A Taste of Turkey: street eats

by Emily Ullmann

             Our first few nights in Istanbul, the Globalist reporters and I dined in restaurants, sampling kebaps and shish. Although we all found the food delicious, we quickly realized that sticking to street carts and food counters was cheaper and more convenient, but equally tasty. The winding streets of Istanbul provided us with quite a few exciting and delicious experiences, so I wanted to give a recap of just a few of our favorites.

Fruit stands in Istanbul include everything from pomegranates to apples. (Osborn/TYG)

Carts:

            Vendors roll food carts up and down streets and alleys all day, selling grilled corn, grilled chestnuts, and simit, or large, thin bagels covered in sesame seeds. All seemed to be quite a bargain, though many of the Globalist staff seemed to like the chestnuts the most. They were always warm and fresh, pulled straight from the grill and plopped into small paper bags. Almost as unanimously popular were the midye dolmasi, mussels with rice that were spritzed with fresh lemon juice immediately before serving.

Roasted walnuts and corn are a common sight. (Osborn/TYG)

Margaret, our intrepid street food taste-tester, also tried both the corn and the simit. She found the taste good, but the bread stale. The corn looked grilled to perfection, but several of us agreed that it just did not taste as good as the American equivalent (which made Luke, our reporter from Nebraska, or cornhusker territory, very pleased).

Along the Golden Horn, we also found fish sandwich carts. Fishermen line the sides of the waterway and give their fresh catches directly to these carts, where the vendors season and grill the fish before placing it with lettuce, onion, and lemon juice in a soft baguette. For only 4 Turkish Lira (about $2.50), this sandwich proved a life-altering experience, leaving some of us to declare that we would move to Istanbul and live the rest of our lives eating nothing else.

A stand of simit was another common sight. (Osborn/TYG)

Sweets:

Baklava and Turkish delight (bottom row) is sold by weight at this store. (Osborn/TYG)

            On our first day walking through Istanbul, a few of us agreed that we all wanted to try Turkish delight, but realized that all we knew about them was that they were Edmund’s Achilles’ heel in the novel The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As we ventured into the Spice Bazaar to sample, we found the gummy, nutty treats sweet. We enjoyed nibbling, but became distracted by the signs for a mixture of dried fruits and nuts, advertised with signs bearing the name, “Turkish Viagra.” Though the signs elicited quite a few chuckles, none of us proved adventurous to try them.

Turkish viagra? (Ullmann/TYG)

Almost as intriguing as these signs, the dondurma, ice cream, carts all across the city drew our attention long before our money. The vendors rang bells and mashed the ice cream with long poles, swinging massive chunks around above their heads. They scooped out the ice cream in flattened slabs, which they then piled upon cones. The vendors would wave the cones at potential buyers, tempting and teasing, before eventually winning them over with the creamy pistachio, chocolate, or vanilla scoops.

Among the sweet treats, all of us seemed to prefer the delicious baklava we found everywhere. I had believed baklava was distinctly Greek, but after eating more baklava than I could (or would want to) count, I can confirm that the Turkish people love baklava too. The types of baklava we devoured varied, as some had pistachios, some had walnuts, some were round, some rectangular, and some chocolatey. Differences aside, all had buttery, flaky pastry and nuts, glued together with gooey honey; more importantly, however, all were delicious.

Turkish delight is ... a delight. (Osborn/TYG)

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