Top 10 Turkish Street Foods to Try in Istanbul
Street food is having a bit of a moment around the world right now, given the many videos and photos that are being uploaded daily on Instagram and YouTube by influencers and travellers alike. World-famous chefs, such as Salt Bae aka Nusret, who is from Turkey, keep locals and tourists captivated with their restaurants/burger joints, both in Istanbul and abroad. But, it’s the street food that showcases the real food culture of a country.
Istanbul’s street food is so popular with both locals and tourists that queues are not uncommon in some places. But the best part is that new and interesting shops and restaurants pop up every year and that’s what keeps Istanbul an interesting place to visit!
In Turkey’s biggest cities, street food has a special place in the food culture, especially in the three biggest cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
Street food in Turkey is an essential part of the social fabric of the city, where it is enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Many vendors sell delicious goods all over the city, especially in high traffic pedestrian areas, venues such as transportation stations, metros and tramways, and outside festivals, concert halls and football matches.
You’ve probably tried a meat wrap or et döner at some point in your life. While it’s also found in Istanbul and may qualify as a street food, let’s take a look at some of the others. Check out the following Top 10 street foods you can try while taking in the many wonderful sights in Istanbul.
One of the most popular street foods is the simit, a local bagel.
These crusty ringed bagels are baked with generous amounts of molasses and sesame seeds. Traditional accompaniments include cheese and fresh tomatoes, sometimes with cucumbers as well. Olive paste and hazelnut spread are also available these days.
The most eye-catching peddlers in Istanbul are those in red, white and gold carts, with rows and rows of this bagel.
Typically bought for breakfast, they also qualify as a quick snack throughout the day. It’s best to enjoy them right out of the oven when they’re warm and crunchy! They’re baked around the clock and fresh in the mornings. However, it’s best to ask your seller when they were baked so you can get the best deal. Alternatively, you can head to the nearest bakery such as Simit Saray.
Notice the red stalls selling it all over the city and try one on when you visit Istanbul. Find a place where you can grab a seat with an amazing view overlooking the sea and enjoy it with some hot çay.
2. Balık Ekmek
A filet of grilled white fish in a sandwich bun with raw onions, arugula or lettuce and tomatoes is an Istanbul classic.
The best place to have it is around Galata bridge, where fish anglers do what they do best for hours on end. In Eminönü, the kitschy boats parked on the water used to serve them but they’re no longer operating. Try your luck with individuals sellers in Karaköy or in one of the shops on Rıhtım Street in Kadıköy.
On the other hand, some peddlers sell their fare at the Asian seaside promenade. You can usually spot them around the Kabataş-Beşiktaş-Adalar urban ferry station, nearby the Balon café.
Prominently sold around the cold months, roasted chestnuts are very popular in Turkey. During winter, you can find a peddler at almost every corner in Istanbul, especially around Istiklal street and Taksim. In Istanbul, you can find them especially at the ferry harbours with their distinct smokey aroma. Sold on portable roasting carts, they can keep you warm while you wait for the seller to bag your treats.
Usually priced between 5–15 liras for a small, medium or big bag depending on the weight, it’s a great treat that warms you right up! On busy avenues with heavy pedestrian traffic, the sight of roasted chestnuts in the city signifies that winter is here to stay, even if there’s no snow on the ground.
Chestnuts as a sweet treat called Kestane Sekeri are another unique treat. Candied chestnuts are from Bursa but you can buy them in confectioneries such as Koska or Seyidoğlu in Istanbul.
4. Kofte Ekmek
Sizzling on an outdoor grill or sometimes out of a food truck, kofte ekmek is simply grilled meatballs. Moreover, you can add fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions and greens such as lettuce or rocket.
Typically served between a sandwich bun, it’s an easy and cheap way to have a tasty and incredibly filling meal. Sometimes the meatballs are also wrapped in flatbread called lavaş, making it a dürüm (wrap). Both versions can be quickly washed down with ayran, a salty yogurt drink!
It’s a simple but satisfying way to get rid of that hunger after a long night out partying in Beyoğlu or outdoor festivals at Maçka Park/KüçükÇiftlik Park. Fenerbahçe Stadium on the Asian side is another venue where football matches of the Turkish professional football teams are held. On the other hand, if you want to grab this sandwich from a shop then head to Bambi Bufe in Taksim.
5. Sweet Corn
Boiled sweet corn (süt mısır) or baby corn is a quick snack you can find on the streets of Istanbul. It’s usually sold alongside roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob. Both are available for less than 10 liras in almost every part of the city. This is especially true around Sultanahmet and the Spice Bazaar. Interestingly, the Spice Baazar is also called the Egyptian Bazaar or Mısır Çarşısı. Mısır is the same word used for both Egypt and corn in the Turkish language.
These days it’s popular to have the boiled corn in cups so you can add butter or spices to the mix. Try them near the Kabataş seaside.
Mussels with cooked rice is a speciality in the coastal areas of Turkey. You can find numerous stalls in cities like Istanbul, Bodrum and Izmir.
Stuffed orange mussels or midye dolma as they’re called, are cooked with aromatic rice, spices, currants, and herbs. To eat it, you break off the top shell and spoon the mix inside the bottom shell with it. Enjoy this treat with a squeeze of lemon! It’s a perfect little bite of deliciousness!
Streetside options are available and easy to spot, but if you’re worried about eating shellfish on the street, then head to a popular spot where locals also frequent.
In Cengelköy on the Asian side and in the popular shopping district of Beşiktaş, Midyeci Ahmet is an extremely well-known shop. Ahmet, the man who runs the place originally hails from Izmir which is particularly known for this dish. Order a small portion for 10-15 liras or a bigger one to share with friends and be sure to have them warm!
Alternatively, you can try these at Midyeci Murat in Arnavutköy while exploring a different part of the city.
Not for the faint of heart, this street delicacy comprises lamb intestines wrapped around offal. It is then grilled slowly to perfection on a horizontal rotisserie over charcoal. The preparation is of immense importance considering the fact that the intestines have to be thoroughly cleaned and prepared beforehand.
Certain neighbourhoods are served by particular masters (ustalar) with their portable cars. Fans know where to find them and at what time, usually late in the evenings.
It’s typically served minced or sliced in a sandwich bun with some salt, tomatoes and chilli powder. Spices of your choice such as cumin, oregano or hot chilli flakes can also be added. Izmir’s version, for example, is with fewer spices so you get to taste the meatiness, whereas Istanbul offers the spicier version. Either way, if you’ve never tried offal and intestines, then do give Kokoreç a try!
Enjoy this delicacy at Şampiyon Kokoreç near Galatasary tramway stop in Beyoğlu or near Bar Street in Kadıköy at Reks or Kokoretto, a local favourite.
A favourite among workers and students, places serving only rice with a multitude of additions are very popular and for a good reason. It’s a simple meal that involves Turkish-style rice fried in butter first, before cooking it in broth. It may not be the most sophisticated dish, but it can be a great one for your wallet.
The stalls and shops sell rice that’s cooked fresh daily and with fresh additions such as cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots. Haricot beans in tomato sauce on top of a portion of rice (kuru fasulye) is a staple dish in every Turkish household! Other cooked additions are peas, potatoes, fried meat (kavurmalı), fried eggs, boiled chickpeas (nohutlu) and chicken (tavuklu). A side of yogurt is sometimes available.
You can find cheaper options usually only offering chickpea rice and chicken rice from street stalls but do make sure they have steady customers. If you notice a crowd or a queue, that’s a good sign, both in terms of customer satisfaction and fresher ingredients. Try this dish at Meşhur Unkapanı I.M.Ç Pilavcısı in Fatih, or at Pilav Station in Kadıköy‘s Caferağa neighbourhood.
Baked potatoes with a variety of fillings is a takeaway fast food in Turkey. The potato is baked in foil first and then cut open. Then, a good amount of butter and Kaşar cheese are mixed in with the potato — this is the simple version.
It is best enjoyed with various fillings in our humble opinion. For example, thick yogurt with herbs, boiled corn, pickles, black or green olives, fresh carrots, Russian salad, hot Mexican red kidney beans salad, bulgur salad, boiled peas, cooked sausages, and much more. Keep it simple by ordering it with a few ingredients for a snack or pile on a few more to make it a full meal that you can enjoy with a friend.
A popular place in Istanbul where you can grab this fast food is in the neighbourhood of Ortaköy, near the famous Neo-Baroque Mecidiye mosque.
That’s where you’ll find more than a dozen outdoor shops competing for your attention, along with other options such as ice cream and waffles. You can enjoy this ultimate baked potato on a bench along the water with a great view of the Bosphorus Bridge.
A thin spicy flatbread called Lahmacun is worth trying in Istanbul. It’s topped with minced lamb or beef, onions and parsley. Called a Turkish pizza, its origins are from Southeastern Turkey and it’s common in the cuisines of Lebanon, Syria and Armenia. This flatbread is rolled thin, thinner than an Italian pizza, and that’s what gives it the crispy texture. Some places do offer melted cheese on top as an option and that is a worthy addition!
Rolled into a wrap with some arugula leaves and eaten with a squeeze of lemon, it’s a great meal. Try pickled cucumbers, onions and fresh parsley and lettuce to go with it. Grab a few portions at Tatbak in Nişantaşı or at Çiya Kebap. Alternatively, find it at Borsam Taşfırın in Kadıköy. Of course, less popular local shops offer cheaper options and they are worth trying too. Most are made fresh to order and prepared right in front of your eyes. You can taste the difference!
With these 10 street foods, we’ve introduced a variety of options to those wanting to explore Istanbul’s street food scene. Istanbul and Turkey offer a lot of options for the travelling foodie. There are tons of other options like tantuni, wet hamburgers, pickle juice, wafers, çiğ kofte, local ice cream flavours and others. Those we’ll keep for another time!