Food for a Quid: Turkish Stuffed Mussels (Midye Dolma)

In Orhan Pamuk’s wonderful Istanbul: a Memoir, he records that stuffed mussel vendors, plying their wares along the streets, have been part of Istanbul since early Ottoman times.

And Turkish stuffed mussels, known as midye dolma, are one of the world’s great street foods. Seriously, even if you’re an addict to Belgian moules and moules marinière (I am), these will transform your view of shellfish. And they’re sold everywhere from the street side to tourist restaurants.

Typically, stuffed mussels sell for two to the Turkish lira (roughly 35p or 55 cents): we paid a bit more for this bundle for the presentation, and location, on a touristy alley off Istiklal, Istanbul.

Stuffed mussels or midye dolma, served with lemon on a salver.

The flavour of midye dolma is mild and surprisingly delicate, the succulent rice infused with hints of saffron, cumin and a mild sweetness from the raisins and pine nuts that typically go in the pot, but the mussels still packed with the taste of sea.

And, like all the best street food, they’re great fun to eat. Squeeze the lemon on to add tang, use the top half of the shell to scoop out the mussel and rice from its bed, and enjoy.

These weren’t the best midye dolma we had in Turkey. Those mussels came from a street vendor in Çannakale, the jumping off point for Gallipoli: you can find him on the square on the road that leads up from the port.

But they were pretty fabulous. And if I could only eat one of Turkey’s dolma (stuffed) dishes, this beats out even Imam Bayildı — and I do not say that lightly.

THE VERDICT
Cost: 3 Turkish Lira (£1.05)
Flavour: 7/10
Presentation: 9/10

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Comments: 6

  1. cailin January 10, 2013 at 8:09 pm Reply

    I would of never known that Turkey would be famous for its mussels. I’m not really a fan of them but if I visit I would have to try them at least once. Good price too :)
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    • Theodora January 11, 2013 at 5:17 am Reply

      They are gorgeous! And, actually, it’s a slightly milder flavour than traditional treatments, so you might even surprise yourself by liking them.

  2. Brendan January 16, 2013 at 8:31 pm Reply

    I’ve become addicted to these once introduced by some nice Turkish fellows down in south Turkey. I would have never tried from their looks, but the peer pressure set in, and I ended up ordering a good 6 more.

    If you like seafood, and especially shellfish, these are amazing.

    • Theodora January 17, 2013 at 3:04 am Reply

      Yes. They LOOK like they’re going to be dry and tasteless, don’t they? I once bought a jumbo bag full for, like, 20 lira, and Zac and I worked our way through them steadily. Delicious things…

  3. JohnS March 15, 2013 at 11:55 pm Reply

    Going to istanbul next week…I may have to try these. I love mussels. So your tummy felt ok afterwards? After I got food poisoning from shellfish I was a mess!

    • Theodora March 18, 2013 at 5:49 am Reply

      I’ve eaten these in at least six different places, and never got sick. Although I do have a gut of steel, I’m a big believer in street food: basically, if the vendors make people sick, no one’s going to come back. Where I’ve been sick, it’s always been from tourist restaurants, where you don’t have a loyal clientele to worry about and turnover is slower. Do try them. You will love.

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