Over the years, I have heard two opposite words of travel wisdom – “Avoid street food” and “Must try the street food.” Even so, I don’t feel conflicted. Street food is a cultural experience in itself. It gives one a chance to learn about everyday life, what people eat when they are rushing from home to work, and often times showcase culinary customs that aren’t found in the modern day restaurants.
In the bustling streets of Istanbul, Turkey, you will find street vendors not only selling food and drinks to the hurries pedestrians, but artists putting up acts for spectators to enjoy before they dig into their purchases. Here are some of the common street foods you will see on in Istanbul.
1. Simits – A circular pretzel bread made with flour, molasses and sesame or poppy seed. It is a little chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Archival sources show that the simit has been produced in Istanbul since 1525. Simit is generally served plain, or for breakfast with tea, fruit preserves, honey or cheese. Find them at limit trolleys and baskets for 1 Turkish lira, and fancier Simit Saray bakeries for a little more. Tip: Buy simits in the morning while they are warm and fresh.
2. Dürüm – A local name for Turkish wrap. Most people are familiar with doner which refers to the shaved meat cooked on a rotisserie. You can get the meat (typically lamb, but some places have chicken) rolled inside a Turkish flatbread, sprinkled with sumac, raw onions and parsley. Dürüm and Ayran (salty yogurt shake) make for a great on the go meal for about 5 liras, and is generally not served with any side.
3. Orange Juice – Fresh squeezed orange juice (plus some other fruits depending on the season) can be found on Istiklal Street for only 1 Euro. Restaurants in Turkey generally don’t serve fresh juices, so this is where you want to stock up on Vitamins (another name for juice).
4. Dondurma – Also know as Maras ice cream, it is gummier than the ice cream you may be use to. It is made with milk, sugar, salep (flour used in desserts), and mastic (natural gum), and available in few flavors like pistachio, vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. The best part about the ice cream is the magic show that the vendors put up before they serve it to you. They will stretch it, drop it, make surmountable mounds and tease you until you have a good laugh! Best place to watch the ice cream show is near Sultan Ahmet Square or The Blue mosque and costs about 7 liras.
5. Türk kahvesi – Street vendors prepare coffee the traditional way, in copper jugs over charcoal. Turkish coffee refers to the style of preparing it as the coffee beans themselves come from other countries namely Yemen and Brazil. The roasted beans are finely ground and simmered over medium heat in a special coffee pot called cezve. Once it comes to a boil and starts foaming, the foam is removed and put in the coffee cups, while the water is allowed to boil for a second or event third time, to extract flavors. Next time, you have a backyard cookout, tell your guests you just put a pot of coffee on the grill and watch the look on their faces!
Turkish coffee at weddings: As well as an everyday beverage, Turkish coffee is also a part of the traditional Turkish wedding custom. As a prologue to marriage, the bridegroom’s parents (in the lack of his father, his mother and an elderly member of his family) must visit the young girl’s family to ask the hand of the bride-to-be and the blessings of her parents upon the upcoming marriage. During this meeting, the bride must prepare and serve Turkish coffee to the guests. For the groom’s coffee, the bride-to-be sometimes uses salt instead of sugar to gauge his character. If the bridegroom drinks his coffee without any sign of displeasure, the bride-to-be assumes that the groom is good-tempered and patient. Indeed, as the groom already comes as the demanding party to the girl’s house, in fact it is the boy who is passing an exam and etiquette requires him to receive with all smiles this particular present from the girl, although in some parts of the country this may be considered as a lack of desire on the part of the girl for marriage with that candidate. Source: Wikipedia
6. Tarihi Osmanli Macunu – Street vendors make to order the traditional Ottoman candy with five flavors of thick taffy spiraled around a stick. The artist makes the candy when you order it and it is captivating to watch him roll the different colors with such ease.
7. Kumpir – Best known as make your own baked potato. You select your choice of endless toppings on an enormous baked potato. Hot dog slices, corn, peas, vegetable salad, pickles, pickled beets, green and black olives, yogurt kısır (bulgur), spicy red-pepper sauce and condiments are some of the garnishes. The best place to try Kumpir is Istanbul’s Bosphorus-side village of Ortaköy.
Other street vendors sell roasted chestnuts, waffles, corn on the cob and sliced watermelon.
Know of another street food from Istanbul you love? Leave a response below and share your ideas with our readers…