Istanbul’s Street Food – What’s Hot And What’s Not!

Picture of street seller in Istanbul selling corn.

by Erlend Geerts

in Practical Information, Restaurants

Eating street food is very much part of the Istanbul way of life. You can’t walk for over a kilometer without coming accross one or more street vendors and a dozen of snack shops or büfes. And with street food we don’t just mean food literally bought and eaten on the street, but also an array of light snacks such as pastry (börek), kebap, döner and meatballs (köfte). Here’s is an overview of what’s hot and what’s not, as well as a list of usual suspects.

Hot Istanbul Street Food

Döner seller on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey.

Döner seller on the streets of Istanbul.

  • Kebap – together with döner, this is probably the first street food that comes to any tourist’s mind when asked to name one. Kebap actually means small pieces of broiled or roasted meat — generally cow, sheep or chicken. Excellent dishes you may want to try out are İskender Kebap, Adana Kebap, Patlıcan Kebap and Şiş Kebap.
  • Döner – this tightly packed meat roasted on a large vertical spit is the basis for fast-food snacks (or even full meals) such as Pilav Üstü Döner, İskedender and Dürüm. Although you can find these half-outside/half-inside eateries almost anywhere, for the biggest concentration head to the beginning of Istiklal Caddesi in Taksim.
  • Börek – a flaky pastry consisting of several thin layers, often with a specific shape and/or filling. You’ll see locals entering these tiny shops for a quick breakfast or lunch. Among my favorites are ıspanaklı börek (with spinach filling), peynirli börek (with cheese filling), kıymalı börek (with minced meat filling) and patatesli börek (with potato filling). If you prefer it rather plain, you can’t go wrong with su böreği.
  • Pide – a slightly leavened, flat pizza like bread. They again come in different styles, with Kaşarlı Pide (melted cheese) and Sucuklu Pide (melted cheese and spicy sausage) among the most popular.
  • Lahmacun – a Turkish-style pizza. A very thin round piece of pide, with ground meat, onions, pepper paste, sometimes tomato, pepper, parsley, and spices. It is often served with a salad and a few pieces of lemon in a side dish. You’ll see locals topping the pizza with the salad, sprinkling is with lemon and making a roll out of it.
  • Mısır – freshly boiled or grilled corn on the cob, often sprinkled with salt or spices. This popular snack is almost exclusively sold during the summer months by the real street sellers with their push-cars.
  • Kestane – due to the lack of corn in winter, the street vendors mentioned above shift to roasted chestnuts in winter time.
  • Balık ekmek – literaly translated ‘fish bread’. And that’s basically what it is — fish, grilled or fried in front of your eyes and stuffed inside a large piece of bread. Fans of this fast-food can have a blast in Eminönü, on the shore next to the Galata Bridge.

Cold Istanbul Street Food

Simit and acma on display in Istanbul, Turkey.

Simit and açma on display in push-car.

  • Simit – a crisp, ring-shaped, savory roll covered with sesame. Sold by street sellers with glass-fronted push-cars. There are two main versions: sokak simit (sold on the streets and very crispy) and pastane simit (sold in shops and softer).
  • Açma – a ring-shaped savory bun — a Turkish-style dougnut if you will. It’s soft but also a bit oily.
  • Poğaça – a flaky, savory pastry. You can go for the plain one (sade) or choose one with a filling: peynirli (cheese), kıymalı (minced meat), or my personal favorite — zeytinli (black olives)
  • Çiğ köfte – originally a dish made of raw ground meat, pounded wheat and red pepper. It’s a delicacy, but now only found at home. Commercially sold çiğ köfte is no longer allowed to contain raw meat, but it’s still something you should try out.

The Usual Suspects

When wandering through Istanbul’s streets, you’ll also notice the following snacks being sold. While they’re all delicious when fresh and prepared well, be cautious when buying them on the (sunny) streets. Ask for local advice as to where to order them best!

Kokoreç on its horizontal skewer in Istanbul, Turkey.

Kokoreç on its horizontal skewer.

  • Midye dolma – stuffed mussels. If you’re a fan, you may want to prefer eating those in a real restaurant.
  • Kokoreç – grilled sheep intestines with an almost industrial amount of spices, roasted on a skewer. A very popular snack after a night out and (too) many drinks. So which skewer has the döner and which one the intestines? Luckily for us, the kokoreç skewer is always positioned horizontally.

Afiyet Olsun! (have a nice meal)

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What's Next

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda K Cingilli January 23, 2013 at 9:02 am

My husband and I have made seven trips to Turkey and we have enjoyed all of these specialties listed above. I favor Turkish cuisine above all others save my paternal grandmother’s Polonya recipes. I am enjoying these descriptions you have written about Istanbul, the most glorious city in the world. Orhan, my husband, is from Kayseri. We have been married for 46 years and have traveled all over the western part of Turkey and central Anatolia. Bursa is my second favorite, and Antalya (Goynuk, especially Majestic Kalikia Hotel – we’ve been there three times) is third. I love Turkey and everything about it, but every city has to grow and I miss the greenery coming in from the airport.

Reply

Erlend Geerts January 24, 2013 at 7:35 am

Thanks a lot Linda for sharing this.

Kind regards,
Erlend

Reply

sarkarosso September 14, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Hello Erlend,
After your tips about traveling around in Istanbul, I would like to know about the cost of food in Istanbul.
How much do I spend for a light meal in a moderate restaurant in Sultanahmet area?
I know you will say-’It will depend on what you eat and where you eat!’
So, say a seafood meal with bread/rice(?) — TL ……..
A chicken meal with bread/pita —- TL ………
Or a Vegan meal with staples —- TL …….
Why I ask is because in Istanbul we want to eat Turkish food, and not go with McD or Col Saunders.
Best Regards
Sarkarosso

Reply

Erlend Geerts September 15, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Hi Sarkarosso,

It’s very difficult to give prices. It changes from establishment to establishment, and in the case of fish on the fish itself (lobster is obviously more expensive than a sardine) and the price of the day.

But in general, quality food is easy to find, and at very reasonable prices, often less than a visit to MacD.

Kind regards,
Erlend

Reply

Haider July 2, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Thank you for this :) Makes choosing what food to get easier

Reply

Danielle July 7, 2014 at 9:33 am

Thank you for this great post! My husband and I just arrived in Turkey and will be here for the next five weeks. We’re traveling for a year and love exploring the street food in each country (both for the local experience and the budget). We don’t speak Turkish, though we have our handy flashcards, and were wondering if you could advise us on something. I’m allergic to garlic and onions (a blast during our three months in India). Can you recommend the traditional snacks/dishes that won’t contain those ingredients?

Reply

Erlend Geerts July 7, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Hi Danielle,

Unfortunately, many Turkish dishes contain onions(and garlic to a lesser extend). From the top of my hat, these are free of those ingredients:
- peynirli börek, su böreği
- simit, açma
- döner (make sure that they don’t add onion (rings) or spicy sauces)
- kaşarlı pide
- mısır
- kestane

These are safe from the street food list.

Kind regards,
Erlend

Reply

Sejad July 18, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Hi,

I have a question about Doner – as it is written in your text “Although you can find these half-outside/half-inside eateries almost anywhere, for the biggest concentration head to the beginning of Istiklal Caddesi in Taksim”.
Where can I find a good doner (and other street food in general) in Sultanahmet area?

Many thanks,
Sejad

Reply

Erlend Geerts July 18, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Hi Sejad,

I never said the once in Sultanahmet weren’t good. I merely said that the highest concentration is in Taksim :-)

Just trust your eyes and taste buds.

Bon apetit,
Erlend

Reply

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