Eating on a Budget in Istanbul

Istanbul is a stunning city: clean, green, with ambience of both a modern megapolis and an ancient settlement. It is one of those places that you absolutely can’t afford to miss. Like Rome or New York, Istanbul is unforgettable, impressive, and highly enjoyable.

It’s hardly a surprise that the city attracts millions of travelers. The municipal government, however, has worked hard to make things convenient for tourism: efficient and understandable transportation system, street names and historic sites descriptions in English and free WiFi at most of the central squares are just a few things worth mentioning. The costs, however, are directly proportional to Istanbul’s popularity: it’s anything but cheap. Be prepared to pay EU15/USD20 as an entrance fee to all key museums (Basilica Cistern being a notable exception at EU7/USD10); around EU50 per night for a centrally located budget hotel, hostel or guest house (usually including breakfast); and starting from EU15 for a lunch or a dinner.

Accommodation and museum fees are inevitable – the city deserves to be seen – but mastering the art of eating like a local can easily save you EU20+ a day. Street food – ubiquitous and delicious – is the cornerstone of Istanbul-on-a-budget approach.

Below you will find pictures, descriptions and prices of 10 typical Istanbul snacks and drinks:

1) Corn – (go for the boiled as grilled is usually too hard) is sold everywhere from street vendors’ carts at 1TL/EU0.50 per piece;

Corn and chestnut stand

Corn and chestnut stand by Lena Kozlova

2) Fried chestnuts – similar to Rome or Paris, a package of hot chestnuts is a popular treat. Often sold along corn, chestnuts vary in price greatly: from 5TL/EU2.50 (100 gr) in front of famous sites to 3TL/EU1.50 just a block away.

Hot chestnuts

Hot chestnuts by Lena Kozlova

3) pastry is also sold from numerous carts in places where crowds tend to gather – from tourist attractions to ferry stations; variety isn’t stunning: sweet doughnut-like things, pretzels or stuffed baked pies. Depending on the size, kind and location prices vary from 0.50TL/EU0.25 to 2TL/EU1.

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

4) mussels stuffed with rice – sold in the streets (especially near ferry stations) and cheap cafeterias for up to 1TL/EU0.50 per piece

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

5) kebabs – come in all shapes, forms and sizes, and thus range in price quite a bit, but on the street will never cost you more than 10TL/EU5, usually closer to 5TL/EU2.50.

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

Istanbul by Lena Kozlova

6) fish kebab – a variety sold from many stands and couple rather peculiar decorated boats in front of Eminonu ferry station (home to most ferries to the Asian side and tours around Bosporus) for 4TL/EU2. It features grilled sardines, fresh Turkish bread, sliced onions and salad leaves and is usually seasoned with lemon juice.

7) spicy pickles – the most unusual and by far my favorite kind of Istanbul street food. Sold from decorated carts near Eminonu station in plastic cups (with delicious juice/marinade), it’s a perfect side dish for a fish kebab. Only 1.50TL/EU0.75 per portion.

Fish kebab boat by Lena Kozlova

Fish kebab boat by Lena Kozlova

Spicy Pickles Cart

Spicy Pickles Cart by Lena Kozlova

Locals eating fish kebabs and pickles in front of Eminonu ferry station by Lena Kozlova

Locals eating fish kebabs and pickles in front of Eminonu ferry station by Lena Kozlova

A fish kebab and spicy pickles - a delicious lunch for just 5.50TL/EU2.75 by by Lena Kozlova

A fish kebab and spicy pickles - a delicious lunch for just 5.50TL/EU2.75 by by Lena Kozlova

8 ) Ayran – not as ubiquitous as tea, ayran stands are usually located near bazaars and tourist shops. It enhances digestion, so drink it before eating a not-so-light kebab. 1TL/EU0.50.

Ayran

Ayran by Lena Kozlova

Ayran by Lena Kozlova

Ayran by Lena Kozlova

9) fresh pomegranate juice – juice stands, both mobile and permanent, are everywhere. 3TL/EU1.50 per glass.

10) tea – you won’t be able to get away from it! Turks drink tea ten times a day – so it’s sold everywhere in recognizable Turkish glasses. With the lowest actual cost, tea prices are arbitrary and entirely depend on location.

Here is comparison of prices of 1 cup of tea in different places:

– on Eminonu-Kadikoy ferry tea is sold for only 0.50TL/EU0.25
– in the marina on the Marmar Sea numerous tea vendors ask for 1TL/EU0.50
– on boat tour around Bosporus and in key touristic sites be prepared to pay 2TL/EU1
– and the most outrageous price – 2.50TL/EU1.25 – has been spotted at Grand Bazaar

Tea between Europe and Asia: at Eminonu-Kadikoy ferry by by Lena Kozlova

Tea between Europe and Asia: at Eminonu-Kadikoy ferry by by Lena Kozlova

So, walk around, keep your eyes open and bon appétit!

57 Comments

  1. Andrew Murray on November 17, 2010 at 8:24 am
  2. Andrew Murray on November 17, 2010 at 9:24 am
  3. marvi on November 17, 2010 at 11:00 am
  4. Jill on November 17, 2010 at 11:05 am
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  7. Michael on November 18, 2010 at 9:12 am
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  9. Elise on November 18, 2010 at 10:34 am
    • Lena Kozlova on November 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm
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