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.
You can sample a rich array of Istanbul’s culinary delights at the outstanding Hamdi restaurant on Culture Trip’s specially curated 12-day Turkey adventure, led by our local insider.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.