1. Balik Ekmek – walk along the waterfront at Eminönu or on the other side of the Galata Bridge at Karaköy, and you are likely to see locals grabbing a quick balik ekmek (fish sandwich) before they catch a ferry. Often served from a floating cafe, this simple but delicious treat of freshly grilled fish, lettuce and onion in some fresh bread has been a staple for Istanbulites for hundreds of years. The tradition of balik ekmek goes back to days gone by when fishermen would bring their catch in from the Bosphorous or the Sea of Marmara to sell it at the Galata Bridge. A few enterprising folk got the idea to cook the fish on board and sell the cooked fish in a sandwich directly to the hungry hoardes. And thankfully the tradition lives on, although these days the boats don’t do any fishing as they are too busy keeping up the supply of balik ekmek to the crowds that will happily join long queues to get a taste of this simple but amazing snack.
2. Kumpir – this tasty street food icon is one of the most loved street and fast foods. Take a potato – no, make that a giant baked potato – mash the insides of it up with generous lashings of butter and cheese whilst still inside the potato skin, then add the toppings of your choosing – mushrooms, corn, spicy chilly paste, tuna for starters. Oddly, one of the most favourite toppings is “American salad” which is a fine potato salad, but trust us, the potato on potato combination works a treat. You will find kumpir carts all over Istanbul, although perhaps the highest proliferation of them is in the area of Ortaköy, situated on the Bosphorous just near the first Bosphorous bridge. There is even a “Kumpir Sokak” (Baked Potato Street) here, so this should give you a clue about how seriously this suburb takes their kumpir.
3. Midye Dolma – these stuffed mussels filled with rice and seasoned with cinnamon and pepper are tiny little bites of amazingness. A favourite at any time of the day, Istanbulites are particularly fond of these on a night out. Dotted all over the city, but particularly in the Nevizade area of Taksim, you’ll see street vendors selling them from carts or trays on the street. For maximum flavour, add a squeeze of lemon juice and you’ll be hooked. If you are worried about eating from one of the street carts, you can also try them at a fish restaurant. Even those who aren’t big fans of mussels as a rule are likely to be seduced by this tasty snack.
4. Simit – no discussion of street food would be complete without paying homage to the humble simit. Looking a little bit like a bagl, hands-down, the simit is the most commonly found street snack in the entire country. It seems nearly impossible to walk a hundred metres without coming across a simit cart. The breakfast of champions and hundreds of thousands of locals, the simit is tasty, filling and, when spread with a little bit of creamed cheese (also sold by the street vendors) is the perfect breakfast or snack on the go. Although this snack is so popular that simit restaurants have sprung up around the country, trust us, nothing beats the simits sold on the street. If you head outside around 7am, you might be lucky enough to get one that is still hot from the oven.
5. Nohutlu Pilav – commonly seen on the streets at night, and a favourite with Istanbulites who are out on the town, this unassuming treat is a simple but tasty mix of buttery rice, chickpeas and fine pieces of tender chicken breast. The chickpeas provide a lovely texture, and it’s a mini-meal in itself. Accompany it with an ayran, and it’s the perfect way to finish a night out.