The Best Turkish Street Food in Istanbul
When you arrive in Istanbul, Turkey one of the first things you notice is how busy and vibrant it is. People streaming through the streets, architecture that spans centuries, and restaurants and bars on every corner. Istanbul, like Turkish cuisine, is a remarkable mix of different styles and tastes, and this is reflected in the Turkish street food of Istanbul.
Street Food in Istanbul
You soon realize that Istanbul street food vendors are an integral part of both the hustle, and the interesting medley of cultures and traditions that makes this city so intriguing.
You’ll also notice that Turkish street food is easy to find and some of the best food in Istanbul.
No matter where you’re staying in Istanbul, you’re sure to find local delicacies at your doorstep, usually sold from a cart or roadside stall.
The low prices of Turkish street foods make eating in Istanbul a very affordable experience!
While there is a very wide range of famous food in Turkey to choose from, we’ve listed the most popular Istanbul street foods that we think are also the most delicious. In other words, do not miss these traditional Turkish dishes while visiting Istanbul!
Best Turkish Street Food in Istanbul
Simit – A Turkish Street Food Bagel
Common throughout the former Ottoman Empire, and a staple Turkish food for the last 500 years, simit is the perfect breakfast on the go.
Essentially a Turkish bagel, simit is ring-shaped, crunchy, and covered with sesame seeds and you’ll find it available just about everywhere, often in a red cart.
Simit usually comes with toppings like Nutella, cream cheese, or olive paste. If you’re lucky, the vendor may even give you a small package of cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, and olives with your simit – just about all you need for a proper Turkish breakfast.
Midye Dolması – A Turkish Snack of Mussels
An iconic street food in Istanbul, Midye dolması are mussels served in the half-shell mixed with spicy rice and raisins. These are popular Turkish snacks throughout the Mediterranean coastal regions in Turkey and are common in the cities of Izmir and Bodrum as well as Istanbul.
Midye dolması are usually served right out of a tray on the street corner. You’ll see people gather around the cart, while the vendor squeezes lemon on each dolma before handing them out.
People usually eat a lot of these, so by the time you finish your dolma, you’ll find another waiting for you. When you’ve had enough, just let the vendor know.
These are particularly popular around Taksim after dark as they make a great late-night snack.
Dürüm and Tantuni – Fast Food in Istanbul
Relatively familiar to most tourists, these donar-style kebabs are some of the easiest meals to get on the go while visiting the city: a version of fast food in Istanbul.
While kebabs are a staple throughout Turkey, they come in all shapes and forms. For example, the Urfa kebab is served as a platter and the testi kebab from Cappadocia is cooked in a clay pot. In Istanbul, however, the donor kebab is the favorite.
Made from flatbread filled with typical donor kebab fillings, dürüm is one of the most popular street foods in Istanbul. With fillings ranging from chicken, lamb and beef to cheese and veggies, there’s a version of dürüm for everyone.
Tantuni comes with less varied but equally delicious fillings. Beef, tomatoes, peppers, and spices are packaged in an extremely thin wrap.
The traditional version from Mersin is quite spicy (it’s supposed to leave your lips tingling), however it’s easy to get less spicy versions in Istanbul if too much spice isn’t for you.
Börek – A Turkish Breakfast in Istanbul
Börek, a savory Turkish pastry, is another famous Turkish specialty from the Ottoman Empire, and is a cheap breakfast in Istanbul.
The most popular version of this Turkish pastry includes goat’s cheese and parsley cooked in a large, round pan, then wrapped in thin layers of dough (similar to phyllo pastry).
The result is a chewy, slightly salty pastry, which is easy to eat on the go. To be honest, you probably get better börek from an Istanbul bakery rather than the street vendors, but it’s still a quick and relatively tasty Turkish breakfast.
İçli Köfte—Handmade on Istiklal Street
Içli köfte (or kibbeh in the Levant) is a crisp bulgur shell containing minced meat, parsley, and sautéed pine nuts.
The national dish of Lebanon and Syria, kibbeh is popular throughout the Middle East.
In Istanbul, içli köfte are made by hand daily by the vendor on Istiklal Street – also try the çiğ börek (börek filled with minced meat) from the same cart.
Balık Ekmek—Eat On the Asian Side of Istanbul
A must-try food in Istanbul, the balık ekmek is best enjoyed on the Bosphorus.
One of Istanbul’s most popular street foods, balık ekmek is a fish sandwich filled with freshly grilled fish, tomatoes, onions, and salads. It’s very tasty and is sold by vendors near the water.
You can easily find it in Eminönü and Karaköy, however head to the fish market in Kadiköy to experience the Asian side of Istanbul.
Not only will you find the freshest fish on your sandwich, but you can also try some other local delicacies at the market like organic honey and delicious Turkish cheeses.
Kokoreç—A Traditional Turkish Food
No Istanbul street food guide would be complete without kokoreç. A bit of an acquired taste, kokoreç is spiced sheep’s intestines, skewered and grilled on a charcoal fire. It’s then chopped and put in a sandwich, often in a half a baguette.
It’s a traditional Turkish food that’s popular after a big night out and can be a quite greasy and a bit salty.
Rather than buying this from a restaurant, you want to eat the version that’s been slowly cooked on the wheeled carts in Istanbul. The vendor will chop the sweetmeats, still on the grill and season them with salt, lemon, and oregano. Then it’s scooped into warm bread, garnished with red pepper and pickled cucumber, and wrapped in paper.
Kestane—Healthy Street Food in Istanbul
As the weather gets colder, the smell of kestane (roasted chestnuts) starts to permeate the streets of Istanbul.
Carts with portable roasters are set up throughout the city. Take the opportunity to warm your hands as you wait for your chestnuts. They’re a cheap, easy, healthy street food in Istanbul while out and about.
While this snack used to be reserved for winter, chestnuts are now available all year round, although there are definitely more vendors around the city in winter. And the chestnuts are at the best when in season too – as with many things, fresh chestnuts taste better than frozen ones.
Misir—Vegetarian Street Food in Istanbul
Another relatively healthy and cheap street food in Istanbul is Misir, you may know it as corn on the cob.
It may not seem like the most traditional food in Istanbul, but corn on the cob is widely available in summer from vendors in carts (often the same ones that sell chestnuts in winter).
Similar to the famous Mexican street food, elote, the corn is boiled or steamed and then grilled and usually topped with traditional Turkish spices, and butter. The spices are what makes it special and give the corn a uniquely Turkish taste.
There’s also the option to buy the corn un-grilled if the blackened kernels don’t appeal to you.
If you are looking for a vegetarian street food in Istanbul, this one’s a winner! You can find other Turkish vegetarian food options at most Istanbul restaurants, and some more are even on this list.
Şalgam—A Unique Turkish Drink
While translated directly into turnip juice in English, şalgam means turnip. However, this drink is made from a mixture of root vegetables including the Turkish şalgam turnip, purple carrots, and beets.
The result is a tangy, salty drink, which is often served as a chaser with raki.
Traditionally this Turkish drink is served cold with long, pickled carrots, şalgam comes in spicy and non-spicy versions.
Originating in the south-east regions of Turkey, şalgam is widely available in Istanbul where street vendors will make it fresh while you wait.
Orange / Pomegranate juice—Popular Turkish Pomegranate
If şalgam sounds a bit intimidating, try a freshly squeezed orange or pomegranate juice instead.
Pomegranate is used often in Turkish cuisine. Refreshing on a hot day, and readily available from street vendors, Turkish pomegranate juice is a very popular drink in Istanbul.
Street vendors are everywhere and both oranges and pomegranates always seem to be on the menu. You may want to try a mix of the two, as pomegranate on its own can be a bit bitter and is much more expensive than oranges.
Dondurma—Traditional Turkish Ice Cream!
If you’re in Istanbul in warm weather, you must try dondurma, or Turkish ice cream, at least once.
Believed to have originated in the region of Maraş (now Kahramanmaraş) in southern Turkey, it’s now available throughout Istanbul.
Dondurma, which means “freezing” in Turkish, has a taffy-like consistency due to one of its ingredients: powdered orchid bulbs called salep. This gives the ice cream its stretchy consistency, as well as making it slower to melt. Think of it as an ice cream you bite instead of lick. As a bonus, it very rarely drips.
You can watch ice cream sellers in Istanbul pull, stretch, and knead the ice cream before piling it on a cone. Just be warned, the Turkish ice cream vendors often make a game of snatching back the cones, so don’t be surprised if it takes longer than you expect to walk away with yours. It’s the only Turkish dessert that comes with a show!
Final Thoughts on Turkish Street Food in Istanbul
It’s easy to find the foods you must eat in Istanbul since the traditional foods of Turkey are found right on the streets! My advice—use our list and try as many Turkish street foods in Istanbul as you can!
We’d love to hear if you’ve been to Istanbul! Do you love Turkish food? What’s your favorite street food of any kind? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
Roxanne de Bruyn is a writer who has travelled extensively through Turkey. She especially enjoyed sampling many of Turkey’s dishes in their hometowns, trying Urfa kebabs in Urfa, testi kebabs in Cappadocia and dondurma in Kahramanmaraş, among others. Originally from South Africa, Roxanne is currently based in New Zealand. Her blog is Faraway Worlds. Find Roxanne online: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest.