• Timur Aydin

10 Istanbul Street Foods You Must Try (As Recommended by a Turk)

Turkish food doesn’t lack variety. After all, food is at the center of Turkish culture--it’s where extended families come together, broken hearts are mended, and where relationships are built and nurtured. Nearly every daily activity is accompanied with some Turkish food or beverage. 


As a half-Turkish person writing this article, I was surprised to see that some of my Istanbul street food favorites aren’t included in Google’s top lists. So if you’re on the go, wrapping up a late-night (working or partying), or just want to see what this mesmerizing city offers, here is my tried and proven list of 10 Istanbul street foods you have to try. No trip to Istanbul can be complete without these Turkish street food staples:


1. Islak Hamburger (Wet Hamburgers)


The name may not be the most appealing right off the bat, but your taste buds will thank you with the first bite. Istanbul’s top street food, wet hamburgers, await you in a glass box where they are steamed to perfection. 


The bread is cooked in a tomato-based sauce with garlic that gives its unique name and look. On the inside is a burger like you’ve never tasted before--unmatched by international hamburger chains like McDonald’s and Burger King. Expect herbal and spicy (not hot, just different spices) flavors on a burger patty that perfectly harmonize with the texture and taste of the bun. 


They go quick. Order at least two for your first sitting but don’t be surprised when you start craving thirds (fourths and fifths… no judgment here!). For a traditional coupling, get the Ayran to drink with it. 


Best time to eat: after a night of enjoying Istanbul’s famous nightlife

Allergy warnings: if you have gluten sensitivities, you may want to skip this one

Istanbul’s top street food, wet hamburgers, await you in a glass box where they are steamed to perfection.


2. Kumpir (Baked and Stuffed Potato)


I know what you’re thinking… “I’m going to Istanbul and you’re telling me to try a BAKED POTATO?” 


But give me a chance here. Kumpir is not like your regular baked potato. Kumpir is an Istanbul street food staple (especially in Ortaköy) that can be best described as a Chipotle experience. Instead of a burrito bowl, your base is the baked potato. What you put in it is up to you! 


Initially, these larger-than-life potatoes are baked in the oven, split open and the insides are mixed with butter, salt and some turkish cheese. Then comes the fun part (the toppings). A quick sampling of toppings include olives, pickles, sweetcorn, kisir (a Turkish meze), hot dogs, beets, carrots, ketchup, and mayo. 


Best time to eat: while taking a stroll in Ortaköy

Allergy warnings: if you’re lactose intolerant, you could try it without the butter and cheese. Some places put pine nuts in kisir, so it’s always worth double-checking if you have a nut allergy.

Kumpir is an Istanbul street food staple that can be best described as a Chipotle experience.

3. Tantuni (A Traditional Wrap)


Tantuni is a traditional wrap--most famous in the city of Mersin--but easily found around Istanbul. Finely diced lamb meat is fried on an iron plate with veggies and spices and served in a well-seasoned lavash bread. 


While Turkish people may consider this a “traditional” wrap, you’ll be amazed at the novelty of flavors offered by this dish. Some places serve this dish in bread, but I recommend getting it with the traditional wrap instead. 


Best time to eat: before a fun night out

Allergy warnings: if you have gluten sensitivities, you may want to skip this one

Turkish people may consider this a “traditional” wrap, you’ll be amazed at the novelty of flavors offered by this dish.

4. Gözleme (Turkish Quesadilla) 


While other lists and descriptions will liken this to a “flatbread,” don’t be fooled. Gözleme is a savory Turkish quesadilla. The dough is made with just flour, water, and salt, and typically is unleavened.  


Once again, this Turkish street food showcases how much Turkish people like variety. You can get a single filling in each gözleme or mix-and-match to your heart's desire! Filling varieties include, feta cheese, potatoes, spinach, parsley, chopped herbs or minced meat.


I’d recommend getting the following mix-and-match varieties: potato and spinach; feta and greens; minced meat and feta. 


Best time to eat: a late breakfast or a quick stop during a road trip 

Allergy warnings: if you have gluten sensitivities, you may want to skip this one

Gözleme is a savory Turkish quesadilla with lots of choices and variety

5. Midye Dolma (Stuffed Mussels) 


Once you start eating midye dolma, it can be difficult to stop! This popular Turkish street food consists of mussels that are stuffed with a blend of rice, herbs, spices, and nuts. Typical spices in this quick-to-go meal include raisins, saffron, mint, dill, black pepper, cinnamon and red pepper flakes.


Gently break off the top shell (the empty part), squeeze some lemon over the stuffed part and use the top shell as a spoon to eat your stuffed mussels. If you’re not the adventurous type or don’t feel comfortable eating seafood from a street vendor, consider skipping this one. Good news is that some restaurants will serve this as an appetizer so you can still try it in an establishment.


Best time to eat: as an appetizer to your meal or while walking from one bar to another

Allergy warnings: if you have seafood or nut allergies, definitely skip this one

This popular Turkish street food consists of mussels that are stuffed with a blend of rice, herbs, spices, and nuts.

6. Kokoreç (Lamb Intestines)


While this street food is not exclusive to Turkey (it’s famous in the Balkans as well), it is perhaps the top preference for many Turks. Kokoreç consists of lamb or goat intestines that are skewered and grilled horizontally (similar to how döner is made). 


Don’t worry, the intestines are thoroughly cleaned before preparations begin. The meat is cut off, minced, well seasoned and served in crispy Turkish bread. Whether you’ve just had a long day or need the tantalizing flavor of kokoreç, there are numerous establishments that specialize in serving kokoreç all around Istanbul.


You can ask for this Istanbul street food in a variety of Turkish bread loaf sizes: çeyrek (a quarter of the loaf), yarım (half of the loaf) or bütün (the whole loaf). I’d recommend getting the çeyrek ekmek to begin your experiment into this world.   


Best time to eat: at the end of a night out

Allergy warnings: if you have gluten sensitivities, you may want to skip this one. It’s really not as good without the bread.

This street food is not exclusive to Turkey (it’s famous in the Balkans as well), it is a top preference for many.

7. Midye Tava (Fried Mussels)


This Turkish street food really should be listed with kokoreç, to be honest, because they’re typically served in the same exact establishment. But due to the allergy warnings, I thought it would be best to keep them separate. 


Midye tava is really served in two different ways: you can either get it in bread (the same way you’d order the kokoreç) or get it on skewers served on a plate. If you order it as the latter, the sauce will typically be served on the side. 


The “tarator” sauce that goes with the midye tava will take you to a Cloud 9 you never want to come down from. It’s made with chestnuts, yoghurt, lemon juice, garlic, dill, olive oil and bread. 


I would recommend getting this in a yarım ekmek (half a loaf). The tarator sauce on Turkish bread with the fried mussels is truly unmatched.   


Best time to eat: at the end of a night out (as the sandwich) or as an appetizer (as served on a plate)

Allergy warnings: if you are lactose intolerant, have gluten sensitivities, nut or seafood allergies, you will want to skip this one. The sauce really completes the dish.

Midye tava is served in two different ways: in bread or on skewers served on a plate (pictured here).

8. İşkembe Çorbası (Tripe Soup)


Ah, an infamous Turkish dish: işkembe çorbası. This traditional soup is made with tripe (the edible lining of the stomachs of farm animals), water, milk, flour, butter, lemon juice, and egg yolks.  


This Istanbul street food is served at numerous establishments and is known for its stomach-settling properties. While I’m personally not a big fan of this soup, a majority of Turkish people love it so it wouldn’t be fair to leave it off the list. 


Best time to eat: at the end of a night out to avoid a hangover in the morning or on a cold winter night

Allergy warnings: if you are lactose intolerant or have gluten sensitivities, you may want to skip.

This Istanbul street food is served at numerous establishments and is known for its stomach-settling properties.

9. Simit (Turkish Bagel)


Coming to us all the way back from the former Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, simit is a circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds. This infamous Turkish street food is at almost every corner and made fresh in every bakery around Istanbul. 


With a crisp exterior and a light, soft interior, simit is the quintessential Turkish food. Just the smell of freshly baked simit is enough to make you feel homesick. Therefore you must try a simit on your next trip to Turkey. It is a perfect addition to any occasion. Try it with some traditional Turkish tea for best results.


Best time to eat: on the ferry trip from the Asian side to the European side (feed the seagulls with a few bites)

Allergy warnings: if you have gluten sensitivities, you may want to skip.

This infamous Turkish street food is at almost every corner and made fresh in every bakery around Istanbul.

10. Balık Ekmek (Fish Sandwich) 


While balık ekmek is not exclusive to Turkey, it is part of the Turkish experience. This sandwich is typically made with a filet of fried or grilled mackerel, and served in Turkish bread (can you tell we love our bread and dough?) and vegetables. 


Whether you are an Istanbul native or a first-time visitor, balık ekmek is on the list of things you should try. Take a boat trip to Eminönü, where you can find nice views of the Bosphorus and the Galata Bridge. Anywhere that’s facing the water and on the Galata Bridge will be happy to serve you their version of this Istanbul street food. 


Best time to eat: as a quick lunch after a boat trip

Allergy warnings: if you have gluten sensitivities or seafood allergies you may want to skip.

Whether you are an Istanbul native or a first-time visitor, balık ekmek is on the list of things you should try.

Interested in visiting Istanbul or another city in Turkey? WandrHop can build you personalized itineraries for a memorable trip and make food recommendations based on your preferences and allergies.


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