On a foggy winter morning in Beyoglu’s backstreets, the call of the itinerant sahlep vendor can be heard long before his pushcart comes into view carrying a shiny brass samovar filled with the piping hot sweet drink, made from milk and ground orchid root and dusted with cinnamon. Just listen for the vendor’s call, “Sahhhhhlep!” Sahlep can be found being sold throughout the city from pushcart vendors in the fall and winter. It typically costs about 2 Turkish lira.
It is hard to pass through Taksim Square without at least noticing, if not indulging in a couple of islak burgers, mini-hamburgers doused in a garlicky tomato sauce and sold from a group of tiny kiosks at the top of Istiklal street, the pedestrian artery of the area. Istanbul street food is at its best in bustling shopping areas like Istiklal, where the street food defines the time of day along the boulevard. In the morning, workers on their way to the office form long lines at carts selling overstuffed breakfast sandwiches. The Kizilkayalar Islak Burger's here cost 2 TL.
Later in the day, another cart shows up, selling icli kofte (3.5 TL) a regional delicacy of spiced ground beef stuffed in a small football-shaped shell of cracked wheat that is then deep-fried.
Late at night, when the revelers hit the town, young boys hocking Midye Dolmasi (stuffed mussels) from trays jockey for customers at the entrance to the historic fish market just off Istiklal. They can usually be found throughout Beylogu. The going price for one stuffed mussel is 1 TL.
The pedestrian-only backstreets of Ortakoy boasts a masterpiece Ottoman era mosque, sweeping views of the Bosporus and an endless supply of interesting shops. But the main attraction seems to be the vendors selling kumpir-- baked potatoes with everything imaginable on them (typically 4TL for one).
And just as the kumpir is symbolic of Ortakoy, the mere mention of Eminonu brings to mind balik emkek, the area’s iconic fish sandwich. Sold from colorfully ornamented dockside boats, a fresh half loaf of bread is fortified with a grilled filet of bonito and topped with onions and a spray of lemon juice. The boats are always right at the Eminonu docks by the foot of the Galata Bridge, and the sandwiches typically cost about 4TL.
No discussion of Istanbul street food is complete without a tribute to the ubiquitous simit, a crispy circular bread with a sesame seed coating (1TL). Simple, affordable, delicious and readily available, this icon of Istanbul street food has even proved popular in the home of the bagel, New York, where a couple of Turkish bakeries are now sharing this Turkish street food favorite with the world. The Citir Simit Bakery is where all of the roving simit guys go to reload.