Istanbul’s street life is deeply interwoven with the city’s food culture. Each vendor has their own spot in the recurring rhythm of times and seasons; some roam the streets only in the cold season, like the sahlep carts with their hot samovars full of the popular creamy-sweet beverage, while others are staples of warmer days, like the cucumber sellers who serve their refreshing green produce expertly peeled and sliced, with a pinch of salt. It seems only logical that one of the best ways to experience this incessant rhythm is to wander around Istanbul’s alleys and avenues and literally eat your way around the city.
Wandering on the streets of Istanbul, one can easily notice how much emphasis there is on food. Wherever you are, there will be a bakkal—a small corner shop often offering sandwiches using bread baked daily throughout the city. Then there is the büfe, selling hot toasts well paired with fresh orange juice, and the lokanta offering a selection of delicious home cooking. But this is also a seasonal city: some street vendors only sell produce unique to the time of year.
Salep: a sweet, warm winter must
As the weather starts to get chilly, shouts of “saaalep” reverberate around the city streets. Salep is a hot, sweet drink served with a dusting of cinnamon, and is greatly appreciated on a gray afternoon. It is an aromatic drink, traditionally made from the powdered dry root of an orchid plant; the Green Veined Orchid, or Orchis morio (otherwise known as the Anatolian Orchid).
Commonly found throughout Anatolia, it shows its pink flowers during April and May. Salep is sold from wheeled carts with a heated ornate brass container, and the cries of the salepçi (salep seller) will alert you to his presence long before he turns the street corner.