When travelling, I never have the money or the desire to eat at restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so I often turn to street food – quick, cheap, and easy. After spending a couple of days gorging on creative arrays of street food in Istanbul, I’ve realized that it is perfectly capable of standing on it’s own as an example of Istanbul’s dynamic cuisine. Often simple, always inexpensive, Istanbul has a vast array of wonderful street food, only a few of which I have room to highlight in this post. Fear not, part two will follow.

Simit: I am a sauce girl, a cheese girl, a stuff-your-sandwich-with-as-many-condiments-as-physically-possible girl. Very rarely do I enjoy plain bread without wanting more – a smear of salted butter, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or better yet, a gooey wedge of room temperature brie.

Simit is different. Yes, it is just a circle of bread encrusted with sesame seeds, but as long as it is fresh and warm, simit is a perfectly satisfying snack on its own. From afar, simit appears if it will be hard and dry, but that’s the beauty of this doughy ring – while the outside of the simit is crunchy like the outside of a good hard baguette, the inside is soft and airy. Moreover, the toasted sesame seeds encrusting the simit impart an important nuttiness that allows this simple circle of bread to shine.

We ate many of these sublime circles of crusty bread in Istanbul, but the best we had were either fresh from simit bakeries or still steaming in the early morning air, sold by street vendors who presumably had just acquired them from a bakery. All of the simits I had in cafes were disappointing, and the ones sold near the main tourist attractions were invariably hard and dry. Get up early, look for steam, and enjoy this street food snack for only seventy-five kurus or fifty cents US.

Balik ekmek: In keeping with the theme of simplicity, the best street food we ate in Istanbul by far was the balik ekmek – the ever present Turkish fish sandwich. There are no complex sauces or protracted preparation techniques for this little beauty of a sandwich. It’s perfectly grilled fresh fish with thinly sliced onions, carrots, and lettuce on a lightly toasted crusty baguette. At just three Turkish lira or two dollars US, I am pretty sure I would live off of these sandwiches if I lived in Istanbul.

On a cool but sun-filled mid-afternoon we took the ferry over to the Asian side of Istanbul. Upon disembarking the ferry, we were immediately lured by the wonderfully salty scent of simple grilled fish. Expert hands scale the fresh fish on the docks and grill them on a smoky greased flat top. When we lived in Alexandria, Egypt, T and I always wondered why street vendors seemed to have missed the idea of the simple fish sandwich but in Istanbul, it is impossible to stroll along the Bospherous in any part of the city and ignore the smoky flat tops lined with the white fillets turning a golden brown.

Contrary to my belief that every sandwich is better with a sauce or with cheese (preferably both) this sandwich is in need of nothing. The gently sweet grease from the fish soaks into the fluffy interior of the bread, and the raw onions give you needed heat in every bite. If your lucky, you’ll catch the fish juices as the run down your hand before the dribble onto the docks. Refreshing and healthy but oh so delicious. I have never been more ashamed of greasy American fast food.

Originally written for Food Jihad