If you’ve been around the beach, you know the basics (or can find them here: Turkey’s Best Beach Food): gözleme, ayran, stuffed mussles, melon ice cream bowls, steamed corn, fresh fish. But what can you eat when you hit Turkey’s urban streets? Here are some of the must-try simple street snacks (or full meals) you’ll find in almost every urban center:
Head to the nearest wheeled glass cart labeled “halk ekmek” (“people’s bread”) or the small shop by the bus stop and grab a few simit for a simple start to the day. At first glance a simit may look a bit like a bagel covered in sesame seeds. Cracked open it can be eaten with soft spread cheese.
Tired of simit? Ask for a poğaça instead. At 2/1 lira they’re still quite cheap, and come with a variety of savory stuffings like olive (zeytin), cheese (peynir), or spicy sausage (sucuk).
Finish off your breakfast with a glass of strong Turkish tea or salep, a traditional drink made with powdered orchid root and flavoured with cinnamon.
Lunch/Quick Dinner/Midnight Snacks
Turkey’s most popular savory street food is the doner kebab (here known as durum) with long strips of lamp of chicken rolled in flatbread with tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and the occasional french fry (curious about what defines a kebab? read our post here). But if you only know the doner… you’ve barely dabbled in Turkish street tastes!
Only got 10 minutes for lunch? One of Turkey’s most popular “fast foods” is lahmacun, a flatbread topped and backed with minced meat and a garlic-tomato paste, almost always paired with a cool glass of ayran (salty yogurt). Almost any neighborhood will have a lunch joint with 2 lahmacun + ayran lunch specials for about 5 lira. Don’t forget a squeeze of lemon!
If you’re seriously on the run, grab a tantuni or “Turkish burrito”. Tantuni are wraps composed of ground meat cooked on a wide metal plate with spices and oil then rolled up with slices of onion, tomato, cilantro and lettuce. Take it with a hot green pepper if you can handle extra-spicy.
Hit by 3 am hunger pains? Head for a kokoreç stand. While chopped sheep intestines might not sound appealing during the day, this savory, spicy and complex flavoured sandwich is sure to satisfy your midnight cravings.
Looking for something a little more sophisticated? Pide, often nicknamed “the Turkish pizza” is a boat-shaped oven-baked bread topped with everything from spinach and feta to chicken and tomatoes to ground beef and cheese. Expect fresh bread hot out of the oven, with the juices from the toppings just starting to sink into the dough. Ask for a side of tomatoes and sliced cucumbers with a sprinkling of lemon.
Vegetarian? No worries. bulgar-based Çiğ köfte is savory, sometimes spicey, and always delicious, whether eaten alone or in a wrap. Each region has it’s own recipe for Çiğ köfte though, as a rule, the ingredients include and bulgur, chopped cilantro, onion, tomato paste, spices, crushed garlic and salt. Again, everything is better with a slice of lemon!
In winter warm your hands and your soul with a cup full of hot roasted chestnuts (kestane) and served in a paper cone for 2-5 lira per portion.
Don’t forget that Turkey has great regional varieties in cuisine – while in Kayseri you’ll have to try the kayseri mantisi; in Bursa, iskender kebab, and in testi kebab in Cappadocia.
Hungry for more? We know you are… Check out these pages extensively covering Istanbul’s street food scene, and share with us you favorite street foods from around the country.