Istanbul, one of the world’s largest cities with a population of around 15 million, is considered as Turkey’s cultural and tourism capital. This city is famous for its tourists, both domestic and international. Over 12 million foreign tourists visited Istanbul in 2015, then on it was named as European Capital of Culture, making it the fifth most popular tourist destination in the world. Many flocks to Istanbul for the history, views, and culture, but for us, it is the mecca of food. When you are in Istanbul, you will realize that there are a lot of street vendors at every corner of the city selling all kinds of Turkish delicacies.
One more amazing fact of Istanbul is that of its people, the people over here are extremely welcoming and friendly, also considered as the ones who provide the best hospitality. If you are a foreigner, the people over there will do their best to communicate with you and help you out. Coming to the street life of Istanbul, it is deeply interwoven with the city’s food culture. Logically speaking, one of the best ways to experience the street food is to wander around the alleys and avenues and literally eat around this beautiful city.
List of 15 Famous and Exclusive Street Foods in Istanbul:
Istanbul’s highly developed infrastructure, coupled with the public’s insatiable hunger for tasty food, means that the tourists can eat obscure Turkish delights without ever leaving the cultural capital. Cataloging all the street foods of Istanbul will be bulky, so here we list out some of the famous street foods to try out in your next visit to Istanbul:
Simit (Turkish Bagel):
This is one of the most famous street foods available on almost every street in Istanbul and certainly the quickest breakfasts you can have. Simit is a circular Turkish bread baked and encrusted with sesame seeds over it. On some occasions, you may also find flax seeds, poppy or sunflower seeds over it. Over the years, the Simit vendors have increased their choice of fillings, which now include the likes of Nutella, olive tapenade.
This is the dish popular among the locals and is considered as the best post-drunk food. This is kind of a kebab made of offal, which consists of a filling is made up of chopped pieces of spiced and fried lamb intestines wrapped around the innards such as sweetbreads. The resulting loaf is roasted, then sliced, chopped, and cooked on a grill with plenty of spices. This dish is seasoned with chili flakes and served with a fresh piece of pita bread. It is said that this Kokorec tastes better when the intestines of young lamb are used.
Balik Ekmek, the second most popular inexpensive street food found on the streets of Istanbul. This is basically a Turkish fish sandwich. It consists of a big chunk of dough, composed with a grilled fish, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Mackerel fish is the most commonly used in these sandwiches.
The tourists often refer to this as Turkish pizza. Lahmacun is a type of flat dough topped with minced meat, usually beef or lamb, onions, vegetables, traditional herbs, red pepper, and then slid into an oven for a few minutes and served. This dish tastes better when topped with a handful of parsley and a dash of lemon juice. Lahmacun is significantly lighter and can be eaten as a snack rather than a full meal.
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Midye Dolma is stuffed mussels. This mouth-watering dish is more of a snack than a regular meal. The mussels on the half shell are stuffed with aromatic spicy rice, currants, and pine nuts and served with a squeeze of yellow lemon juice over it. This is one of the favorite snacks of most of the tourist touring Istanbul.
This is yet another unique Istanbul delicacy. A steamed burger stuffed with spicy meat, usually lamb or beef, vegetables, and a lot of butter. This is then topped with a special Turkish sauce, which makes the burger wet and salivating. Turkish people die to eat Islak Hamburger once a week, and hence it is worth trying when you visit Istanbul.
This dish actually resembles a pizza, essentially a flat dough that is folded over at the edges that get turned into a pizza boat. This dish is filled with the traditional Turkish peynir cheese, a cheese made from goat milk. This mouth-watering dish melts quickly into the mouth with heavenly goodness. If you are a Vegetarian, you can choose the cheese-spinach filling or onion filling, while other options include the fillings of spiced lamb or beef. This dish is quite a filling that one plate of Pide can be shared by two persons.
This is considered as the best post-drunk food in Istanbul. This kebab consists of a vertical stack of rotating meat (usually chicken or beef) off which the meat is shaved once it is crispy around the edges. It is then wrapped in a flatbread or stuffed into a pide or crusty roll and served with raw onions and tomatoes.
These are the stuffed meatballs consisting of crispy bulgur shell stuffed with minced meat, parsley, spices, onions, and sautéed nuts. This downright delicious snack is made by hand on a daily basis. Make sure to check for the freshness when you order this snack.
When you are done with the spicy food for the day, shift your focus to the desserts. Bakalava is a delicious sweet dish consisting of filo pastry stuffed with nuts and dry fruits. This pastry is held together with sugary syrup or honey, which makes it an irresistible eatery.
Chestnuts and Corn:
In winters, the smell of the freshly roasted chestnuts and boiled corn fill up the streets of Istanbul as the vendors cart up all around the city. These chestnuts are not only sold during winters, just like in European nations, instead served all through the year because Turkey is one of the top three producers of chestnuts. The chestnuts are roasted on a small hot plate integrated into the vendor’s cart and served in a little paper bag. Along with the chestnuts, most of the vendors serve the boiled corn or corn grilled over burnt coal on the same cart. These could be the best time passing snacks.
When visiting Istanbul, keep your eyes open for Lokma carts. These are the fried dough delicacies, immersed in a sugary syrup, and sprinkled with ground pistachios will quickly fill the option of afternoon dessert. Freshly made Lokma gives you the perfect taste, make sure you don’t burn your tongue while enjoying this hot pastry.
This is a seasonal fermented drink often served during winters by mobile vendors on the streets of Istanbul. This drink is made from millet that has been boiled, crushed and strained, this thick liquid is then fermented and garnished with cinnamon and chickpeas.
Menemen, also known as Turkish scrambled eggs, is yet another typical breakfast dish. Traditionally this dish consists of scrambled eggs, green bell peppers, tomatoes fried in healthy olive oil. It is then spiced with black pepper and tastes good with chopped onions. You can also order for meat Menemen, wherein fresh lamb meat is fried along with the scrambled eggs. This dish is served with fresh Turkish bread, which can help you as a brunch.
This is a salted yogurt drink and perhaps a reminiscent of a non-sweet lassi. This is something you can have as a refreshing drink in the hot and humid climate of Istanbul. You can find so many vendors on the streets of Istanbul who offer you with this refreshing drink at a reasonable price.
Best Street Food Places and Available Foods in Istanbul:
- Istanbul is famous for its tourist attractions, and hence you can find many street food vendors on almost every street in Istanbul. The best Simit is available at Sarayi, a Turkish bakery chain with outlets around every corner of the city, including one at the airport.
- Some of the delicious Pide can be found near the streets of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
- The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is a one-stop place for most of the street foods mentioned above. You can find Turkey’s best Doner Kebab in Grand Bazaar.
- Icli Kofte is a must-try snack in Istanbul, and Istiklal street is ranked No 1 for this kofte.
- Galata Bridge is yet another spot in Istanbul where you can find the famous dish Balik Ekmek.
- Mercan Kokorec and Cengelkoy Kokrec at Cengelkoy, a nostalgic Istanbul neighborhood, serves you with the city’s best Kokorec and Midye Dolma. Do try out.
There is a saying that if you are on tour to a place, you have just wasted your money if you haven’t tasted the street food of that place. It is the same with Istanbul. Traditional street foods in this city are mostly found in historical neighborhoods, therefore you will not only taste the local cuisines in the food tour, but you will also learn a lot about Istanbul’s culture and history. When you are in and around Istanbul the next time, make sure not to miss any of the above delicious street foods. When you are back from your tour, do share your street food experience with us.