomegranates, and more. Pick any fruit, and the traders will turn it into delicious freshly squeezed juice. They have a special machine for that, and the most colorful and tasty fresh juice comes out of it.

In addition, Turkey is a clean nation, so everyone cooks with gloves and under normal health-conscious conditions. Do you remember the cult around baths in Turkey when Europe was drenched in perfume to drown out unpleasant odors?

As soon as you sit down to have a bite and rest for a while, a beggar cat immediately jumps in front of you. They just sit silently and look at you with mournful eyes.

These are some of the most exciting and tasty street delicacies you can find in Istanbul.

1. Kumpir

This fairly known Turkish fast food is straightforward and utterly satisfying. Kumpir are basically stuffed baked potatoes. Naturally, baked potatoes cannot be attributed to the Turks as an invention, but the kumpir has a unique national flavor profile that comes from minced meat. The cooking process is simple: potatoes “in their skins” are thoroughly washed and baked whole covered in foil. Then each tuber is cut into halves or simply cut open, and they’re stuffed with butter and grated cheese. The skillful cook then mixes the melted butter and cheese with the potato itself without breaking the peel. 

According to the classic recipe, cheese must come from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk – the famous kashar (kaşar), but other medium-hard cheeses are great too. Finally, there’s the meat, making kumpir a whole meal.

Every chef has its version of kumpir. Mayonnaise, ketchup, mushrooms, green peas, boiled corn, olives, pickled vegetables, or slices of sausage. The sky’s the limit!

More often than not, kumpir merchants prepare various additional ingredients in advance, then lay them out on saucers and display them allowing you to make your own choices.

You don’t have to look for long to find kumpir – they sell the specialty in most busy streets, including the famous Istiklal Street. But the most renowned kumpir is in the Ortakey district, a street dedicated to kumpir shops – it is impossible to miss it. Here you’ll find at least a dozen shops selling the stuffed potatoes, and there’s something for every taste — no wonder the townspeople call this place the baked potato street (Kumpir Sokak). This is one of the staple of Istanbul street food and my absolute favorite .

2. Waffles

Freshly baked hot waffles, filled with delicious sweet fillings like liquid chocolate, fresh fruits, various creams, crunchy toppings and nuts are widely available. 

Order yours with fresh fruit, there’re often strawberries, cherries, bananas, kiwis and pineapples, and top them with fig jam, vanilla cream, hot chocolate, nuts or marzipan sprinkles.

3. Balik Ekmek Fish Sandwich

The İstanbullular claim that they invented this well-known dish at the Galata Bridge. Flash-fried fish topped with vegetables and herbs and folded into bread like a sandwich.

Balık Ekmek (Balyk Ekmek), literally means “fish in bread”. Absolutely all Turks love this dish, not to mention the tourists who daily eat this budget-friendly street fast food in huge quantities. 

You’ll find the most delicious Eklymek Balyk near the Eminenyu Ferry Terminal. There’s good looking fish also moving west of the Galata bridge, where you’ll find many fish sandwich outlets. You can also try a proper fish in bread in Kadikoy.

Preparing the dish is quite simple and interesting. Fried mackerel filet, or other similar oily fish, is placed in between bread slices and topped with pickled carrots, peppers and onions (optional). All this is carefully seasoned with lemon juice. That’s it! 

You can sit on one of the benches on the cozy Bosphorus embankment and enjoy the fantastic sea-scented taste of the Balky Ekmek while admiring the enchanting sea views.

Locals recommend pairing Balyk Ekmek with a special drink called Şalgam juice, red-hued, fermented turnip juice that tastes tart and spicy, a bit like pickle juice. It cleanses your mouth after every bite.

4. Ice Cream 

Ice cream is very traditional in Istanbul, but also in many other resort cities in Turkey. This is no regular frozen treat, though, it’s made with cream, whipped cream, salep (ground-up orchid tuber), plant resin from the pistachio plant, and sugar. 

This culinary masterpiece is attributed to Osman Aga, in Maras, who discovered that adding sweetness made salep quite tasty. The new creation was called initially salepli karsambaç, which roughly means sweet ice flavored with salep. The Turkish ice cream was eventually named marash dondurmas. The cream in this particular treat comes from goat’s milk, which adds a distinctive creaminess and unctuous mouthfeel to it, vastly different from the ice cream we’re used to. 

You’ll find this sweet specialty in cafes, but also the streets. The best part? Turkish ice cream melts very slowly! Ice cream street merchants are known for the infamous tricks of swirling, serving, and scooping away the ice cream from the customers’ hands, in a genuinely amusing routine that must take years to master. The performance will undoubtedly cheer you up, and you’ll remember it for a long time!

Made with all-natural ingredients, people attribute health properties to the dondurma. It looks like ordinary ice cream, though.

5. Chestnuts and corn 

Roasted chestnuts, or Turkish kestans, are another Istanbul gastronomic delight and is definitely a symbol of this colossal city. The nuts are traded directly on the streets, from carts, along with popcorn. The breathtaking aroma of chestnuts is unmistakable and almost addictive.

These street snacks are popular not only amongst tourists but also locals, so find this delicacy in all parks and busy streets.

Chestnuts are sold by weight, starting with 100 grams. The seller pours the chestnuts into a paper bag, weighs it, and gives it to you; they’re the perfect grab-and-go snack. Find them in Taksim Square, Istiklal, Sultanahmet, Baghdat Jaddesi, and in every other corner and don’t forget to enjoy them warm, don’t allow them to cool down. This is a classic of Istanbul street food .

Along with chestnuts, vendors sell boiled or fried corn on the cob. This is an inexpensive and satisfying snack, especially if you’re walking the city’s streets and need to satisfy your hunger fast. 

6. Simitchi

Istanbul would not be the same without its famous mosques and palaces, but equally iconic is simitchi. Specialty stands that sell one product alone – a treat called simit. At first glance, simites look like a simple bagel densely sprinkled with sesame seeds but behind the modest appearance, hides an unforgettable flavor and aroma reminiscent of the original Turkish bakeries. An Istanbul street food favorite of the locals .

Hot, crunchy, and dusted with freshly roasted sesame seeds, this ‘bagel’ is incredibly soft. You can ask yours to be cut along and spread with cream cheese. Both locals and tourists get their simites happily because it’s easy to carry around and super satisfying. 

The simit has become one of Istanbul’s symbols, along with Hagia Sophia and Topkapi. Absolutely everyone loves this tasty, budget-friendly baked treat – from school children and housewives to businessmen and tourists, from police officers to high-ranking officials. In a nutshell, Istanbul loves simit! You need to try them – they are inexpensive and create a wonderful tandem with a cup of coffee or a glass of tea for a pleasant gastronomic experience. And here’s one more tip, eat simit while it’s freshly baked, they’re just not the same the next day!

7. Wet burger

I only know one place in the city where you can find this rare specialty, Taksim Square, but perhaps there are other places. According to the legend, Islak’s at Taksim Square invented them. They forgot a burger in a steam bath and later found a wrinkled and unpresentable ‘wet burger’ that tasted great. 

Now a traditional patty is placed in a bun, abundantly greased with buttery tomato sauce and seasoned with spices. Then the entire thing is steamed in a closed glass display case and moistened with steam rising from below. The loaf turned out to be moist, but tasty. Even if you’re not that much into burgers – try a wet burger in Istanbul, you’ll love them. 

The most popular local food is entirely unknown to travelers, but it’s a favorite for Istanbul party-goers who start or end the night on Taksim Square. Find the Kizilkayarlar shop on the corner of Taksim Square and Syraselviler Street. The price is ridiculous – 4.5 lira.

The unusual burgers have been part of history, too; they nourished protesters who defended Taksim from excavators and the police in the famous demonstration against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May 2013.

8. Stuffed mussels 

Istanbul street food scene is unimaginable without stuffed mussels . Even though Istanbul has prime seafood available, it is almost impossible to find cooked mussels in their pure form. As a rule, they are served at the table, densely stuffed with rice, groundnuts and spices. This traditional Istanbul Streetfood dish is called Midye dolmasi. You’ll find stuffed mussels also on the streets, mainly in the evening. The dish has a unique spicy taste. Add a squirt of lemon juice and enjoy.

Midye dolmasi is very satisfying! So, don’t eat them before dinner. My Turkish friends advised me not to go near the mussel stands near metro stations. I trusted them without asking too many questions.

 9. Kokorech

This will sound unconventional, but kokorech are sheep’s guts, to which they add various innards of milk lambs: heart, liver, lungs, you get the idea. Then this whole thing is roasted on a skewer over burning embers and served chopped with pickled vegetables, bread, and ayran, a yogurt-based drink. If you’re brave enough, try them, they’re delicious! They cook Kokorech in restaurants, cafes, and on the streets, and it’s so popular that it collects lines from residents and lionhearted tourists. Here’s a fact: People in Turkey say the European Union will not take the country because lamb offal does not meet Europe’s sanitary standards. The Turkish authorities do not dare to ban their favorite national dish.

10.  Doner Kebab

Istanbul doner may look different from what you find at home. It’s often just meat on a plate with veggies. At your request, they’ll cook for you a doner in the form of shawarma, in pita bread, or a soft roll. By the way, bread in Istanbul is excellent. Historically, the Sultans took care of their people by introducing strict control measures over the quality of bread and even its price. A merchant caught selling poorly baked or stale bread received a severe punishment (involving sticks).

I believe that you can travel the world without quitting your job. I believe that you can experience all the magic, the foodies and the cultures of the world while having a normal life. And, perhaps, two dogs. This is exactly what I’ve been doing for 15 years. This is exactly what my blog is about. Love, Lilia