A Guide to the Best Street Food in Istanbul, Turkey

Roasted chestnuts are a popular street-food snack in Istanbul
Roasted chestnuts are a popular street-food snack in Istanbul | © Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
2 September 2021
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When you’re in Istanbul, you’ll soon realise that there are a lot of street vendors in every neighbourhood selling all kinds of delicacies. From the iconic Istanbul ‘simit’ to a fish sandwich by the Bosporus, the city has lots of food that you can eat on the go or very late in the evening when everything else is closed.

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Simit, çatal and açma

Hugely popular on the streets of Istanbul, simit (round, crunchy bread covered with sesame) is a convenient breakfast you can find anywhere in town. Just look for one of the many red carts filled with it, as well as çatal (a soft, savoury 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 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.

Simit is a round, crunchy bread covered with sesame | © Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo

İçli köfte

Sabirtaşı makes the best içli köfte (a crispy bulgur shell filled with minced meat, parsley and sautéed pine nuts) in Istanbul. If you don’t feel like walking up to its restaurant, its İstiklal Street vendor is always around to serve on the go. Made by hand on a daily basis, içli köfte is downright delicious, as is the çiğ börek (deep-fried thin dough filled with minced meat) that’s also served on the cart.

Içli köfte is a tasty bulgur shelled stuffed with minced meat | © ALP AKSOY / Alamy Stock Photo

Balık ekmek

Eating a freshly made balık ekmek (fish sandwich) right by the Bosporus is a quintessentially Istanbul experience. You can find a lot of balık ekmek vendors in Eminönü and Karaköy. The sandwich is filled with freshly grilled fish – as well as salad, tomatoes and onions – and is just delicious. However, it’s recommended you skip the onions if you happen to be on a date.

Balık ekmek is a delicious fish sandwich | © philipus / Alamy Stock Photo

Midye dolması

Midye dolması (stuffed mussels) is the other iconic seafood 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 is available all around the city and is usually a very popular late-night snack.

Midye dolması is a popular late-night snack | © Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Roasted chestnuts

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 them, because of the warmth that emanates from their portable roasters. Warm your hands a little while the vendor fills up a paper bag with freshly roasted chestnuts, whose shells are split open.

There’s nothing like roasted chestnuts in winter | © Antonio Jose Jimenez Cabeza / Alamy Stock Photo

Kokoreç

Even though “grilled and seasoned mutton intestines” doesn’t sound that delicious at first mention, kokoreç is a popular street-food item in Istanbul. It’s grilled on a skewer, chopped into fine pieces, 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.

Kokoreç is an acquired taste | © saeid yaghoubi / Alamy Stock Photo

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