Istanbul Street Food
Istanbul is one of the most incredible and overwhelming places I’ve traveled to. There is so much to see with the amazing architecture, endless shops of the Grand Bazaar and of course, all of the Istanbul street food to try! With so many options out there, here are the street foods you have to enjoy during your stay.
Translating to “fish bread” this street food – or perhaps more aptly described as ‘boat food’ should be at the top of your list. With Istanbul’s proximity to the water, fishermen have been making and selling fish sandwiches for centuries. Available near Galata Bridge, the vendors making these local favorites incorporate boats that are docked and function as kitchens while your cashier will take your order on the dock.
Balik-ekmek is a simple combination of fish, onion slaw, lettuce, a fresh roll and add a squeeze of lemon juice from one of the nearby tables. If you like pickle juice, with or without pickles, nearby vendors sell it by the cup. Many locals enjoy a sip of the pickle juice with their sandwich. Soft drinks are also available.
At $3, this is an affordable meal and a unique experience every visitor to Istanbul should enjoy. I preferred to eat street food as I walked around but you can also sit at one of their small tables – if you can find a seat. This place gets very busy around mid-day so try to stop by before or after noon to avoid the rush.
Sometimes referred to as “Turkish Pizza”, this Istanbul street food is made of a thin dough topped with minced meat, onions and peppers. There are a few ways to eat this dish. First, it can be enjoyed on its own. Traditionally it’s wrapped around parsley with a dash of sumac and squeeze of lemon. It also pairs well with ezmi, a Turkish blend of tomatoes, peppers and seasoning. I also enjoyed it with a salad of tomato, cucumber, parsley and olive oil. This tasty little dish seems to go well with everything.
Ayran is a yogurt drink considered by most to be the national beverage of Turkey. It’s an excellent accompaniment to lahmacun, adding a creamy note to every bite.
Thicker than lahmacun, these are made on pida bread, usually topped with a combination of cheeses, or with cheeses and beef sausage. It may also be served with some tiny red and green peppers on the side which can add some serious spice.
Street Food made of a thin wrap packed with chicken or beef doner kebap. The meat is grilled on a vertical rotisserie similar to the gyros I wrote about in Athens and Santorini. Dürüm are also stuffed with tomato, pickle, onion and fries. They are then rolled into a sandwich. Dürüm can also be ordered with just veggies or cheese. Unlike gyros, Dürüm do not contain tzatziki but they may be served with a garlic or spicy red sauce. Check out the eight dürüm shops all in a row next to Taksim Square.
‘Wet’ Burgers at Kizilkayalar
Also next to Taksim Square, an Istanbul street food made famous by Anthony Bourdain’s visit here, you will find some steamed buns with a beef patty and tomato sauce in side. At around $1, these steamy “wet” burgers are worth a try. You’ll enjoy them even more if you’ve had a few local beers first. Dürüm are sold in this shop as well so you can try both together like I did.
This street food consists of mussels served on the half shell stuffed with rice, herbs and a squeeze of lemon. These are sold by more street vendors than you can count in the late hours. Once you order, they’ll continue handing them to you until you wave for them to stop so be careful and don’t fill up too fast! They pair well with a local beer.
Corn on the cob prepared either boiled or grilled, with a brush of butter and a dash of salt. This street food is only in season during the summer months. Having tried both, I like the grilled the best. Make sure to get it right off the grill so it’s as fresh as possible.
Roasted chestnuts are grilled and salted by street food vendors. They are sometimes served at the same stands as the misir I mentioned above. These are available year-round.
A popular Istanbul street food made of doughy bread filled with cheese, meat or other ingredients such as spinach. Available in street-side bakeries and many street vendors. These are usually baked earlier in the day so get them for lunch or breakfast. Make sure they look fresh before you grab one!
This pretzel bread covered with sesame seeds is a good complement to breakfast or for a snack. These are served in bakeries and food carts. Again, make sure they look fresh before you order one!
This tastes much better than it sounds. Lamb intestines wrapped and cooked on a vertical skewer. Some locals claim they are more popular at night when people have enjoyed a few drinks and have fewer inhibitions. I thought they were tasty but also very rich. Not something I would order daily but well worth a try.
Baked potatoes filled with cheese or any combination of veggies, meat and sometimes mayo. Popular at many street-side restaurants, these are good options for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. I unfortunately ran out of time on my last day and wasn’t able to order one. I’ll grab one next time for sure.
Recap of Istanbul Street Food
Istanbul street food comes in many forms and flavors. In between visits to the Blue Mosque, Hagai Sofia and Cistern Basilica, I highly recommend giving each of these a try. You won’t be disappointed.
A special thank you to Irem for her recommendations and hospitality. Also, thank you to Florentine and Franzi for putting up with my relentless search to enjoy and document all of these foods.
Sherefe! (Cheers in Turkish)
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