Five Street Foods You Have To Try in Istanbul
Though most people think of Asia when they hear ‘street food’, it’s an important part of the Istanbul way of life. The same way that we as South Africans might pop through a McDonalds drive through or grab a Nando’s for lunch, people in Istanbul will swing by a food stand or grab a snack from one of the many street vendors. You’ll find one every few hundred metres and they’re cost-effective, delicious, and far more convenient than going to a shop or restaurant, if you’re just after a snack or a quick lunch to eat on the go.
Doner kebabs are possibly the most famous of Istanbul’s street foods. Though we would call them anything from kebabs to shawarma, the hallmark of the doner is the huge vertical steak of roasting meat. It’s typically put in bread and stuffed with veggies and topped with sauce. In fact, the doner was the ‘original’ and became popular during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. The Greek gyro and Arabic shawarma both came about because of doner. If you see lines of people outside a Turkish doner vendor, you should definitely stop by – the meat is meltingly soft and the homemade sauces and shredded vegetables make for a healthy, filling and super-tasty meal.
We’re going to say it: a better breakfast will not be found in all of Istanbul, even at the most expensive and sought-after restaurant in the city. These little doughy gems are extremely hard to resist, so you’ll be hooked after you’ve tried your first one. Dipped in molasses and encrusted in sesame seeds, the freshly-baked Turkish answer to bagels is amazing with some Turkish tea or an espresso and somehow works just as well with a savoury hummus or tapenade as it does with butter or jam.
Literally translated as ‘fish bread’, Balik ekmek is a fish sandwich that’s been taken up a notch. A fillet of fish is fried and put into half a French loaf, then topped with a selection of fresh herbs, plenty of tomatoes and salad leaves with a good sprinkling of onions too. It’s not fancy food, but somehow it all just works together when you’re walking the streets of Istanbul. You’ll invariably find the best ones near the river, and don’t shy away from the “canteen style” diners; they’re generally cheap, quick, and delicious.
Quintessentially Turkish, you can find this mussel dish on street corners or in the most high-end restaurants. Go to a street vendor and they’ll serve you mussel after mussel, all mixed with herbed and spicy rice, pine nuts, a squeeze of lemon or some currants. Be warned that the seller will keep on passing them to you so say ‘stop’ before you’re totally full – the rice will fill you up about ten minutes later and a few mussels too many will satisfy you so much, that you won’t feel like doing any further exploring of the city…and you certainly wouldn’t want that! They come in at a price of around 1 lira (so just over R2) and they’re the freshest mussels you’ll ever eat.
Only for the adventurous eaters, Kokorec is the Turkish version of tripe or offal. These spicy grilled lamb intestines are served either on a skewer or chopped up inside a sandwich. They’re salty and greasy, and a popular food for revellers who’ve had a drink too many. If you’re brave enough to try them, make sure you head to a reputable place. A popular local spot is Şampiyon Kokoreç, so you definitely won’t go wrong trying it here.
Ready to feast on Istanbul’s street food in person? Call Flight Centre on 0877 40 50 00.