Sugar on your tongue, oil on your fingers. Eating your way through Istanbul is one of the best ways to see a side of the city only locals tend to experience. Istanbul is best known for its Sultanahmet, or old city, which contains landmarks like the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, but for a hungry visitor the main attractions are the heaping mountains of food readily available in local restaurants and street vendors. Hope you’re hungry!
1. Eat Olive Them
What’s not to love about a market where you can dine as you shop? At the Kadikoy Market, located just steps from the ferry pier and the bustling street of Söğütlü Çeşme Caddesi, you’ll come across dozens of stalls selling nothing but olives.
If you still think that the only two varieties are the waxy black olives and pimento-stuffed green guys, you’re in for a serious treat. Orange and red-marbled olives, tiny and firm, are found in big buckets next to plump purple olives that look more like miniature plums than anything else. There are so many different kinds of olives, it can be hard to know where to start.
Kalamata or Bodrum? Black or red? Two kilos or four? Take a deep breath and dig right into the olives to decide what you like best. Yes, that’s right: at the Kadikoy Market, sampling is more than just tolerated, it is actually encouraged. Just be prepared to buy up a storm once you cry out, “Olive them all!”
2. Try Those…Other…Parts
This might sound like something out of a low-budget horror movie, but the delicious forgotten pieces of lamb and sheep are very much a part of the food culture in Istanbul. Kokoreç, that delicious smelling grilled meat you can’t help but sniff as you walk past vendors selling it on the street, is actually made entirely from lamb intestines wrapped around a sheep’s pancreas. The intestines are diligently prepared using a labor-intensive process where the innards are turned inside out, cleaned, and then rinsed, often with the help of old knitting needles. Hours of knitting the intestines later, and the offal is ready to be grilled slowly over hot charcoal.
As you savour the melted fat, feel the heat of the chili flakes, and enjoy the rich lamb taste, you definitely won’t think it’s offal.
3. Watch Those Hot Nuts
Chestnuts are not an uncommon snack at home during the holidays, but they are an especially unique food to try in Istanbul. Unlike traditional chestnuts, which get roasted en masse and packaged in giant scoops, each Turkish chestnut is rotated individually so it gets crisp on all sides and the flesh begins to pop open. Called Kestane kebab, these roasted chestnuts come from red-and-white stalls where the vendors have special licenses and training in the art of getting your nuts the perfect temperature. On the next cold day in Istanbul, warm your fingers with some warm nuts!
4. Savour A Little Afternoon Delight
To go with all the savory and salty dishes in Istanbul, indulge in lokum, or what locals call Turkish Delight. A sweet and gelatinous candy, lokum is sold in squares in a range of flavours. The confectionary, created in 1777, is still made by the original Hacı Bekir company, although imitators abound and can be much cheaper. Go ahead and treat yourself to a little afternoon (Turkish) delight!
Istanbul can be a serious adventure for your mouth, and not just all the tongue rolling you’ll do when you try to pronounce good morning or “Günaydın.” There is an unending array of tasty treats to gorge on in Turkey—just don’t forget to spend some time admiring the architecture in between frequent stops at the street vendors.