If you’re looking for some of the best street food in Istanbul, you’ve come to the right place. Street food is one of the most affordable ways to eat, as well as a way to eat the most authentic dishes.
Contrary to what people might think, Turkish food is more than just kebabs – and in Istanbul, there’s its own unique cuisine that cannot be found anywhere else in the country, let alone in the world.
But what is the best street food in Istanbul? What dishes can you try and where can I find it? These are all good questions my friend, and in this guide, we’ll be telling you all you need to know about Turkish street food in Istanbul and where to find it.
What is the most popular street food in Istanbul?
Before you go running out into the streets with your stomach rumbling, hold on for just a second! It would be wise to get familiar with the types of Istanbul street food available, to know what to look for and what you might enjoy.
Let’s begin with a list of the most popular street food dishes in Istanbul. From light snacks to succulent desserts, these are the dishes to keep an eye out for…
1. Roasted Chesnuts (Kestane Kebab)
You find roasted chestnuts in many major cities around the world and they are a popular sweet street snack for tourists. They are quite nutritious and hearty, and since they grow in the nearby Mediterranean region, they are quite the delicacy in Istanbul.
They come with a delightful nutty taste (no surprises there) and a crunch that can satisfy even the most finicky eater. You will find chestnut carts in the main touristy areas such as around the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet and along the promenade next to the Bosphorous in Eminönü.
2. Balık Ekmek (Fish Sandwich)
You might be thinking that a fish sandwich is just a fish sandwich, but we can honestly tell you that the fish sandwiches in Istanbul are so good we practically ate them daily.
A Balik Ekmet, or fish sandwich in English, is usually a fillet of mackerel that has been smoked or fried and then dosed in lemon juice before being nestled into a delicious soft bread roll.
This is a delightful snack that you’ll find in street food stalls along the Bosphorous in Eminönü. It’s also a really cheap snack, perfect for those traveling on a budget and looking for something affordable to fill their stomachs.
3. Stuffed Mussels (Midye Dolma)
Stuffed mussels, or Midye Dolma in Turkish, are perhaps our second favorite street food in Istanbul. It’s only the second because of the price – you usually pay per mussel and we’re greedy pigs who need a whole bunch to be full.
However, if you’re looking for a light snack then a handful of stuffed mussels should not go amiss.
Stuffed mussels tend to be a little bit sour because they are doused in lemon juice, but that’s all part of the fun! The mussels are filled with fragrant jasmine rice, pine nuts, tomatoes, and some herbs and spices, and then they’re boiled before they’re served with fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon.
You’ll find simit carts all over the city, from outside the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet to İstiklal Avenue. This circular bread, often called the Turkish bagel, is a popular snack that’s often served with honey or Nutella.
It looks like it would be sweet like a donut, but it has a very savory flavor. It’s often topped with roasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or left plain. The texture is crispy on the outside but soft in the middle.
Simit is a popular street food in Turkey, not just Istanbul, but it sometimes has other names in other cities.
5. Boiled and Grilled Corn
Just as it says on the tin, boiled or grilled corn is boiled or grilled corn, often topped with salt and spices. It can sometimes be boiled and sometimes barbequed, but either is delicious.
You’ll find people selling corn all over Istanbul but it’s primarily found in touristy areas such as where the ferries leave on the Bosphorous. It’s a healthy and light snack that is loved by locals and tourists.
6. Islak Burger (Wet Burger)
For those thinking a wet burger sounds unappetizing, don’t let the name fool you. They are more like sliders than sloppy burgers. It gets its name from the garlic tomato sauce that is drenched over a hamburger making them super soggy but also delicious.
Islak burgers are not only tasty but affordable too, since they are cheaper than your traditional fast food burgers.
7. Turkish ice cream
In all seriousness, Turkish ice cream is mostly famous for the show that comes with it. You’ll never be able to buy ice cream without being tricked and tousled with by the seller, but that’s all part of the fun!
Hilarities aside, Turkish ice cream has a hard texture which makes it resistant to melting (ideal for those hot Turkish summers).
It’s also very thick and creamy because they use salep, a flour made from a purple orchid root, and mastic, which gives it a kind of chewiness. It comes in many flavors, from fruit flavors to standard vanilla and chocolate. Some of the most popular flavors are vanilla, pistachio, and chocolate.
8. İçli Köfte
If you’re looking for something meaty then kebabs are definitely the way to go in Istanbul. There are a ton of different types of kebabs that you can choose from at a local street food stall, but our favorite is the Icli Kofte.
This dish is made up of minced lamb that has been seasoned with salt, pepper, and lots of garlic. It’s then grilled on a skewer over an open flame until it’s perfectly cooked.
Borek can be found all over the Balkans and any country with Ottoman influences. They are a layered pastry dish often filled with spinach or cheese and sometimes meat.
Despite being made with pastry, they often have a more chewy texture. It’s a common breakfast meal for the locals and is served in most bakeries. If you want to try this hearty street food in Istanbul make sure to head out early to get it while it’s fresh.
If you’re looking for something for a light lunch, then you should definitely try a dürüm. These are Turkish wraps that are often filled with donor meat and shredded lettuce.
They’re usually served hot from many street food stalls across the city, so they’re perfect for a quick snack.
Tantuni is delicious and incredibly popular street food. It’s made with julienned beef or lamb and then stir-fried on a sac, (a thin metal pan used for cooking at high temperatures) It’s then wrapped with chopped onions, tomatoes, and parsley.
Tantuni was first introduced in Mersin, but became popular in Istanbul in the 80s. It’s a very oily dish that was created to feed the poor, so you’ll find it’s pretty filling! You can find it pretty much everywhere in Istanbul as it’s loved by the locals as well as tourists.
You’ll very often find street vendors selling bowls of rice, chicken and chickpeas from their carts in Istanbul.
This flavorful and aromatic dish is called Pilav, which is a type of rice that is usually steamed or boiled in a fragrant broth that creates a mouth-watering and buttery taste.
It’s the perfect hearty street food for those looking for something delectable and affordable.
Lahmacun is a type of flatbread that originates from the Ottoman Empire. It’s often referred to as a Turkish pizza since it’s on a thin dough base, but it is often not topped with cheese.
Traditionally it’s made with ground beef, onions, parsley, and spices and then wrapped in a thin dough sheet. It’s then baked until it’s crispy and golden brown. It’s a delicious street food that’s also hearty and filling, perfect for a lunchtime meal.
Kokorec is a grilled sheep’s intestine and is a popular street food amongst locals. It’s often chopped into bite-sized pieces and served with oregano, tomatoes, and red pepper. Sometimes it comes in sandwich form, but often it is also served on its own.
15. Döner Kebab
We’ve all heard of doner kebabs, and in Istanbul, they are some of the most popular street food.
The doner kebab is made from shredded pieces of rotisserie lamb or chicken and served in pita bread with a variety of toppings, the most common is yogurt. They’re all over the city but a popular place to get one is by Taksim Square.
Is eating street food in Istanbul safe?
When it comes to food safety in Turkey, street food is just as safe as eating in a restaurant. Street food sellers in Istanbul must have a permit and adhere to certain food hygiene requirements, which you can see displayed on their carts.
In very few cases, street food can be unsafe due to unclean facilities and unsanitary conditions. However, with a little common sense and by following some simple safety tips, like making sure the food is piping hot and washing your hands before you eat, you can rest assured that you’re consuming safe and clean street food in Istanbul.
A good tip for eating street food that is safe in Istanbul is to eat where the locals eat. If a place is busy, then it’s a good sign that the food is good to eat…and tasty!
You should also be wary of eating vegetables or salads, as you need to make sure that it’s been washed with bottled water. Although tap water is safe in Istanbul, when eating out it’s a good idea to make sure the water your chef uses is clean.
Likewise with getting ice cubes in drinks – if there’s a hole all the way through, it has been tested and it’s safe. If it’s one block and it has a cloudy surface, stay away!
Where can I go for street food in Istanbul?
Now that you know what to look for when eating Turkish street food in Istanbul, it’s time to give some recommendations for places to find it. Here are the best spots for sampling the unique cuisine of Istanbul…
1. Balik Ekmet – Arpacilar Cd.
This is hands down the best place to get a fish sandwich in Istanbul. You know you’re at the right place when you see the huge line that forms outside a red shop with ‘Balik Ekmet’ written on the front.
Don’t worry about the line though, it goes fast since there is only one thing you can order from there – fish sandwich.
To order, you simply tell the chef how many you want. It’s that simple.
You can eat outside on little chairs or you can take your food away and sit by the Bosphorous and enjoy your sandwich there. Sitting on the promenade whilst eating a fish sandwich is one of our favorite things to do in Istanbul at night. Just be careful of seagulls!
2. Bambi Cafe (Wet Burger)
This is where you want to go for Islak Burger (wet burger). It’s a fast food restaurant that serves other types of fast food, but you’ll see a cart outside full of wet burgers.
This is where we tried the wet burger for the first time and it was fantastic, so we highly recommend this street vendor as a place to try the Islak Burger.
3. Midyeci Memet (Stuffed Mussels)
Stuffed Mussels can be found all over Istanbul and is very popular in Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. You can find plain or spicy flavor at most places.
We had stuffed mussels at a few places when we visited, but our favorite were the ones prepared by Midyeci Memet in Beyoglu because the mussels were HUGE and were fully stuffed!
On the Asian side, we really liked the ones at Midyeci Yasin in Kadikoy. There was another street vendor across the road selling them which was also great (we went there first because Midyeci Yasin was closed, so we went back later).
Make sure you get given plenty of lemons!
3. Üsküdar Ferry Terminal (Simit and Grilled Corn)
Outside the ferry terminals you will find many simit carts and vendors selling grilled and boiled corn. This is true for most ferry terminals, whether you’re on the Asian or European side. We got some corn outside Üsküdar Ferry Terminal and it was delicious.
4. Simit Street Carts
The best place to find Simit is outside the main tourist attractions in Istanbul such as the Galata Tower, or the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia on Divan Yulu Cd. We got ours from the cart on Divan Yulu Cd and had it with Nutella. You’ll find several places selling simit on this road and you can also find it in the bakeries here too.
5. Taksim Square (Kebabs)
If you want to try kebabs in Istanbul then you’ll want to head to the top of Siraselviler Cd. where Taksim Square is and you’ll find several kebab stands, from Doner Kebabs to Kokorec to dürüm, there’s a street vendor selling it all here.
You won’t miss it, just look for the smokey BBQs and the smell of fatty meat dripping.
6. Mevlana Kebap Lahmacun Salonu (Lahmacun)
Just behind the Blue Mosque you’ll find several winding streets lined with delicious restaurants. If you’re staying around Sultanhamet, the historic center of Istanbul, this is where to go looking for places to eat.
One restaurant that serves delicious Lahmacun is Mevlana Kebap Lahmacun Salonu. The food is delicious but what brings people back here again and again is the price, as it’s one of the more affordable street food spots in Istanbul.
7. Istiklal Cd. (Roasted Chestnuts and Turkish Ice Cream)
If you’re looking for roasted chestnuts, you’ll find a cart outside the Vans Store on Istiklal Cd. This is Istanbul’s longest and most busiest street, so you’ll likely find several carts selling all kinds of street food as you wander down this street.
There are several street carts selling Turkish ice cream along this street too! Just listen out for the bells and whistles from the sellers!
9. Sariyer Borekcisi Eminonu (Borek)
Borek can be found in most bakeries, to be honest, so you don’t really need to go out of your way to find it. That being said, Sariyer Borekcisi in Eminonu has some really nice borek in a variety of flavors, and the prices are affordable for the area.
10. Tarihi Kalkanoğlu Pilavcısı (Pilav)
If you’re looking for Pilav then a top-rated place to go is Tarihi Kalkanoğlu Pilavcısı in Beyoğlu. Although deemed a street food, Pilav is something that you’ll find in dine-in restaurants a lot too. This is a really popular restaurant, but don’t worry, there are several restaurants nearby that serve Pilav too.
Street Food Tours in Istanbul: Are they worth it?
This is the million-dollar question; are street food tours in Istanbul worth it? The short answer is, yes. If you are only in Istanbul for a few days, then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make it around to see all the places we recommended to get street food because they are just too far away from each other.
A street food tour is a way for you to experience all the best dishes with a local guide to explain the history and how it’s made etc. You can also be sure that the vendors the tour guide takes you to are good, as they have been tried and tested beforehand.
A street food tour is ideal for anyone who is on a short visit to Istanbul or is worried about getting sick from street food.
Map of Street Food in Istanbul
To help you find all these incredible street food spots, here’s a map of where you can find each place.
Price of Street Food in Istanbul
If you’re traveling to Istanbul on a budget, you’ll be surprised at how inexpensive it can be to dine on street food. As well as there being so much to choose from, you nearly always pay less than you would in a restaurant (no table cover, right?).
The Turkish Lira is always fluctuating, so you’ll need to check the exchange rate before ordering. At the time we visited Istanbul (August 2021), the average cost of street food was around 20-30 Turkish Lira, which at the time was less than $3 USD.
You can see why street food was practically all we ate!
FAQs about Street Food in Istanbul
Here’s what people usually ask us about street food in Istanbul!
Is street food in Istanbul expensive?
No, it’s actually more affordable than some fast food chains.
Is street food in Istanbul safe?
Yes, it’s completely safe as long as you make sure your food is piping hot before you eat it.
Is the street food in Istanbul worth it?
Yes, definitely. Roasted chestnuts and grilled corn you can get anywhere, but the kebabs, borek, simit and fish sandwiches are unique to this region.
Is there a street food market in Istanbul?
No, there are plenty of markets but not specifically for street food.
Before You Go
So now that you know everything there is to know about the best Turkish street food in Istanbul – including where to find it and how safe it is – go grab your coat and your wallet and prepare to enjoy some of the most popular dishes on the planet!
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