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.
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.
Cost: 3 Turkish Lira (£1.05)