Eat Your Way Through the Streets of Istanbul
Humble and wholesome, street food in Istanbul doesn’t make a hole in your wallet.
The rich culture, heritage and history have made Istanbul one of the most coveted travel destinations for me in the last few years. Okay, I’ll be honest, it’s the food that has been the forerunner in the list of reasons! Isn’t that how
every decision should be made; especially when you’re a chef? – based on food!
Sharing my unmissable, top street food experiences with you from my recent trip to Istanbul!
Turkey’s answer to the bagel, the simit fares well when hunger pangs attack. The thick sesame crusting gives it a lovely nutty flavour. Sweet tooth? Tuck into a Nutella simit. Little carts dot the entire city selling a piece for a mere couple of liras.
Think of it as a baked potato on steroids! Large potatoes are baked and hollowed out to accommodate generous amounts of meat, fresh veggies and cheese. The ones at Ortakoy are most popular!
Trick or treat? How about treats with tricks?! That’s a dondurma for you. It’s a sweet, sticky ice-cream that’s native to Turkey. The fez capped ice-cream sellers entertain with every sale, passing the scoop of ice-cream from cone to cone, and ringing the bells on their carts with the long dondurma scoop. The pistachio flavour is the most popular, and for a good reason!
A social ritual, locals can be found congregating at every street corner to sip Turkish tea from dainty glasses with freshly baked baklava that’s oozing sugar syrup through the many layers of phyllo enveloping ground nuts. Karaköy Güllüoglu, unarguably the most famous baklava shop in Istanbul lived up to its name. Be prepared to wait in long queues, and consider yourself lucky if you find a table to savour your forage.
If you’re missing a taste of home, a freshly made gozleme by a Turkish village lady will hit the spot. It’s essentially a wheat flour tortilla folded over a stuffing of meat, cheese, potato or a combination of these. Very close to our parathas! What’s especially intriguing is their rolling technique. Top notch!
Available at the Karaköy and Eminonu shores, balik ekmek or fish sandwiches, are hard to resist. The sandwiches are simple: a mackerel fillet quickly grilled, salted and sprinkled with red pepper, served with onion, lettuce, and a wedge of lemon for squeezing over the top. Nothing fancy, but simple, fresh, and satisfying.
The döner kebab of Istanbul needs no introduction. Yet, the idea of describing it is saliva-inducing. A soft pita envelopes meat that’s thinly shaved off a vertical spit along with a medley of juicy tomatoes, onions and pickles. Best washed down with a glass of chilled ayran, a yoghurt drink similar to the Indian chaas. Look for the tiniest, hole in the wall place and steer clear from the chain stores that have adulterated this classic dish with unnecessary western condiments.
Lokum and çay (Turkish for tea) are enough to take me back to Istanbul again! Available in every colour of the rainbow and every flavour you can imagine, lokum or Turkish Delight as it’s more popularly known, is like nothing else! The chewy texture truly makes it a delight to eat. My favourite flavour is the pomegranate + barberry one. The tart barberries cut the sweetness with a good degree of acuteness. I love this variant so much; it’s hard for me to eat any other.