Istanbul is an enthralling city like no other. With its rich Ottoman history, its locale bridging Europe and Asia, the diversity in flavors and food variety is enough reason for a trip in itself. Here, I share the most popular Istanbul street food: what they are and the best places to eat them. And best of all, they will all cost under $3 USD to fill your belly.
While there are some remaining mobile carts in some areas in Istanbul, many of the other listed street foods are sold from market stalls and small shops. In other words, these street foods are more like “fast foods” since most storefronts will have stools and tables you can enjoy your meal at. You can easily spend a whole week (or month) just hunting down this list of 12 highly recommended items and comparing contrasting them through all the various vendors.
“Kokoreç” Lamb Intestines Sandwich
I first tried Kokoreç at 3am after a night out in Taksim Square, 10 years ago. This street food alone got me dreaming of a return ticket to Istanbul for the past decade. And though many would say that taste buds could be compromised while under the influence, there was no doubt that Kokoreç was and is effing delicious. As in many other cultures, “offal” is a variety of internal organ meats that is more unusual than major body parts (legs, thighs, rib). Such as intestines, kidney, liver which has been named Sweetbread, Pâté, Foie Gras in other cultures. Here in Turkey, Kokoreç is mainly lamb intestines (best if from a young lamb so less gamey), rolled into a large loaf-like shape that’s grilled.
You can spot Kokoreç shops in Istanbul and throughout Turkey in practically every two blocks that you walk. As usual, I would recommend going where it’s more crowded so that the meat is more fresh and you know it’s delicious. Once you order, the chef will slice the meat from the loaf shape, then chop and grill it with tomatoes, onions, herbs and stuff them in a sandwich (or Lavash bread as wrap) for you. You can also add some pickled peppers. Personally, I prefer it in a wrap, but more often, you’ll find it in sandwich form.
Where to Eat Kokoreç in Istanbul:
“Midye Dolma” Mussels Stuffed with Rice
My second favorite street food in Istanbul is Midye Dolma, steamed salt-water mussels stuffed with rice and herbs. The aromatic rice is mixed with tomato paste, dill, parsley, you will often find these sold in the same shop that sells Kokoreç. At first, this seems like an odd combination. But once you enjoy them in a meal together, you will see why it’s been coupled up. Both Kokoreç and Mussels can be eaten (together or separate) throughout the day as lunch, afternoon snack or dinner. But it’s especially adventurous and fulfilling to enjoy late night. I’ll typically order half a dozen of these mussels that cost 1.50 TL each (20 cents) and then enjoy a Kokoreç after.
You will see street vendors selling this throughout Istanbul, and along the Galata bridge, entries to Ferry stations, etc. I personally prefer to order them in front of a busier restaurant so that you know it’s fresher.
Where to Eat: Gala Kokoreç, Kadikoy Midyecisi
“Kestane Kebab” Roasted Chestnuts
I’ve always loved the smell and taste of Chestnuts back in the US. But these are delicacies that are usually only found during the winter days. Hard to come by in the supermarkets and even more difficult to roast to perfection (without oven explosion and over-burning them!). In Istanbul, my dream of enjoying roasted chestnuts year round is met. They are sold throughout the city, but especially popular around the touristic destinations in Sultanamet, Hagia Sofia, along the bridges and ferries. Prices are typically set at 10 TL for a handful of chestnuts which is the perfect amount for an afternoon snack.
Where to Get: All the touristy areas around Sultanamet, Aya Sofia, Galata Bridge. Everywhere!
“Közde Misir” Street Corn
“Közde” is grilled and “Süt” translates to milk. “Misir” = corn.
Grilled street corn is delicious anywhere you go in the world and these street corns are as popularly sold as the roasted chestnuts. The turkish version are boiled and then grilled. Then salt and chili powder is added.
They also serve in a cup, with the corn shaved from the cob. Mixed with butter and mayonnaise if you’d like.
Where to Bite into a Street Corn: On the bridge atop the Bosphorus and throughout Istanbul.
“Köfte Ekmek” Meatball Sandwich
I’m not a big meatball fan in general. But the meatballs in Turkey is one of my favorite quick snacks and Istanbul street food. These tender, juicy, flavorful meatballs are made fresh with herbs and spices. They are typically served in a sandwich but you can also order it by itself.
Where to Eat the Juiciest Meatball Sandwiches:
A Doner is Turkish meat: chicken, beef or lamb mixed with beef. Commonly, as a wrap, it’s shaved into a “Dürum”. These are typically Lavash or Yufka wrap. You’ll often see then advertised as “Durum Wrap” or “Doner Wrap”. While Kokoreç stands out most to me for meat wraps and sandwiches, the flavors are so strong that I can only have it once in awhile. The kebabs are slowly cooked in the same manner as Shawarma throughout the Arab world. It can be eaten:
- Shaved on a plate with rice and salad
- Packed in a Pita
- Lavash wrap
Where to Get the Best Doner:
- Hot Döner
- Anywhere the meat looks juicy, fresh and there are tons of people dining there.
“Sosisli” Hot Dog
A Sosisli is a Hot Dog, common as drunk food.
Where to get a Turkish Hot Dog: Where ferry stops are, you can find Sosisli and Islak Hamburgers in the connected food stands which they call “Buffe”: Usukdar, Kadikoy
These Turkish Hamburgers are known as “Islak”, often eaten after a night out along with it’s sister, “Sosisli” Hot Dogs. This is a crossroad between a Sloppy Joe and a regular Hamburger, with soft buns, topped with a tomato-garlic sauce. You can easily find it around Taksim Square and other parts of Istanbul (especially in bar areas).
Note: Don’t even think about not getting your hands dirty. Just dig fully in and enjoy this “wet burger”!
For a Wet Hamburger:
“Balik-Ekmek” Fish Sandwich
Fish Sandwiches can be found under the Galata Bridge by Eminonu shore, other bridges and ports where fishermen camp out all day. Sometimes sold directly from boats. These sandwiches are topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, salt, paprika and a splash of lemon juice.
“Tostlar” Turkish Toast
There are Red pepper paste, mayonnaise, fresh green peppers, tomatoes and Kashar (Turkish aged cheese).
Where to Get a Quick Toast:
- Kızılkayalar: Order the Dilli Kasarli (Grilled Cheese with Beef Slice) – also a great place for a Wet Burger
Turkish Carbs (Vegetarian Friendly)
“Taruk Pilav” Chicken and Rice
This is a simple comfort food, boiled chicken on rice, or chickpeas gravy over rice.
Where to Eat:
Borek can be eaten as breakfast or afternoon snack which is a flaky, multi-layered phyllo dough pastry. It can be filled with spinach, cheese, meats, potatoes.
Where to Eat: Sold on street carts in Kadikoy, Balat, Eminonu, and throughout Istanbul