Turkish cuisine is considered among the top cuisines in the world and during a trip to Istanbul, you will undoubtedly end up at one of its many amazing restaurants and confectioneries. But what do you do when you are busy trying to see the most of what the city has to offer and you just cannot find time to sit down and have a long and proper meal? No worries! Because here in Istanbul, fast food is so much more than a döner wrap (dürüm) or burger (although there are plenty of those as well). Local fast food, also known as street food is a totally rewarding experience. You may be consuming them while standing or grabbing a stool in front of a small cart, but make no mistake: This is still a culinary experience to die for. Here is a short list of some of the must-try local fast food in between a shopping excursion or a sightseeing tour.
This sesame-covered bagel is the most widely available fast food in Turkey. Every city has its own slightly different version of simit, but in Istanbul the best simit is baked at the 130-year old historical Tophane Taş Fırın (Stone Oven) bakery. Most of the simit carts around Taksim get their simits from here or other similar locations run by members of the same family. Simit is also the cheapest street food you can find in Turkey. But don’t let its humble characteristic fool you. A freshly baked simit and a freshly brewed glass of tea will provide you with all the energy you need to continue your day. Tophane is also a great area to discover, with its proximity to Taksim, Cihangir and Karaköy. Although the area is also home to some of the most in-demand Istanbul properties, it preserves its authenticity thanks to its long-time residents. The bakery also serves some of the most delicious pita breads during Ramadan.
During a touristic stroll in Eminönü, just before you head over to the Grand Bazaar, you’ll notice three large boats serving one thing and one thing only. These fish sandwiches, known as balik ekmek in Turkish are served between loaves of bread and come garnished with onions and tomatoes. They are reasonably priced and have all the protein and energy you need before heading out on an exhausting shopping spree. Once this place was filled with many smaller boats serving these sandwiches, but these days only three licensed boats continue the tradition.
Pilaf with Chicken Breast
Rice pilaf cooked with chickpeas and served with tiny pieces of boneless chicken breast is another delicious and cheap alternative fast food. There are wheeled carts serving this tasty delicacy all around Taksim and beyond, but for the best experience head over to Unkapanı. Within walking distance of the Spice Bazaar, the famous Unkapanı I.M.C. Pilavcısı cannot be missed due to the long queues in front of it. Technically a part of the larger Fatih district, the area is also home to many fabric and clothes shops. Fatih is not only home to some of the city’s most popular historical sites, but also a leading neighborhood in terms of real estate investment in Istanbul. Pro tip: While you are enjoying your pilaf, make sure to wash it down with ayran, the famous yogurt drink that really complements the food.
Made from the intestines and internal organs of a baby lamb, this is another local fast food that lures any passerby with its delicious smell from wheeled carts all around the country. Created as a way to not waste any part of the animal, kokoreç is a Balkan and Greek specialty, too. The best place to taste it is in Üsküdar, within walking distance from the Marmaray station. Üsküdar itself is an amazing place to not only visit but also invest in Istanbul. Located in a narrow street filled with offices of bus companies, Güneş Kokoreç is where you should go especially after a visit to the Maiden’s Tower or one of Mimar (Architect) Sinan’s famous mosques such as İskele or Şemsi Paşa Mosque. Their secret is in their marinating method and the taste is one that you will not be able to forget.
Midye Dolma & Tava
Mussels are another favorite fast food in Istanbul and you can get them both as dolma (stuffed) or tava (fried). Stuffed mussels are prepared with a rice filling, mixed with onions, currants, pine nuts, cumin and allspice. Kadı Nimet Fish House in Kadıköy’s famous fish market is our recommendation to try both the dolma or tava versions of the tasty mussels from the Bosphorus. Kadıköy is not only the cultural center of Istanbul’s Anatolian side, but also a fast developing area in terms of property investment in Istanbul, thanks to the urban transformation burst of recent years.