Istanbul, partly in Asia and partly in Europe, is the largest and most populated city in Turkey. This is the only city on 2 continents. Extremely popular, 7 million tourists visit the city every year. The city has a unique culture because of its geographical location and this makes the Istanbul street food scene very interesting.
You will find Turkish specialties, Asian cuisines, Arab influences, and continental food as well. Many people stopover in the city in their travels between Asia and Europe, and sometimes even Africa. So you will find food from virtually everywhere in the world here.
Food in the city is sold from market stalls, modest storefronts, and mobile carts, which you will see everywhere. The street life of Istanbul is woven deeply with its food culture. The vendors all have their own places. One of the best ways of enjoying Istanbul is by walking through its alleys, avenues, and trying the Istanbul street food.
Top 10 Istanbul Street Foods
1. Açma – Soft sweet bun that looks a bit like a doughnut. It is sometimes served with Nutella or peanut butter. You can also try this with Turkish tea. Many vendors sell Açma with cucumbers, olives, cheese, or tomatoes on the side.
2. Çiğ Köfte – Raw meatballs traditionally, but without raw meat now because of hygiene regulations. Spicy, small patties. Often served with lettuce, iceberg, and pomegranate molasses. It is bright orange because of the pepper paste, spices, and tomato.
3. Simit – Baked dough ring, extremely popular as a breakfast food. Encrusted with sesame seed. You will find this in many bakeries, ferries, and street food vendors. Simit Palace is the most popular.
4. Balık Ekmek – Fish sandwich. Eating one on the Bosporus is an iconic experience in Istanbul. The sandwiches are filled with salad, tomatoes, onions, and freshly grilled fish. There are plenty of vendors selling this everywhere. You can also have one without onions. They can be custom-made.
5. Kestane – Roasted kestanes are popular in Europe in the winter, but in Istanbul, you will find them throughout the year. Turkey is a big producer of chestnuts. It’s a common street snack here.
6. Dilli Kaşarlı Tost – A grilled sandwich with beef tongue and a lot of cheese. Very filling. It is considered a ‘drunk food’ in the city as it can cure hangovers. You will find them on the streets and in cafes.
7. Islak Burger – Meat patties served on buns with onion sauce and tomato. They are often called ‘wet burgers’. You will find many vendors selling the burger on Taksim Square and elsewhere in Istanbul.
8. Lahmacun – Turkish pizza. The thin dough has a topping of minced meat, which you can choose. Served with onion and red pepper. Topped with lemon juice or parsley. The pizza is sometimes served with Aryan, a cold drink.
9. Lokma – Fried dough doused in syrup with a sprinkling of ground pistachios. Find the lokma carts around the Spice Bazaar. This is a traditional dessert in Istanbul.
10. Midye Dolması – Studded mussels. Iconic seafood of the city. You will see many locals and tourists standing around carts as the vendor squeezes the lemon on the dolma before handing it over. You can have many at one time.
Bakeries and Breweries in Istanbul
The best bakeries are Cigdem Pastanesi, Sirin Flrln, Borsam Tasfirin, Ceviz Agaci, and Patisserie de Pera. If you want to spend an evening at a brewery, rush to The Bosphorus Brewing Company or the Taps Bebek. Try their craft beers served in pilsner glasses.
You will also find many restaurants, cafes, and street vendors selling food at the popular markets in Istanbul. The best places to visit are Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, and Arasta Bazaar behind the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The street food is extensive, starting from the traditional boza to simit or the balik-ekmek.