No visit to Istanbul is complete without a tour of the local street foods. This Turkish city boasts a wonderful array of different tastes and delicacies that are sure to delight the taste buds of any visitor. After reading our Istanbul street food guide, you will know exactly which foods and drinks should be on your checklist. Towards the end of the article, you can also find our suggestions for a street food tour in Istanbul.
Here’s all you need to know about the Turkish street food in Istanbul. And when you’ve discovered what to eat in Istanbul, why not read out our guide on where to find those wonderful dishes too?
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Best Turkish Street Food in Istanbul
No matter what time of day (or year) it is, Istanbul street food has plenty to offer. Even if you have special dietary requirements, finding great tasting foods is never a problem. Or if you’re able to eat any type of food, why not try it all? Here are some of the best Turkish street food to eat in Istanbul.
1. Turkish Breakfast
Turkish breakfast often consists of bread, cheese, boiled eggs, olives, and salads. Alternatively, you can opt for the Menemen, which is essentially a style of omelette. Bal Kaymak – buffalo cream and honey – is another delicious breakfast classic that you can find on the streets of Istanbul. A number of pastries are available during the morning too while breakfasts are commonly washed down with tea and coffee.
2. Turkish Meze
When visiting Istanbul, you’ll want to enjoy as many tastes as possible. A traditional Turkish Meze, which describes a collection of small appetisers, is the perfect way to do it. Whether it’s a combination of 2-3 dishes or a little taste of several more is up to you. Fava, cous cous, Muhammara, olives, and slaws are among the firm favourites. Meanwhile, street food mezes can be cold or hot, giving you plenty of choices during your visit.
Turkey is known around the world for its kebabs (otherwise known as kebaps), and they are a hallmark of Turkish street food. Doner kebabs are the best-known variant and can be made from vertically skewed chicken, beef, or lamb. Other popular kebaps in the city include the Iskender kebab, Testi kebab, and Sish kebab. They are filling, delicious, and an iconic food that you cannot ignore during your stay in Istanbul.
4. Kofte Ekmek
Kofte Ekmek (meatball sandwich) sits alongside kebabs as a mainstay across Turkey, and Istanbul’s street food vendors produce some of the best. Koftes are grilled or pan-fried meatballs and are made with ground lamb or beef. The beef variant is the most common minced beef dish in Turkey. Recipes do vary across the country but this city tend to mix the meat with breadcrumbs and spices before cooking. They are served with fries along with grilled veg or salad.
Kokorec is somewhat similar to horizontal kebaps. They are made from lamb’s intestines that are put on skewers and cooked over a charcoal fire. The carts will often slowly cook the skewers and then cut off your portion before finishing it off over the fire, which provides some incredible sounds and smells. Kokorecs can be prepared with various herbs and spices, although oregano is the most common. It is served inside bread.
6. Balik Ekmek
Balik Ekmek, or a fish sandwich, is a common street food found across the city of Istanbul. They can be made using a variety of fish fillets, although mackerel is the most frequent choice, that have been cooked in oil and are served inside a baguette. They can be prepared in several ways but, for a truly authentic flavour, try the red onion, salad, and mayonnaise version. The golden skin and succulent meat is a delightful combo.
The term Dolma is used in many countries, and describes an array of stuffed foods. In fact, the term literally translates to ‘stuffed’. When completing an Istanbul street food tour, you will encounter stuffed tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and zucchinis. They are usually stuffed with ground meat, cheeses, and rice. The options are plentiful, and they can be topped with a healthy dollop of yoghurt or served with a lemon wedge.
8. Midye Dolma
Mussels are another common delicacy. The most common option is Midye Dolma, which is mussels that have been stuffed with aromatic rice, herbs, and pine nuts. While also available in restaurants, the street food vendors bring a unique flavour to the table while there’s nothing quite like eating them while taking in the sights of the city. It is possible to find alternative versions, but Midye dolma is the most popular by far.
Pickles, locally known as Tursu, are eaten with most meals in Turkey. When visiting Istanbul, you can find them at most street food stalls and carts. Don’t settle for pickles from a jar because the city’s freshly prepared pickles offer a completely different eating experience. Pickles can come as a side to your main meal, or prepared with carrots, cucumbers, chilis, and onions for a delicious salad snack. Either way, you have to try a pickle in Istanbul.
10. Islak Hamburger
Islak Hamburger might not sound too appealing to first-time visitors, but you’ll soon understand why the locals are in love. The buns are coated with a tomato-garlic sauce while the assembled burgers are stored in a glass case where they sweat to create the wetness. They don’t require cheese, salad, or extras but those things aren’t really needed. For a truly authentic experience, try ordering one late at night after a few drinks.
Pastries are another favourite on the list of Istanbul street foods. A Simit is a crisp savory roll that is shaped in a ring and topped with sesame seeds. The street stall versions tend to be a lot crisper than those bought in shops. An Achma is another ring-shaped pastry that resembles a donut and has a soft texture. Both are eaten throughout the year while other pastries include Pogaca, which can be plain or filled with meat, cheese, or black olives.
Misir (sweet corn) vendors are commonplace in Istanbul. The corn is freshly grilled (sometimes boiled) and is often topped with spices, salt, and butter. The push-car sellers tend to sell corn as a seasonal snack, preferring the summer over the winter months. This snack can be enjoyed in any other countries around the world, but the Turkish twist is unique. For a healthy snack that has a great crunchy texture as well as an unforgettable taste, this is an ideal solution.
While Kestane (roasted chestnut) was once eaten solely in winter, it has now become a snack of choice that can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Roasted chestnut vendors are readily available in all major tourist destinations as well as food markets. They’re cheap, healthy, and are a great way to warm your stomach as the evening draws in. Whether eaten alone or shared with your partner, roasted chestnuts are always a winner.
Best Turkish Drinks in Istanbul
Turkish drinks play an important role in the Istanbul street food tour too. Wash the delightful local food in Istanbul down with some of these best Turkish drinks (or simply pick one up for on your travels around the city), and you’ll have even more reason to smile.
1. Turkish Beer
Istanbul’s bars and restaurants do import a lot of global favourites. Nonetheless, it would be a huge shame to visit Istanbul without tasking the best Turkish Beer. Efes is an Istanbul based brewery that launched in 1969 and produces Pilsener, Efes draft, Efes light, Efes Xtra, Efes dark brown, and Efex ice. Bomonti is another light beer that is a little sweeter, a little weaker (4.8%), a little deeper, and a little less carbonated. Lovely.
2. Turkish Raki
Turkish Raki is another alcoholic beverage that is loved by the locals, particularly with mezes or seafood dishes. From the drinks you know, it’s taste is closest to sambucca, although it is still very different. It is also called Lion’s milk and is made from distilled grapes and aniseed. It is the preferred choice of beverage for celebrations in Istanbul and is the perfect way to celebrate your stay in the city.
3. Turnip Juice
Turnip juice, otherwise known as Salgam, is primarily consumed with the fish sandwich. Salgam doesn’t only include, and also uses the juice of purple pickled carrots along with various spices and salts. While it can be purchased in shops, many Istanbul street food vendors create it fresh in front of your eyes. The iconic taste is one that you won’t forget while the vitamins are sure to leave feeling very well.
4. Pomegranate Juice
Fresh pomegranate juice is another very popular drink throughout Istanbul. Aside from being packed with nutrients and healthy goodness, it packs a real punch to leave you feeling alert while also delighting the taste buds with its fruity flavours. As with turnip juice, pomegranate juice is readily available as a store-bought version. Nonetheless, fresh is best, which is why a street food vendor is the best option.
Ayran is a yoghurt drink that is traditionally served in a mug. It is otherwise known as a Doogh, Tan, or Daweh while it is created by diluting the yoghurt with chilled iced water. A number of variants such as carbonated drinks and the addition of pepper, mint, or lime juice do exist. However, the standard chilled yoghurt drink remains the firm favourite and is especially refreshing on a warm summer’s day.
Best Turkish Desserts in Istanbul
The Istanbul street food tour should also include treating yourself to some tasty Turkish desserts. There are several amazing sweets that the city’s street food vendors are universally adored for. Let’s take a look at the best Turkish desserts in Istanbul that you simply must try during your stay.
The term Baklava describes a family of dessert pastries. They use layers of filo and are held together with honey or syrup for sweetness. Tulumba is a slight variation that deep fries the batter in syrup and are similar to churros. Kadayif is still sweet and uses the same main ingredients, but is prepared to be a little crispier. Burma is a baklava that is filled with nuts while still using syrup to be sweet. All are readily available on the streets of Istanbul.
2. Turkish Delight
Turkish delight is a well-known confectionary that is replicated throughout the world. However, only the authentic Turkish delight will do. The starchy gel and sugar is bound around hazelnuts, walnuts, and pistachios while they can be flavoured with rosewater, orange, or mastic. The incredible taste and texture will leave you smiling while the little icing dust on your fingers is a part of the tasting experience too.
3. Turkish Puddings
Muhallebi, Firin Sutlac, and Keskul are three very popular Turkish puddings that can be enjoyed in the heart of Istanbul. The first is a milk pudding that uses rice, sugar, rice flour, and milk. The second is a variation of rice pudding that is baked for a unique texture that is chilled for several hours before serving. The latter is a milk pudding that uses almonds and is often topped with pistachios and coconut shavings. Its texture means it is eaten with a spoon.
4. Tavuk Gogsu and Kazandibi
Tavuk Gogsu is a milk dessert that is made with shredded chicken breast, rice flour, and sugar. It is similar to the medieval blancmange, and you will not taste the chicken at all. Many vendors use a little cinnamon to give a distinct taste. Kazandibi is another milk pudding but is caramelised. It traditionally used by burning the bottom of a tavuk gogsu, but is now often made as its own dessert without the chicken breast.
5. Turkish Icecream
Everyone loves icecream, and Istanbulites are no different. Maras Dondurmasi is a mastic icecream made from cream, sugar, whipped cream, mastic, and salep. It has a stretchy property that isn’t usually seen elsewhere. Dondurma is another slight variation. They can be served in cones, inside pancakes, or on the side of other desserts. After one taste, you’ll be screaming for Turkish icecream forever.
Istanbul Street Food Tour Options 2023
If you want to take a street food tour in Istanbul, you have two options: The first option is to take a guided food tour with a small group. The second option is to organize a private guided tour and travel only with people you know.
1. Full-Day Small Group Tour
The full-day tour takes about 6 hours. Your local tour guide will first show you around the Spice Bazaar and shopping is done for breakfast. Turkish Breakfast is served in a cozy café and local tastes are experienced. After breakfast, you go to the Asian Side by ferry. On the Asian side, the Kadikoy district, famous for its fish market, is visited. You can book the full-day tour from this link.
2. Private Street Food Tour
You can arrange your own private foor tour to enjoy the best Turkish Food. Istanbul Private Street Food Tour is considered as a walking tour that covers the most interesting part of Istanbul. You will be able to see major tourist sights while walking and enjoying your local food. You can book the private food tour from this link.
Written by Serhat Engul