Many of the world’s largest cities share a culture of street food, where local vendors on public streets sell traditional, usually portable dishes that can be eaten on the fly. Think hotdogs in New York, tamales in Chicago, “pizza al taglio” in Rome, or “poutine” in Quebec. Turkey, where east literally meets west, has a street food scene so rich and complex it is hard to sum up, especially as it changes from region to region.
Istanbul is not only Turkey’s largest city, with some 14 million inhabitants, it is one of the greatest metropolises in the world, so you would expect it to have a rich variety of street food. And it certainly does not disappoint! Below is our list of street food to try in Istanbul.
simit – freshly baked bread ropes that have been twisted into a circle, dipped in molasses and covered with sesame seeds. They are so ubiquitous in the mornings that Adrian, who visited Turkey in 2013, recalls that “In the mornings you (literally) can’t miss the vendors hawking fresh simit on sidewalks, in the middle of intersections . . . everywhere you turn. Better than donuts!”
börek – a sort of savory baklava, made with thin layers of dough (such as phyllo) filled with cheese, vegetables, or meat. You will find it for breakfast, but also at any time of day.
Many of the dishes are meat-based:
dürüm – a wrap sandwich made with yufka (Turkish flatbread) and dôner;
pilav (or tavuk pilav) – rice with chicken and chickpeas
uykuluk – lamb sweetbreads grilled over charcoal (served more on the European side)
lahmacun – sometimes called “Turkish pizza” by tourists, it is a thin crust of dough topped with a seasoned minced meat mixture. It is often served wtih a handful of parseley and a bit of lemon juice and rolled into a wrap
kokoreç – this unusual offering is made of spiced sheep’s intestines, skewered and cooked in large pieces on a horozontal spit over charcoal, otherwise cooked in a pan. Not ready to try it? Adrian wasn’t so certain either: “I was a little nervous about trying Kokorec because I normally don’t like tripe, but the way they season and dice it up makes for an awesome sandwich. Sounds a little weird, but tastes great.”
kumpir – a baked potato topped with a ton of toppings such as kaşar (cheese), vegetables, sausage, and different types of salad
balik-ekmek – a scrumptious fish sandwich made with fresh fish cooked on or just off the fishing boat (it’s that fresh) and served on a bun
midye (mussels), served in two ways – There are midye tava (skewed and fried, and served with a garlic sauce) or midye dolma (“dolma” means stuffed, and these are eaten cold with lemon and olive oil). The midye were a big hit with Adrian: “My street food highlight was definitely the ‘midye dolma,’ mussels stuffed with aromatic rice and herbs sold right on the sidewalk out of big metal trays. The seller squeezes a little fresh lemon on the half-open shell, hands it to you, and away you go. Just keep on eating until full, pay up, and continue on your way.”
By Peg Kern