Istanbul Street Food

As much as Turkish people love to sit down for a leisurely dinner, they're also serious snackers, day and night, so finding a quick bite to eat is never a problem. The only challenge is choosing among the numerous tempting options.

Street food is not an afterthought in Turkey. Turks are quite demanding when it comes to eating on the run, expecting what is served to be fresh and made with care. Although McDonald's and other chains have made inroads in Turkey, many people still prefer their country's original "fast food," which sometimes is not so fast at all. Rather, some of Turkey's most popular street food dishes require some tender loving care in preparation, and frequently will be cooked or assembled right before your eyes, though there are also simple things like roasted chestnuts available.

In Istanbul and other large cities, snack bars and food stalls are open from early morning until late into the night. Look for the crowded places: chances are they're the local favorites.

For the Adventurous

Fancy a grilled intestine sandwich or stomach soup? To make kokoreç, seasoned lamb intestines are wound up into a long, fat loaf, grilled over charcoal, and then chopped up with tomatoes and spices and served on a half loaf of crusty bread. Işkembe is a soup made out of tripe—cow stomach—and flavored with garlic and vinegar. It's usually sold in small eateries that serve nothing but this soup, said to be the ultimate way to prevent a hangover. For many late-night revelers in Turkey's big cities, a night out isn't complete without one of these pungent Turkish street food staples.

Börek

This is the name given to a wide range of flaky filo dough pastries. The windows of börek shops usually display their freshly baked goods, long coils of rolled-up filo dough stuffed with ground meat, potato, spinach, or cheese and baked until golden brown. Su böreği is a börek made of buttery egg noodles layered over crumbles of tangy white cheese and baked in a deep dish.

Döner

This cheap and filling sandwich is Turkey's most popular street food. Meat, usually lamb or chicken, is grilled on a rotating vertical spit, shaved off in paper-thin slices, and served in either a half loaf of crusty bread or a pocket bread called pide, or rolled up in a tortilla-like flatbread into a wrap called a dürüm. For many Turks, a döner sandwich, downed with a glass of refreshing ayran (a drink made of salted, watered-down yogurt), is a meal in itself.

Kumpir

Think of this as a baked potato on steroids. At kumpir stands, massive spuds are taken hot out of the oven, split open, and filled with an almost overwhelming assortment of toppings. Options include everything from grated cheese to chopped pickles, olives, and hot dog bits. It’s not unusual for people to ask for six or more ingredients. The kumpir-maker then mixes it all up into a glorious mess and puts it back in the potato skin.

Midye

In Turkey, mussels truly deserve to be called street food. They're usually sold by roving vendors carrying big baskets filled with glistening black shells that have been stuffed with a combination of mussels, rice, and herbs and spices. As tempting as it may be to buy these delicacies on the street, however, the risk of food poisoning from shellfish means it’s better to err on the safe side and eat midye only at snack bars or restaurants, where there are higher standards of hygiene. Some specialty snack bars serve mussels coated in batter and deep-fried, in addition to the stuffed form.

Simit

Sort of the Turkish answer to the bagel, or a New York street pretzel, these humble sesame-coated bread rings are found all over Turkey. They're the ultimate street food: cheap, satisfying, and—when fresh from the oven—delicious. And they're available all day long, from pushcarts found on almost every street corner. The simit has gone slightly upscale in recent years, with the appearance in Istanbul and other Turkish cities of several chains that serve simits and other baked goods.

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