In a Pickle: Street Food in Istanbul


Today, Farz Edraki makes her SYS debut by getting all in a pickle on the streets of Turkey:

Fishermen on the pier unhook their daily catch from fishing lines; a family prepare to walk the bridge crossing the Bosphorus; street vendors affront passing tourists with their unabashed attempts at selling socks, watches, and postcards: “Çok güzel! Çok güzel!” These are daily rituals at Eminonu, Istanbul.

A popular suburb in Istanbul, Eminonu is often crawling with tourists, who zig-zag their way through markets, street stalls, and – without fail – other tourists. Tucked at the end of the bridge is a small stall on wheels, selling pickled food: turşu.

As the sun sets, the stall’s name flashes in bright, gaudry lights: TAHIRI EMINONU TURSUÇU. Despite it being an unexpectedly cold December night, people queue behind a counter lined with big jars of pickled vegetables. Soon it is my turn, and a man hands me a plastic cup filled with pickled carrots, eggplant, and cabbage.

“And this!” he passes me a plastic spoon, with a deep grin. “Tashakor!” I return the smile, thinking, “You can’t turn back now, Farz. He’s smiled at you; if you don’t enjoy the turşu, you’ll offend him.”

Now, pickled vegetables – of any kind – are not what typically springs to mind when you’re seeking a respite from the cold. It’s not often you’ll hear someone say, “It’s freezing! What’s for lunch? I know, let’s treat ourselves with an acidic, cool piece of pickled cabbage!” Yet, pickled foods are a common delicacy in the Middle East. In our family home, I’d only ever seen pickled vegetables as a side food: accompanying rice, stews, or bread – never on its own, and never in such large quantities.

Pickled vegetables are one of many street food stalls in Istanbul. Pomegranates; corn; ice cream – if it is capable of being put on a stick or cone, it is offered as street food in Turkey. Families queue for fairy floss in the summer, and roasted chestnuts in the winter. All in all, Turkey’s culinary quirks extend far beyond the saccharine, gelatinous Turkish delight.

And so, there I was, about to embark on an epic pickle experience.

People around me wolfed down their pickled cabbage and carrots. “How are they doing that?” I thought. The tactics of how to tackle the entire cup soon became an issue: do I eat it whole? Or do I savour the pickles, selecting one after the after, thereby diluting the acidic effect?

“Bottoms up!” I cheered to a confused passer-by, taking a swig from the cup.



Words and picture by Farz Edraki. Farz edits