We know that Turkey is famous for its street food and Izmir is a great city to be in if you’re looking to sample lots of street food treats. When we first visited, we were in the city for six short days and were on a mission to eat, eat, eat, purely because so many friends had enthused about all the different dishes. The famous Çeşme kumrusu had been recommended to us and was indeed, very tasty (and filling). Söğüş, rather surprisingly, had not been recommended to us but we saw it everywhere so we just had to sample it. And we’re so glad we did! Don’t miss it if you go to Izmir. And then there’s midye dolma – Turkish stuffed mussels!
Turkish Stuffed Mussels – Midye Dolma
Mmmm, stuffed mussels; are they the king of Turkish street food? Yeah, we love a döner kebab or a çiğ köfte dürüm…but it’s sooo difficult to walk past the midyeci in Izmir. All over coastal Turkey, you’ll see street sellers wandering up and down with huge baskets filled with the shiny, black shells, wedges of fresh juicy lemon and paper serviettes. But we’d been told, and had read, that Izmir is in league of its own when it comes to midye dolma. We’ve eaten many a mussel in Fethiye so, of course, we couldn’t return from Izmir without having put their stuffed mussels to the taste bud test. Just wow!
When it comes to Turkish street food, midye dolma is almost a national treasure, and that’s despite the fact it faces constant negative press. Many people, especially tourists, are wary of eating stuffed mussels on the streets for safety reasons and yeah, you do have to be careful. We all know about the risks of allergic reactions and food poisoning caused by mussels and, in the end, it comes to down to personal choice as to whether you eat them or not – we choose to eat them. We choose carefully and, thankfully, have never been ill from them.
Izmir Stuffed Mussels
As we walked around Alsancak and the streets of Kemeraltı, we could see midye dolma carts everywhere! All along the kordon and around the historic Izmir clock tower, stuffed mussels were for sale in carts, and trade was always brisk. This is a good sign. If we are going to eat midye dolma, we want to see mussels on the move! We want to see people standing around the cart eating one after the other; the midyeci preparing each mussel as fast as the customers are eating them.
It appears the people of Izmir – the Izmirli – love to eat the street food their city is famous for and if it’s good enough for them, it was certainly going to be good enough for us. But rather than stand at the cart, eating one after the other, we decided to make a meal of it.
How To Eat Stuffed Mussels
We always manage to find a little haven whenever we travel elsewhere in Turkey; bar where we get settled and feel comfortable, even just for the few days we’re there. We were staying in the Alsancak area and there’s endless choice of bars around there. It didn’t take us long to settle into a favourite bar, tucked away just off Kıbrıs Şehitler Caddesi.
Each evening, after a day’s exploration, we sat outside this bar watching the same midyeci (trader of stuffed mussels) pushing his cart up and down, up and down, brimming with aromatic rice-stuffed mussels. And each evening, the bar staff and customers would come out to greet him and buy platefuls of mussels to eat while they were drinking. He was obviously a regular.
The same staff were always at the bar again the day after, so they had eaten the stuffed mussels and lived to tell the tale. This was going to be the mussel vendor for us. One evening, we stopped him as he was walking by and ordered a plateful of midye dolma. A choice of medium-sized or large mussels, we opted for large and a few lira bought us a plate of 20 of them along with plenty of fresh lemon wedges.
When you eat midye dolma, no utensils are necessary. Your shell is your scoop! The trader removes the top shell to reveal a large, plump orange mussel; it’s top layer bursting open with spiced rice. The midyeci pushes the wide end of the shell underneath the rice-stuffed mussel, between the flesh and the bottom shell and passes you the foodie treat.
Now, all that’s left for you to do is to continue the process, pushing the shell a little further until the mussel detaches and lands perfectly into the top shell, just like using a spoon. A generous squeeze of lemon, tilt your head back and drop the mussel into your mouth – food heaven quickly ensues!
A plateful of midye dolma washed down with a cold beer or two and we were in Izmir bliss. It didn’t take long before before our plate contained only a pile of empty shells…and we managed to write this post…so we also lived to tell the tale.
When it comes to mussel dishes, stuffed mussels (midye dolma) is definitely up there for us – the larger the mussels, the better, and that’s where Izmir came into its own. Lots of people like to make Turkish stuffed mussels at home because they enjoy eating them on the street so much. We recreated nohutlu pilav becasue we had such happy memories of eating it in Izmir…but stuffed mussels? Hmm, we think we quite like to leave those where they belong; in the cart of the midyeci on the streets of coastal Turkey, waiting to be eaten by hungry customers.