For most of my travels in Turkey, I was extremely busy scarfing every food in sight. In an effort to peer pressure you to do the same, let us take a tour of the delectable Turkish street treats you can encounter, both in the country itself, and in Turkish food stalls around the world.
A major culinary joy of Turkey for me was Turkish ice cream, also called dondurma. This confection is distinct from non-Turkish ice cream because it is sticky, chewy, and thick (due to the addition of a special type of flour and resin), to the point that it could be eaten with a knife and fork!
The fun part of having a sticky national ice cream is that street vendors use this stickiness to tease purchasers. If you give a Turkish ice cream vendor money to buy an ice cream, the vendor will likely treat you to a 5-minute show in which he places the cone in your hand, then snatches it back out with a metal spatula! Twists and turns of the cone later (not to mention many laughs and blushing faces), and you’ll at last have your yummy dessert to yourself.
Another unique Turkish street food is kumpir, which are baked potatoes heaped with a plethora of condiments. As you can see from the photo above of the proud kumpir vendors, these condiments are so beautifully colored, they rival ice cream in visual allure! It would be kind of a bummer, though, if you took a bite expecting ice cream and got a mouthful of olives instead.
The Ortakoy neighborhood of Istanbul was chock full of food stands, including many men hawking shiny black stuffed mussels. Despite the popularity of this snack (in doing corroborating research for this article, I found countless rapturous accounts of how addictive these mussels are), I must admit that I was too scared to eat street seafood.
To continue our street food tour of Turkey, let us hop a ferry from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side for some great yogurt! (My 7th grade students back in Boston were fascinated by the fact that Istanbul is divided by the beautiful Bosphorus Strait between two continents. “Do you need a passport to cross?” they asked. In fact, you do not, as it’s still the same country, despite straddling continents.)
Once on the Asian side of Istanbul, we hopped off the ferry to sit at a delightful outdoor cafe. The Turkish yogurt arrived (along with our Turkish coffee and tea, of course) accompanied by a fluffy bowl of powdered sugar, and some tiny spoons.
You see, Turkish yogurt is much more tart than what we Americans are used to, and has a thick skin at the top, so the sugar balances out the sass nicely. I really enjoyed the yogurt, but I tend to like foods with a little “bite” to them. If you are into more delicate tastes, the yogurt may be too much for you. Give me your portion if you don’t want it! (If you love yogurt like I do, however, you may want to check out this piece on “Old Beijing Yogurt” we sampled in China.)
This brings us to the graceful curves of Turkish tea: a ubiquitous and delicious feature of Turkish life. (Don’t worry, coffee lovers — there will be an entire article dedicated to Turkish coffee in the near future!)
I find Turkish tea absolutely beautiful, both visually and for the internal, emotional effect it produces as you drink it. Its calming effect is akin to the feeling evoked by this photo I took of the harbor where we had our yogurt and tea time. Joyful, smooth warmth, right?
Back across the Bosphorus Strait and in front of the famous Blue Mosque, we come to our final Turkish street food of the day: Simit, which is a sort of Turkish bagel, except crispier, skinnier, and covered in sesame seeds. You’ll find simit sellers everywhere in Turkey. Yum!
Now, there are a whole lot more Turkish street foods to sample, from Turkish delight to kebabs, but I shall stop here to prevent your cyber-belly from popping. So what do YOU think? Which of these foods have you tried, and which would you like to sample? Do share!