Street flavors are also of great importance in the colorful gastronomy world of Istanbul. Have you noticed how intertwined these tastes, which are a part of urban culture, are with our daily life? The bagel we buy from the corner counter on the way to work, the stuffed mussels we snack on while walking on the beach… Let’s go on a tour of street food in Istanbul together and taste the street delicacies of this vibrant city with a dizzying pace.
Simit as a diamond of street food in Istanbul
The bagel, which Evliya Çelebi describes as ‘the size of a car wheel’, has a story stretching from the Balkans to Istanbul. Although this special food, whose written history goes back 1000 years, is prepared in a different dimension today, it is still the most indispensable of street tastes. Everyone living in Istanbul has a bagel counter in their neighborhood that they never pass by without buying a bagel. However, our recommendation for those who pass by Çengelköy is to taste the bagels of the Historical İsmail’s Has Fırını, which has been in service for 175 years.
When the summer sun leaves its place to cool days, it means that it is time for chestnut kebab in Istanbul. Chestnut makers, who cook the chestnuts they have scratched on the barbecue on their counters, are the ornaments of the streets of Istanbul. The smoke of this street flavor cooked on embers draws you to the counter like a magnet. Warm chestnuts filled in a small paper bag will warm both your inside and your hands. Moda, Eminönü, Bakırköy, Taksim… You will come across chestnut stalls in almost every district of Istanbul. Listen to the sound of your stomach and take a paper bag of happiness and see how your walk is more enjoyable on the streets of Istanbul.
The place of the wet hamburger in the hearts of those living in Istanbul is always special. The trademark of this small, delicious hamburger is hidden in its soft bread soaked in garlic tomato sauce and its spicy meatballs. Although many buffets in Taksim prepare the wet hamburger that cheers your stomach with an ice-cold ayran, our recommendation is Kristal Büfe. They have made a well-deserved reputation for its wet hamburgers for years. Kristal Büfe, which opened its first branch in Taksim in 1962, now welcomes its regulars in Bağdat Caddesi Göztepe. No, if you say you want an address from the European side, the wet hamburgers of Avrupa Marmaris Buffet in Büyükdere are also delicious.
Fish and bread
Grilled fish served with plenty of onions and greens in half a loaf of bread… Especially if it is in a place with a sea view… Fish bread, which is a food that is hard to resist, is one of the first tastes that comes to mind when Istanbul is mentioned. Whether you’re hungry or not, when you go to Eminönü, it will definitely tempt you. In this district, the smell of grilled fish can be heard from meters away. By following the smell, you can easily reach the fish bread stalls. You will feel that you are in Istanbul, while you eat your fish bread, which adds to its taste with pickle juice, in one of the fishermen lined up along the Galata Bridge.
You can also prefer the Historical Eminönü Fish Bread Barbaros Boat, which prepares fish and bread on the boat near the Galata Bridge. Of course, there are places where you can enjoy fish and bread in other districts.
It is impossible not to mention it while describing the street delicacies of Istanbul. Although it is a food that can be cooked at home, you can never taste the chickpea pilaf you eat at a street counter at home. It will be a mastery of preparing the same dish every day for years. The rice in that pilaf is cooked to its full consistency, and the chickpeas are soft. Those who wish can also add chicken meat to it. This flavor is completed with a foamy ayran and pickles.
Although there are hundreds of chickpea rice trolleys that roam the streets of Istanbul, you should definitely taste this delicacy from Unkapanı Rice. Their reputation exceeds the city limits. If you see a crowd towards the IMÇ 1st Block sign in Unkapanı, you have found the rice cooker’s counter. If you think you can’t go all the way there, you will also like the rice of Meşhur Sokak Pilavcılar in Beşiktaş bazaar.
Pickle juice has a special place in our hearts as a drink that not only serves as a source of healing but also keeps you warm, appetizing, and pleasing. Before it got into jars and took its place on the market shelves, pickles were sold on mobile stalls and small shops in the middle of the district. There are still pickles who have been doing this business with their unchanging quality for years. You can taste the most delicious pickle juice at Asri Turşucu in Beyoğlu, Soydan Turşucu in Beşiktaş, or Meşhur Özcan Pickles in Kadıköy.
It would not be wrong if we say that Kumpir is the most delicious form of potato. The bakers cut a well-baked potato in the middle and blend it with butter and cheddar cheese. After that, they prepare this delicious street delicacy with your choice of side dishes. You can find kumpir in many cafes and kiosks, but we have recommendations!
The ones at the kumpir restaurants lined up at the entrance of Ortaköy have a completely different taste for some reason. It is not known whether it is due to the weather or the view of Ortaköy, but since there are a lot of sales, its preparation with fresh ingredients undoubtedly contributes to its taste. Get your kumpir from one of your favorites, set up on a bank by the sea, and enjoy the view of the Bosphorus. 1980 Ortaköy Kumpir Cafe in Balat is one of the best performers of this business. Be sure to try the roasted eggplant baked potato at the cafe located just behind Kadir Has University.
Kokorec is the most exotic street food in Istanbul
Kokoreç is a street flavor that even those who approach from afar at first cannot give up after tasting it once. It is very important to find a place that makes this delicious bread clean and good, which is frequently seen in wheelbarrows or kiosks. Famous Selahattin Usta Kokorec in Çengelköy is one of the best. You can also safely eat kokoreç from Bostancı Meydan Kokoreç and Sirkeci’s King Kokoreç.
Stuffed mussels, an appetizer sold in Greek taverns during the Ottoman Empire. It is very precious to us, like many flavors that have survived from those times. Nowadays, it is a street flavor that its lovers cannot stop without starting with 1-2 pieces and finishing almost all the stuffing on the tray. Those who like it a lot, and those who don’t like it a lot. If you are fond of stuffing mussels, you are very lucky because this flavor is often found on the streets of Istanbul. It’s a good idea to choose a reliable place to eat it. Midyeci Ahmet in Beşiktaş and Yediren Adam in Çengelköy are the most known addresses for stuffed mussels.
Boza, which tastes like nothing else, is a thick drink made from millet. It tastes slightly sweet and has a bit of sourness due to the fermentation process. To drink it properly, you should sprinkle plenty of cinnamon on it and add a little roasted chickpeas. There are no sellers who roam the streets of Istanbul shouting ‘Booozaaaa’ on long winter nights, but it is possible to find boza in many places. However, the best one is Vefa Bozacisi, which has been refreshing the hearts of Istanbulites with its bozas since 1876. You should definitely experience the pleasure of going to this historical place in Vefa and drinking boza.
If you like Tulumba dessert, which is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, you will also like the ring dessert. Because the only difference between the ring dessert and the tulumba dessert is their shape. This dessert, which you come across at the stalls of street vendors in districts of Istanbul such as Karaköy, Beşiktaş, Eminönü, and Kadıköy, is eaten with pleasure if it has the consistency of sugar. When you feel that your energy is low, after eating the ring dessert, which will bring you to yourself, a black coffee is good.
Boiled, roasted, or now in a glass with all kinds of spices and sauces… How do you like milk corn, one of Istanbul’s most popular and most eaten street delicacies? Who of us can resist the corn that we encounter on the beach, in touristic places, or in a shopping mall? If you do not have a problem with salt, you can continue on your way by sprinkling plenty of salt and eating the corn you can enjoy. Even if you don’t have corn in your mind, we are sure that you will crave when you see it.
When September comes, fresh walnuts begin to be sold on the streets of Istanbul. Street vendors disperse to various districts of Istanbul, filling their baskets decorated with walnut leaves with the walnuts they have peeled. Of course, you can find fresh walnuts in markets or markets. However, it takes mastery to remove the walnut as a whole from its outer shell. It is also the ingenuity of itinerant walnut sellers.
Cotton Candy, Wafer, and Apple Candy
Nostalgic street delicacies with lots of sugar… We can even add rooster sugar, food coloring, and a paste prepared with sugar. Even if you don’t eat them, wouldn’t these flavors that we still encounter on the streets of Istanbul take you back to your childhood when you encounter them on a corner? Maybe you want to count money to Affan Dede and buy your childhood as in Cahit Sıtkı Tarancı’s Childhood poem.
The inner shell of raw almonds, whose thick outer shell is peeled, is softened with hot water and rubbed between two fingers. Especially in summer, almonds separated from their shells with this method are sold on the streets in baskets with ice molds. The vendors of iced almonds, which you will often come across by the seaside, also stop by the outdoor dining venues. If you like almonds, you must try it. If you are around Bostancı Adalar Ferry Port or Beyoğlu Fish Market, take a look around, and you will definitely come across a seller of iced almonds.
We hope you enjoyed this tour of Istanbul’s street foods! From simit to chestnuts, wet hamburgers to stuffed mussels, there is something for every taste bud. Don’t forget to try some of the classic street drinks like pickle juice and boza, and indulge in some sweet treats like cotton candy and apple candy! But maybe street food in Istanbul is not enough for you? Interested in other Turkish cuisines? Check out our digest on the 5 most underrated Turkish dishes!