Let your nose lead you to the vendors of street foods in Istanbul. From snacks of simit, roasted chestnuts or corn, to pide, balik ekmek, and icli kofte meals, the cooking scents filling the air will quickly draw your attention.
The best street foods are found in all of the prime tourist areas of Istanbul. It’s a casual and relaxing atmosphere where most items on the menu are meant to be eaten by hand.
If you’re just looking for a quick bite to eat on the run, a bagel like simit, or a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts might do. Should have a bit more time, some roasted corn-on-the-cob or a light lunch of stuffed mussels (midye dolma) can do the trick.
Simit is, in a way, a bagel, but a Turkish bagel. It is a Turkish bread shaped into a large circle with a hole in the middle and is usually covered in sesame seeds. You may find simit, on occasion, sprinkled with flax, sunflower, or poppy seeds. Simit makes a great breakfast or snack, taken on the go with tea.
You can find these at bakeries all across the city, especially Simit Saray, which is a chain that is also found at the airport in Istanbul. Bakeries can charge about 2TL but they are a bargain at street vendors for 1.50TL.
A very nice snack or light lunch that is not too heavy, midye dolma means “stuffed mussels.” A savory spicy rice with currants and nuts are melded together, then fill the mussels, and served with a wedge of lemon. Before eating, you spritz the mussels with some lemon juice. The aroma of these make your mouth water and taste even more exquisite than you can imagine.
There are just too many vendors to choose from that serve midye dolma. They can be located by the delectable bouquet that wafts through the air in Istanbul. You can buy ten mussels for 10TL, which is incredible, and leaving you to eat as many as you can fit in your stomach.
Roasted chestnuts are a well-known autumnal fare in many cultures, but in Istanbul, you can find vendors near most tourist streets and sites.
At times, the chestnut vendors offer corn-on-the-cob for sale too. If not, there’s usually a second vendor nearby, as the two often go hand-in-hand in street food cuisine.
If you’re looking for something quick, but more substantial to last you all the way through till dinner, a pizza type bread (pide), a fish sandwich (balik ekmek), kebaps, or a few stuffed meatballs (icli kofte) can fill you up.
Should be feeling adventurous, an organ-meat kebab (kokorec) is a very Turkish meal, but does take some getting used to.
Reminiscent of pizza, pide is not flat but has edges that curl over resembling a ship or boat. This “ship” is filled with a white cheese known as Turkish peynir made with goat’s milk. Pide can be very filling and is an excellent sharable dish or snack.
The cheese highlights salty, creamy notes and has a strong, rich flavor, making for a very smooth treat for your mouth and taste buds. Just as pizza offers an array of toppings, so does pide.
For the meat lover, a Turkish sausage made with beef (sujuk) or a spiced lamb can be crumbled on your pide. If you want a vegetarian pizza boat, spinach or another vegetable can be added with the cheese.
If you are walking from the Topkapi Palace, the Hoca Pasa Pidecisi serves the best all-around pide with prices 20-25TL, which takes into consideration the toppings.
If you always seem to order breaded fish sandwiches with “fish and chips” fish (which isn’t very healthy), you will happily trade that for balik ekmek. which is a fish sandwich, Turkish style. Most often fillet of mackerel is the fish of choice and is fried and placed inside thick pieces of white bread and topped with fragrant slices of onion and lettuce
There are many restaurants around the Galata Bridge area offering this great sandwich for around 12TL. After enjoying your balik ekmek, take a cruise around the waterway of Bosphorus.
“Stuffed meatball” is actually the meaning of this dish. The filling is usually lamb or beef which is then minced and stuffed into a bulgur shell after being blended with aromatic onions and savory spices and nuts. These are heavy and fill you up quickly, so don’t have eyes bigger than your belly and order too many.
One of the most widely recognized restaurants in Istanbul is Sabirtasi and this is where you can sample the best icli kofte. You can either eat in their restaurant at 7TL a meatball or order an icli kofte at their outdoor booth for 6TL for one. They’ve been making these wonderful stuffed tastes of heaven since 1987.
Come Doner, come Durum, come Iskender, sooner or later when touring Istanbul, they are going to fill your belly. There are too many types of kebaps to list here, as well as places to eat them. If you can go 50ft in the city without seeing a kebap stand, count yourself lucky. Free free to read the history of Turkish kebaps, kebaps 101 primer, or kebap FAQs for more info.
Depending on your meat-eating tastes this next Turkish food, kokorec, is not for the faint of heart. If you like organ meats, then this is the dish for you. The local Turkish people love it, being a kebab that is made with offal.
Offal is any non-muscular parts of lamb, mutton, or beef, such as kidneys, lungs, and heart. This organ meat, along with a wide variety of pungent spices is used as a filling and packed into intestines, and then grilled. After searing, the meat is then chipped off and minced, sprinkled with chile flecks, and offered with pide served on the side.
Kral Kokorec serves a fine kokorec, and an entree is priced at 30TL, while a sandwich is 12TL.