Monday, February 7, 2011

Street Food

Recently there was an article I read about Turks becoming an extremely obese country. Its not surprising when witnessing the way the average Turk eats: all vegetables are drowned under an inch or so of sunflower seed oil then coated heavily with salt. Its too bad too since at the core, Turkish food is quite healthy, its a very veggie-heavy diet. And, with the increase of processed candies and things often referred to as "western" foods (I think that means cereals, cookies, etc) Turk's waistlines are expanding at an alarming rate. I have tried to be vigilant, cooking meals for myself, borrowing ideas from Turks but omitting the typical gallon or so of oil. My main enemy here, really, is street food. 

So, being as enamored with food as I am, I don't know why I haven't written a post about food. I know I complain incessantly on this blog and I am sorry to those of you who continue to read despite my negativity. If I look a little more rolly than when I came here, its because of the delectable street food that is both dirt cheap and absolutely delicious.
Balık Ekmek

Balık Ekmek is something that can be found in most seaside towns. Tekirdağ's is delicious and despite its odd literal translation of Fish Bread, its not terribly exotic or kooky, its a sandwich of freshly grilled fish on a half baguette garnished with chopped onion, parsley and lettuce. You're often encouraged to douse the whole thing with some lemon juice (a brilliant idea) and the whole shebang only costs 4TL (just about $2.50) I love hitting the boats just across from the Mısır Çarşı (Spice Bazaar) in Istanbul's Karakoy section, they've got guys dressed up all goofy, flipping dozens of strips of fish. No matter the day or the weather this place is packed with both Turks and tourists alike. 

Another great, fresh refreshment can be found at stands offering fresh pressed nar (pomegranate), portakal (orange) and karaşık (mixed) juices. These vendors have a hand-operated juice press, they chop up the fruit right there on the spot, crushing it with a metal press, catching the juice as it comes out a chute underneath. They'll put it into a flimsy little plastic cup with a small costing 1-2.50 TL ($0.65- $1.25) and a large costing 3-4.50TL ($1.50-$2.75). Though in some of the more touristy areas, a pretty small glass will set you back about 5TL ($3). Its literally 100% juice and is made right there for you. Its amazing, I never realized how good pomegranate can taste. 

Simit is a bagel-like bread that is covered with sesame seeds then baked. Its addictive and cheap. In small cities it costs only about 0.50TL or $0.35. Its crazy how good it is and its a great snack for the late afternoon, though most Turks regard it as a breakfast food. In addition to simit is açma, its like brioche with those of you familiar with French breads, and if not, its similar to challah, though a little oilier. Its light, fluffy and buttery. I'm drooling just thinking about it. The cool thing about the simitci (simit-seller) is that he'll walk around the neighborhood yelling out "Simit! Simit!" So, all you've got to do is duck outside with a few spare cents in your pocket. They also camp out near busstops, dolmuş stations, parks. In short they're everywhere. 

Kokoreç is... well... I haven't actually tried it. So, kokoreç is one of those things that you're either fanatical about or you're horrified by. Its not the safest of foods to eat either, and while I want to try it, I want to really want to find trustworthy place first. Kokoreç is intestine that is wrapped up and then grilled over an open flame. After, they shave a little bit off and chop it up, throw it on some bread, adding garnish that varies from place to place. Its generally a late-night snack for the perhaps-slightly-intoxicated crowd in Istanbul though I should say, its not only for when you've been drinking. I'll get back to you when I've tried some. 


Midye or mussels are probably the most dangerous thing you can eat on the street, but they're SO good. Generally sold by a scowling teenager with filthy hands, you buy and consume them on the spot, with the vendor dousing them with fresh lemon before you slurp them down. Cheap, quick, easy, and covered with bacteria. Just the way I like it. 

Döner kebap is hands down the most well-known Turkish food. And, while real döner kebap is nothing like what they sell in Europe, it has the same base: spit-roasted lamb. Döner ekmek is the authentic incarnation of what is found in most European kebap stands. Its a big roll of Turkish sourdough bread with ketchup, mayonnaise, tomatoes, peppers, meat and french fries which have all first been rolled around in the oil at the base of the spit. And, yes, you read that right, french fries are put into the bread. Here, for whatever reason, french fries seem to be regarded as a vegetable--like a tomato or a bundle of lettuce. You will routinely receive a plate of food with rice garnished with soggy french fries. Not many, maybe about 5 of them, but still. But back to the original point, you can get one of these bad boys with chicken for about $1.75 or with lamb for about $2.25. 

And, the crowning glory of Turkish street food:

Durum is the thing that I miss most whenever I leave Istanbul. It can occasionally be found elsewhere, but I don't think any place in the world has the same concentration of durumcular as the Taksim-Istiklal intersection. Plain, Etli Durum is shaved meat (the same meat as döner) but its put in a wrap with lettuce, french fries (yes) all rolled around in the fatty drippings at the base of the döner spit. I typically ask them to add some red pepper flakes just to jazz it up a bit and, yes, the most delicious food ever. *After much research, conducted by myself and several other durum enthousiasts, we have come to the conclusion that it is the fool-proof hangover cure: one durum followed by a few ibuprofen and a bottle of water before bed. No hangover. Ever.

So, now that I've got you drooling, I'll politely add one of my favorite Turkish phrases, afiyet olsun, Turkish for bon appetit!