When you’re in Istanbul, you’ll soon realize that there are a lot of street vendors in every neighborhood selling all kinds of delicacies. From the iconic Istanbul simit to a fish sandwich by the Bosphorus, the city has lots of food that you can eat on the go or very late in the evening when everything else is closed.
One of the most popular street foods in Istanbul and certainly one of the quickest breakfasts on the go for many city dwellers, you can find simit everywhere. Just look out for one of the many red carts filled with simit (a round crunchy bread covered in sesame), çatal (a soft savory pastry), and açma (a slightly sweet bun). You can also ask for something on your simit such as cream cheese, nutella, or olive paste that the vendor will gladly throw in the bag for you. Some vendors even have a small package with cheese, tomatoes, olives, and cucumbers to go. Don’t forget that simit goes well with a hot glass of Turkish tea!
Sabirtaşı makes Istanbul’s best içli köfte (a crispy bulgur shell filled with minced meat, parsley, and sautéed pine nuts), and if you don’t feel like walking up to their restaurant, their İstiklal Street vendor is always around to serve up the köfte on the go. Made by hand on a daily basis, the içli köfte are downright delicious, as is the çiğ börek (deep-fried thin dough filled with minced meat) that is also served on the cart.
Eating a freshly made balık ekmek (fish sandwich) right by the Bosphorus is a pretty iconic Istanbul experience. You can find a lot of balık ekmek vendors in Eminönü as well as Karaköy. The sandwich is filled with a freshly grilled fish, salad, tomatoes, and onions and is very delicious. We do recommend you skip the onions if you happen to be on a date.
In the winter, the smell of freshly roasted chestnuts fills up the streets of Istanbul as vendors set up their carts all around the city. You definitely won’t miss out on these chestnut vendors because of the warmth that emanates from their portable roasters. Warm your hands a little while the vendor fills up a paper bag with the freshly roasted and hot chestnuts whose shells are split open.
Midye dolması (stuffed mussels) is the other iconic seafood-centered street food in Istanbul, and you’ll see people standing around the cart while the vendor squeezes lemon on each dolma before handing them out. People can usually eat a lot of these in one go, so you’ll have to let the vendor know when you’ve had enough. Midye dolması can be found all around the city and is usually a very popular late-night snack.
Even though ‘grilled and seasoned mutton intestines’ doesn’t sound that delicious at first mention, kokoreç is quite a popular street food in Istanbul. Kokoreç is grilled on a skewer, chopped into fine pieces, and then seasoned and put into a sandwich. Beware that this is a pretty greasy and well-seasoned dish, as well as a bit of an acquired taste.