ISTANBUL: If you try street food in Istanbul, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, you will quickly see how the traditional and historical flavors of the city have turned into delicious street treats
What do you pay attention to when preparing a travel plan? Are you someone who plans out every minute of the trip? Or do you prefer to go with the flow? I think a part of everyone’s itinerary is reserved for must-see places, but my advice is: If you are going to visit Istanbul, you have to add the street delicacies of the city to your travel schedule.
In fact, if the subject is an Istanbul trip, the to-do list in your travel plan will be quite full. Historical places, the strait and the food… the list goes on and on. You may need to spare a day or two just to experience street delicacies.
The following is a handy list of Istanbul’s must-try treats.
If you are ready, let’s get to know these delicious street foods.
Fresh fish sandwich
Very few visitors leave Istanbul before trying fish sandwiches while admiring a magnificent view of Istanbul’s coastline. Of course, you can try them for dinner in one of the stylish restaurants near the sparkling Bosporus, but the most authentic version is offered fresh from the boats in Eminönü.
The sandwiches became popular around 55 to 60 years ago in Istanbul. Years ago, fishermen would moor their boats near Galata Bridge, cook their fresh catch and sell the sandwiches to passersby. Nowadays, local sellers on the Eminönü coast are required to apply for official permits from the city to sell their catch of the day.
The fish sandwiches, enjoyed by domestic and foreign tourists and even locals, are still served from boats docked on the shore. The wooden, hand-painted carved boats add a nostalgic atmosphere to the neighborhood.
The sandwiches can be enjoyed on the go or you can take a breather near the water and sit at small tables near the boats. I recommend you to try the pickles and pickle juice sold alongside the fish. Don’t forget to take a photo in front of the nostalgic boats, it makes a great souvenir.
Finally, be sure to visit the historical places in the area such as the Spice Bazaar, the New Mosque, Gülhane Park, the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque.
Snack on the go: Wet burgers
Here is another street food that you can’t say no to no matter how full you are. I think it is the unique hamburger sauce inside that makes the wet burger so special. This snack is sold at many buffets near the square in Taksim. With its special sauce and burger flavored with secret spices, I can guarantee that you have never tasted a similar hamburger before.
People living in Istanbul do not need to have an empty stomach to eat a wet burger. It can be eaten at any time of the day, before or after gathering with friends and going to the movies, after work or after school. In fact, not one, not two, but sometimes you can eat three at a time. It’s such a popular street food that eating competitions have even been centered around it.
The perfect duo: Simit and tea
You should not leave Istanbul without getting on the ferry and watching the magnificent view of Istanbul as it drifts past.
I know a good trio that is perfect for the ferry: tea, simit and seagulls. Don’t get on the ferry without buying your crispy, steaming simit – sometimes also known as the Turkish bagel – loaded with lots of sesame seeds. You can get it from street simit shops located on almost every street corner.
Get one for yourself and even get one for the seagulls. Because if you got on the ferry in Istanbul, you will see many people throwing pieces of simit to the seagulls that follow the ferry. Wouldn’t you like to experience this tradition too? While you are eating your simit – other than the seagulls accompanying you – don’t forget to order tea, because a simit cannot be truly enjoyed without tea.
Winter treat: Roasted chestnuts
If you come to Istanbul, especially in the winter, you can find chestnuts cooked over warm embers on mobile carts on almost every street and avenue of the city.
In the cold of winter, maybe on a snowy Istanbul day, eat the chestnuts you buy in a paper bag while walking the streets of Istanbul. They will warm your heart.
Healing beverage: Boza
It is not possible for me to describe what boza – a fermented beverage – tastes like. And it’s worth a try just for that reason.
Boza, which is said to strengthen the immune system, is a historical beverage that has been drunk since the Ottoman Empire. You drink boza, which is made from barley, rye and millet, by putting roasted chickpeas on top of it and sprinkling it with cinnamon.
I definitely recommend you to try boza at Vefa Bozacısı in Vefa, a historical district of Istanbul. It’s a tiny shop with a few tables inside. In winter, there are long lines at the door. After buying the boza, people drink it with the hot roasted chickpeas they buy from the shop right across the street. You can also find and try the historical sodas of Istanbul in this shop.
There is also an old tradition about the boza.
With the onset of the winter season in Istanbul, peddlers of boza take to the streets with boxes in their hands. On cold winter evenings, while people are sitting in their homes, the boza seller announces his presence, shouting, “Boza, boooozaaaaa!”
This sound fills the house and warms everyone’s heart. Often, someone from the house sticks their head out the window: “Bozacı, pour us a pitcher of boza, please.”
The bozacı comes to the door, empties the boza from his vessel into the jug of the house, takes his money and continues to walk on the streets of Istanbul on cold winter days, shouting “Boza, bozacı!” Who knows how many more houses it will be warmed up.
Although this tradition is almost forgotten today, boza makers still frequent the streets in some districts of Istanbul during the winter months.
Potato art: Kumpir
Stuffed potatoes are taken to a whole other level with kumpir and the best place to try it is from the stands that line Ortaköy’s narrow streets.
The servers mash the inside of the huge baked potato, and then add butter and cheese and mix it thoroughly. Then you choose from a colorful array of toppings, including green or black olives, sausages, salads with mayonnaise, corn, peas, pickles and many others. You can also add ketchup and mayonnaise to top it off if you wish.
Historical taste: Goralı
Goralı is a wonderful sandwich consisting of ingredients that seem simple and familiar but whose recipe is top secret; however, the general gist is a flavor-filled sandwich on toasted bread with marinated hotdogs topped with pickles and potato salad.
You can try this wonderful delicacy at the buffet called, of course, “Goralı” in the city’s Fındıkzade district.
If you’re wondering where the name of the sandwich comes from, this special recipe belongs to a family that immigrated from the Gora region of Kosovo in 1933 and later took the surname “Goralı.” The family, who migrated from Kosovo to Ankara, first served Goralı on a plate in the shop they opened there.
After the family immigrated to Istanbul’s Fındıkzade in 1961, they opened a shop here and put this special sausage and salad recipe into a sandwich and turned it into a great street food. In fact, the shop offers 10 different sandwich options that you can choose from according to your taste, apart from Goralı.
Istanbul is a city full of history that is impossible to completely experience in just one visit. It is full of such a wide variety of tastes, they are impossible to all list here. I guarantee, apart from the street flavors I have listed, many other treats also await you in Istanbul.