Istanbul is a paradise for street food lovers. The street food scene of the city is a culinary journey like no other. From the familiar comfort of döner kebabs to the intriguing flavors of kokoreç, there’s a street snack for every palate. Are you ready to embark on a mouthwatering journey through the bustling streets of Istanbul? Here we’ll explore the best street food in Istanbul, where to find them, plus insider tips.
1. Simit: The King of Street Snacks
Our street food journey in Istanbul begins with the legendary simit. Often called “Turkish bagels,” these sesame-covered rings of dough are a ubiquitous sight on Istanbul’s streets. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and generously sprinkled with sesame seeds, simit pairs perfectly with a glass of Turkish tea. Locals enjoy it at any time of day, making it the ultimate on-the-go snack.
2. Balık Ekmek: The Fish Sandwich Experience
For a taste of Istanbul’s maritime soul, seek out a balık ekmek vendor along the shores of the Bosphorus. Grilled fish, usually mackerel or sea bass, is tucked into a fresh baguette-like bun and garnished with onions, lettuce, and a squeeze of lemon. As you savor this delightful sandwich, the sea breeze and views of passing boats add to the experience.
3. Midye Dolma: Stuffed Mussels with a Twist
Mussels get a Mediterranean makeover in Istanbul with midye dolma. These plump, flavorful mussels are filled with a fragrant mixture of spiced rice, currants, and pine nuts, then steamed to perfection. Served with a drizzle of lemon juice, they’re a delectable and portable treat you’ll find at street carts and small seafood joints.
4. Kumpir: The Ultimate Loaded Baked Potato
Prepare your taste buds for a flavor explosion with Istanbul’s kumpir. Start with a baked potato, then let your creativity run wild as you choose from a variety of toppings like olives, pickles, corn, sausages, and sauces. This customizable street food favorite is a hearty meal in itself, ideal for fueling your adventures.
5. Lahmacun: The Turkish Pizza
Lahmacun, often referred to as “Turkish pizza,” is a thin and crispy flatbread topped with a spicy mixture of ground meat, vegetables, and herbs. Rolled up and eaten on the go, it’s a convenient and delicious street food option. Add a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of parsley for an extra burst of flavor.
6. Kokoreç: Grilled Lamb Intestines – A Bold Culinary Adventure
For the adventurous foodies out there, kokoreç is a must-try. This unique street food features skewered and grilled lamb or goat intestines, which are then chopped into small pieces, seasoned with herbs and spices, and served in a sandwich or on a plate. While it may sound unconventional, locals adore its rich and savory taste.
7. Döner Kebab: The Classic Comfort Food
You can’t explore Istanbul’s street food scene without savoring a döner kebab. Thin slices of succulent, spit-roasted meat are wrapped in a fluffy pita or lavash bread, accompanied by fresh vegetables and a choice of sauces. Whether beef or chicken, this classic comfort food is a go-to for locals and visitors alike.
8. Kestane Kebab: Roasted Chestnuts
As the weather cools, the aroma of roasting chestnuts fills the air in Istanbul. Kestane, or roasted chestnuts, are a beloved autumn street snack. Their smoky, nutty flavor is the perfect accompaniment to a leisurely stroll through the city’s historic streets.
9. Nohutlu Pilav: Chickpeas and Pilaf
Nohutlu pilav, a simple yet satisfying dish, combines fluffy pilaf with tender chickpeas. It’s a hearty street food option that offers a delightful blend of textures and flavors. Don’t forget to sprinkle some red pepper flakes for a touch of heat.
10. Cig Kofte: Steak Tartar à la Turca
Cig kofte, a spicy mixture of bulgur wheat and ground meat, is a flavorful and traditional street food. While the original recipe uses raw meat, modern variations often use bulgur as a safer alternative. Wrap it in lettuce leaves for a crunchy and spicy delight.
11. Pickle Juice: The Zesty Elixir
To cleanse your palate and refresh your senses, try pickle juice from street vendors. It’s a tangy, briny elixir made from the juice of pickled vegetables. Sip on it to balance the rich and savory flavors of Istanbul’s street food.
12. Islak Hamburger: Steamed Burger
Islak hamburger, or “wet burger,” is a unique Turkish take on the classic hamburger. The beef patty is steamed and served in a soft bun soaked in a tomato-based sauce. It’s a messy yet irresistible street food experience that locals adore.
13. Maraş Dondurma: Ice Cream Magic
Finish your street food adventure on a sweet note with Maraş dondurma, a special type of Turkish ice cream. Known for its chewy and stretchy texture, this ice cream is as entertaining as it is delicious. Watch street vendors perform tricks as they scoop and serve this delightful treat.