Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Istanbul street food - sandwich edition

After living in the US for so long, it's easy to forget how prominent street food is in other cultures. With the exception of the occasional food truck and street fair in DC, it's rare to see open-air food hawkers. Living state-side, I miss the presence of chai-wallahs on the streets of India pouring tin cups of milky sweet tea and the roasted sweet potatoes that instantly warms one up in the bitter Beijing winter. And now, I find myself thinking of Turkish street foods with similar longing.

In Istanbul, I rarely ate a proper meal -- I snacked on street food constantly instead. One of the most ubiquitous is of the meat-between-bread persuasion.On many street corners in Istanbul, there are "Kebap + Ayran -- 4 Lira" signs. Ayran is a surprisingly addictive buttermilk/yogurt drink, and kebap, which literally means "roasted," is the famous kabob. Kebaps come in all shapes and sizes: The meat can be lamb, chicken, or beef. The bread can be french bread, lavash, or pide (pita). And it can be served in a portable format or on a plate and covered with tomato sauce and melted butter as in the case of the Iskender Kebap. Toppings often include fresh vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, and tomatoes, which are consistently so fresh and flavorful that they provide a wonderful contrast to the juicy meat and soft bread.

Aside from kebaps, I also found myself devouring sandwiches with kofte (meatball) and as well as fish. The story is the same -- choose your meat and they'll put it in between some bread along with beautiful vegetables. I never found myself with a bad sandwich. Every tiny road-side stand had tender and flavorful meats, phenomenal vegetables, and fresh, crusty bread. By the end of my trip, encouraged by all these positive sandwich experiences, I got more adventurous and ordered a kokorec, which essentially was a sandwich of heavily spiced offal.

Particularly memorable sandwiches include:

The fish sandwich at Ceneviz in Anadolu Kaveği, which can be reached via the Bosphorous Ferry:

Lamb kebap at Durümcü, which is just north of the Grand Bazaar:

The kofte sandwich at the small chicken and kofte stand in the parking lot by the Golden Horn Ferry entrance at Eminönü.

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