By Tim Leffel | Sports Features
March 10 – Turkish food is one of the most complex and interesting cuisines of the world. The city of Istanbul was first Byzantium and then Constantinople, always being a bridge between Europe and Asia. Influenced by both visiting merchants and lands the Ottomans conquered, Turkish food has a little of this, a little of that, but retains its status of standing apart from the crowd.
Meals at a proper restaurant in Istanbul are often a lengthy affair meant to be savored, but grabbing a quick bite on the street is also a fun aspect of travel in Istanbul. You can go for inexpensive and filling snacks or something more involved depending on the neighborhood and your mood. Here are a few Istanbul street food items you’re likely to find as you tour this city filled with history and energy.
Should the city win the IOC nod for the 2020 Summer Games Olympic fans will be exploring all the different types of cuisine the city has to offer.
Döner kebab – Turkey’s best-known item has made its way around the world over the centuries and become a part of the street scene intact or combined with other traditions (like tacos al pastor in Mexico City). Usually you’ll get lamb roasted on a vertical spit, cut off in thin slices and stuffed into a fresh sub roll or pita bread. Sometimes you’ll see chicken or beef instead, especially in tourist areas.
Lahmacun – Usually referred to as a Turkish-style pizza, it tastes a lot different than any pizza you’ve had. It usually has a lot of minced lamb and a little minced cheese sprinkled on top a baked bread layer thin enough to roll up and eat on the go after squeezing some lemon juice on top. If you see “pide,” that’s the same bread, sometimes a bit puffier, topped with other items.
Börek – This is served in restaurants and on the street, a flaky pastry with some type of filling. The most popular kind has a salty white cheese inside, but you’ll also find them made with spinach (with or without cheese), minched meat, or potato. These are especially popular with locals for breakfast.
Balık ekmek – Think of this as the seafood eater’s döner kebab. It’s simply fresh fish grilled or fried that is stuffed into a large hunk of bread baked that day. You’ll find stands by waterfront walkways, including in Eminönü, on the shore next to the Galata Bridge in central Istanbul.
Simit – A cross between a bagel and a pretzel, this is a ring-shaped bread topped with toasted sesame seeds, You’ll often see them sold by men carrying a whole stack of them on a pole, shouting out “Simit! Simit!”
Kestane and Misur – These are two seasonal items often sold by the same vendors doing a switch-out according to the time of year. Kestane is roasted chestnuts, sold in the cold months. Misur is grilled corn with toppings, sold in corn season.