18 December 2012 – Among the “salt and pepper” of Istanbul are tradespeople on foot and ubiquitous street food vendors who are indispensable to this great city. From the city’s window basket system, which grew in popularity during the Covid Pandemic, to the street food sellers, the people of the city meet and interact through the exchange of food bought and sold on the sidewalks of the city, and in passages between homes and blocks of flats. In Istanbul, as in societies around the world, food (especially communal eating) is an “intensely social” activity. In this respect, food becomes a marker of cultural identity and plays a significant role in (re)constituting heritage, origins, place and senses of belonging. Taste plays an important role in remembering; Istanbul has a deep history, and its Ottoman heritage is constantly renegotiated in “modern” Turkish food.
Today, on the streets and on ferries that sail up and down the Bosphorus the food sellers, notably sellers of simit, a bread ring topped with sesame seeds, are important cultural artefacts of Istanbul, and have been at least since the 19th century.
Their wares and the “tools of their trade,” are carried on their heads; wooden trays, tray stands, wicker baskets (kufe), scales and a range of containers for measuring and serving food, especially bread, to people of the city. The kufe is itself a part of Istanbul art and craft culture, but is a gradually being lost across Turkey. Istanbul’s street vendors also carry on their heads and in their hands three-legged wooden stands, folding chairs and the trays. In some areas of Istanbul the trays have been outlawed, and vendors are required to use four-wheeled carts.
The food carts have become something of a tourist attraction – “gastronomic tourism” – for the cheap, quick meals they offer. In this way, just another way it is, that local and indigenous cultures and traditions are repacked for tourists… For as long as it brings in money “street food” will continue to serve tourists, much less local people who may not be able to afford prices that better off tourists may. These street food vendors have become important for tourism and as it has been for daily commuters, and deeper within communities, along with the window basket system, food is central to the urban food system.