In Istanbul, eating street food is an integral aspect of social life. You can’t go more than a few hundred feet without seeing a stall selling some kind of merchandise, and there are dozens of stores selling snacks and coffee along the way. And by “street food,” we don’t simply mean food purchased and consumed in public places; we also mean a wide variety of quick bites like börek (pastry), kebap (a kind of kebab), döner (a type of kebab), and köfte (a type of meatball) (meatballs). What follows is a rundown of the current trends and the things that are falling flat.
Istanbul’s sizzling street fare
- It’s likely that kebap, along with döner, is the first kind of street food that springs to mind when a foreigner is asked to identify one. Kebap is the genuine name for bite-sized portions of grilled or roasted meat, often beef, lamb, or chicken. A few of the best Turkish foods include the skender kebap, adana kebap, patlican kebap, and iş kebap.
- Döner, which refers to meat rolled up tightly and roasted on a big vertical slant, is the foundation of popular fast food dishes such as Pilav Üstü Döner, skedender, and dürüm. You may find these restaurants all across Taksim, but the beginning of Istiklal Caddesi is where you’ll find the greatest concentration.
- A Börek is a flaky pastry made up of numerous thin layers, often baked in a certain form and filled with a variety of delicious ingredients. People from the neighborhood go into these mom-and-pop joints for a quick bite to eat before work or school. I particularly like kymali börek (filled with minced pork), patatesli börek (filled with potatoes), and spanakl börek (filled with spinach) (with potato filling). Su börei is a safe bet if you like things on the simple side.
- Pide is a flat, pizza-like bread that is leavened just a little. Once again, there are a variety of variations; two of the most well-known are Kaşarl Pide (with melted cheese) and Sucuklu Pide (with melted cheese and spicy sausage).
- Lahmacun is a kind of pizza popular in Turkey. Flat, oval bread stuffed with ground pork, onions, pepper paste, and occasionally tomato, pepper, parsley, and spices. On the side, you may expect a salad and maybe some lemon wedges. Tourists may see locals make a roll out of their pizza by adding salad, lemon, and a sprinkle of the pizza’s crust.
- Msr is corn on the cob that has just been boiled or grilled, and it’s often served with a salt and pepper rub. In the warmer months, only the true street vendors with their push vehicles bother to serve this famous food.
- When winter rolls around, the aforementioned street sellers stop selling maize and start selling roasted chestnuts (known as kestáne).
- The name of this dish translates to “fish bread” in English. And that’s essentially what it is: fresh fish cooked in front of your eyes and placed inside a giant piece of bread. People who like this kind of quick cuisine will have a great time at Eminönü, on the waterfront near the Galata Bridge.
- Kokoreç is intestines from a sheep that have been barbecued on a skewer with an almost industrial quantity of spices. A favorite munchie for those who have had one (or more) too many cocktails. Which of these skewers contains the döner and which contains the intestines? To our relief, the kokoreç skewer is always laid up horizontally.
Istanbul’s Ice-Cold Street Eats
- Crisp, ring-shaped, delicious rolls coated in sesame, called simit, are sold by vendors in glass-fronted push vehicles on the street. Sokak simit (found for sale on the streets and often quite crispy) and pastane simit (found in restaurants) are the two most common varieties (sold in shops and softer).
- The Turkish pastry known as an açma is a ring-shaped savoury bun. It’s pliable, yet with a greasy aftertaste.
- Poaça is a savoury, puffy pastry. You may have a basic one (sade) or one with a filling (my favourite is zeytinli), which can be cheese, kymal (minced meat), or anything else (sliced black olives)
- The original version of I köfte had uncooked ground beef, pounded wheat, and red pepper. Delicacy, but now only available at home. Commercially available çi köfte can no longer legally include raw meat, but you should still give it a try.
- Mussel stuffing, also known as midye dolma. Take care while purchasing them from vendors on (presumably sunny) sidewalks. Determine the vendor’s reliability by consulting with locals. Try your luck in Beşiktaş or Kadköy at the Midyeci Yasin street food eatery.
Only half of the cuisine on the Taste of Two Continents excursion is mentioned here. Read my comprehensive evaluation of this Yummy Istanbul food tour if you’re a gourmet who is on the fence about whether or not to go on an Istanbul food tour.