A Culinary Journey Through the Street Food in Istanbul

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Walking through the vibrant streets of Istanbul’s old town is like stepping into a living museum, where every corner holds a piece of history, culture, and most importantly, an array of tantalizing flavors. As a travel blogger based in this mesmerizing city, I embarked on a culinary adventure, eager to explore and taste the traditional street food in Istanbul. Here’s a glimpse of my flavorful journey, along with some tips for fellow travelers.

1. Breakfast Beginnings: Simit and Çay


My day began with the quintessential Turkish breakfast on the go: a fresh, sesame-crusted simit paired with a steaming cup of Turkish tea (çay).

Simit, often referred to as the Turkish bagel, is a staple of street food in Istanbul. You can find simit vendors on nearly every street corner, their carts adorned with stacks of golden-brown rings.

The crisp crust and chewy interior, when paired with the slightly bitter, aromatic tea, make for a perfect start to any day.

Tip: Look for simit sellers near parks and ferry docks for the freshest ones, and don’t be shy to ask for a generous spread of creamy labneh or salty beyaz peynir (white cheese) to accompany it.

Try Simit and Çay in Tarihi Galata Simitçisi

  • Location: Galata Bridge, Eminönü
  • Why Visit: Known for its fresh and crispy simits, this spot is perfect for grabbing a quick breakfast while enjoying a scenic view of the Bosphorus.

Here are my favorite street food in Istanbul for a day:

2. Mid-Morning Munchies: Börek and Ayran


As I continued my stroll through the labyrinthine streets of Sultanahmet, the aroma of freshly baked börek drew me to a small, bustling bakery.

Börek, a flaky pastry filled with cheese, spinach, or minced meat, is another beloved item of street food in Istanbul. I opted for the cheese börek, its layers of crisp filo dough and melted cheese creating a harmony of textures and flavors.

To wash it down, I grabbed a bottle of ayran, a refreshing yogurt-based drink that perfectly balances the richness of the börek. This combination not only satisfied my hunger but also gave me the energy to continue my exploration.

Tip: Visit local bakeries early in the day for the widest selection of börek. Pairing it with ayran is a must to experience the traditional taste.

3. Lunchtime Delights: Balık Ekmek by the Bosphorus


No journey through the street food in Istanbul would be complete without savoring balık ekmek, a fish sandwich that has become an icon of the city’s culinary scene.

I headed to the Eminönü district, where boats docked by the Galata Bridge serve up freshly grilled fish sandwiches. The simplicity of grilled fish, lettuce, onions, and a squeeze of lemon juice inside a crusty roll showcases the freshness of the catch and the skill of the vendors.

Enjoying my balık ekmek with a view of the Bosphorus and the bustling ferry traffic was an unforgettable experience, a true testament to the magic of Istanbul’s street food culture.

Tip: The best time to visit the fish sandwich boats is around noon when the fish is at its freshest. Be prepared for a line, but the wait is well worth it.

Try Balık Ekmek in Eminönü Balık Ekmek

  • Location: Near Galata Bridge, Eminönü
  • Why Visit: The boats by the Galata Bridge serve some of the freshest and most famous balık ekmek in Istanbul, with a lively atmosphere and beautiful views.

4. Afternoon Indulgence: Künefe and Turkish Coffee


After wandering through the historic Grand Bazaar, I craved something sweet. Following the scent of caramelized sugar, I found myself at a street vendor selling künefe, a decadent dessert made with shredded filo dough, cheese, and soaked in syrup.

Watching the vendor expertly flip the künefe on the griddle was a spectacle in itself.

Paired with a strong, aromatic Turkish coffee, this sweet treat provided the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. The combination of the gooey, sweet künefe and the bold coffee was a delightful contrast, highlighting the diverse flavors of street food in Istanbul.

Tip: Look for künefe vendors in areas popular with locals rather than tourists for an authentic experience. Don’t forget to enjoy it with Turkish coffee or a glass of tea.

Try Künefe and Turkish Coffee in Hafız Mustafa 1864

  • Location: Sultanahmet
  • Why Visit: Renowned for its traditional Turkish desserts, Hafız Mustafa offers an excellent künefe paired with strong Turkish coffee.

5. Evening Eats: Kumpir at Ortaköy


As evening approached, I made my way to the lively neighborhood of Ortaköy, famous for its kumpir stalls. Kumpir is a baked potato loaded with a variety of toppings, from butter and cheese to olives, pickles, and sausage. The vendors skillfully mix the toppings into the fluffy potato, creating a personalized and hearty meal that’s perfect for dinner.

Sitting by the Bosphorus, enjoying the view of the illuminated Bosphorus Bridge, and savoring my customized kumpir was the perfect end to a day spent exploring the street food in Istanbul.

Tip: Take your time choosing your toppings; the variety can be overwhelming, but mixing a little bit of everything often yields the best results.

Try Kumpir in Ortaköy Kumpircisi

  • Location: Ortaköy
  • Why Visit: Ortaköy is famous for its kumpir stalls, and this particular vendor offers a wide array of toppings and a picturesque setting by the Bosphorus.

6. Late-Night Cravings: Midye Dolma


My culinary journey through the street food in Istanbul didn’t end with dinner. As I wandered back towards my home, the sight of street vendors selling midye dolma, or stuffed mussels, caught my eye.

These mussels are stuffed with spiced rice and served with a squeeze of lemon. Eating midye dolma is a popular late-night snack for many Istanbulites.

The burst of flavor from the tender mussels and aromatic rice was the perfect nightcap, a final taste of Istanbul’s vibrant street food scene before heading home.

Tip: Always choose vendors that look busy and have a high turnover, ensuring the freshness of the mussels.

Final Thoughts


Exploring the street food in Istanbul is not just about satisfying your hunger but about experiencing the city’s rich tapestry of history, culture, and tradition.

Each bite tells a story, each vendor shares a piece of their heritage, and each flavor leaves a lasting impression.

For travelers eager to immerse themselves in Istanbul’s culinary delights, my advice is simple: come hungry, be adventurous, and savor every moment!

FAQ about Street Food in Istanbul

What is the most popular street food in Turkey?

The most popular street food in Turkey is arguably the simit. This sesame-crusted bread ring is a staple snack enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. It’s commonly found at street vendors throughout Istanbul and is often paired with Turkish tea for a quick and satisfying breakfast or snack.

How much is street food in Istanbul?

Street food in Istanbul is generally affordable. Prices can vary depending on the type and location, but on average, you can expect to pay around 5-10 TRY for a simit, 15-25 TRY for a börek, and 25-35 TRY for a balık ekmek. More elaborate dishes like kumpir can cost between 30-50 TRY, while a serving of midye dolma might be around 1-2 TRY per piece.

Is it safe to eat street food in Istanbul?

Yes, it is generally safe to eat street food in Istanbul. The key is to choose vendors that appear busy and have a high turnover of food, ensuring freshness and quality. Additionally, look for vendors who maintain clean stalls and practice good hygiene. Following these tips can help ensure a safe and enjoyable street food experience.

Do you tip in Istanbul?

Tipping in Istanbul is customary, especially in restaurants and cafes. While it’s not always expected for street food, leaving a small tip as a gesture of appreciation is appreciated. In sit-down restaurants, it’s standard to tip around 10-15% of the bill, depending on the level of service.

How much money do I need in Istanbul per day?

The amount of money you need in Istanbul per day can vary based on your lifestyle and activities. On average, a budget traveler might need around 500-700 TRY per day, covering meals, local transportation, and entrance fees to attractions. Mid-range travelers should budget around 1000-1500 TRY per day for more comfortable accommodations, additional activities, and dining at nicer restaurants.

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