The Foodies Guide to Turkish Food
When traveling to foreign lands, one of the things we look forward to most is experiencing new and different foods. The smells, the spices, the flavours, the atmosphere.
You can learn a lot about a country by how it eats.
But when it comes to the foodie circuit, Turkish food seems to get overlooked – at least it does back in our hometown Vancouver, British Columbia. It seems that Greek food gets all the attention. I must confess that prior to visiting Turkey, I was guilty of not being able to properly define Turkish cuisine.
So, on my last trip to Turkey I made it my mission to rectify this lack of knowledge by stuffing my face with as much Turkish food as possible. A tough job, I know. But all in the name of research!
Turkish food is quite diverse. It’s a fusion of Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Balkan cuisine that offers something for every palate. That said, vegetarians consider yourself forewarned - Turkish food is all about the meat!
To validate this statement, look no further than the above photo. Now that is one HUGE rotating chicken skewer! This local Dönerci (döner vendor) in downtown Ankara is serving its famous Tavuk Döner (chicken).
Care to guess how many chickens were used to make this rotisserie? I’m guessing well over 100!
The perfect lunch in Ankara, Turkey – Lamb Döner Kebab with a cold Efes Beer. Turkish flatbread is thick and fluffy, not like the typical “pita bread” that Canadians associate with Greek Gyros or Donairs
Most dine-in meals are served with a salad, typically with corn, tomatoes, radishes and pickles.
Without question, one of the most popular dishes in Turkey is the Döner Kebab. Although there are a number of ways to serve the Döner kebab, in our opinion the best way to eat the iconic Döner kebab is to have all of the fixings freshly prepared (as illustrated in the photo above) and then have the meat served separately with several pieces of Turkish flatbread.
The process: You take a piece of freshly baked Turkish flatbread, add your skewered meat of choice (typically lamb, chicken or beef) and then add a combination of vegetables, garlic yoghurts and sauces. This way, you mix all of the ingredients and get a different flavour with each bite!
Freshly baked Turkish Pide, enjoyed in Goreme. Typically compared to a thin pizza, pide is a common food that is often served with minced meat (lamb and/or beef), onions, tomato, parsley and spices, and a variety of local cheese. It’s baked in a wood burning stone oven and can be served in a variety of ways, sometimes long and thin, rather than sliced to fit the plate (as shown above).
Note: In case you haven’t noticed, bread is an important part of the Turkish diet. Most meals will come with a large basket of baked white bread. If you’re trying to cut the carbs in your diet, dining in Turkey will be a challenge!
A local restaurant serving up a variety of traditional Turkish food. Notice the baked item above the yellow sign on the right. It’s called Lahmacun, a thin flatbread covered with a layer of spiced minced meat, tomato, pepper, onion or garlic
The grill, home of the shish kebab! You won’t travel too far in Turkey before finding meat grilling on an open BBQ.
Mardin Köfte – finely minced lamb with local herbs and spices, basically a lamb meatball grilled on a skewer. Served with Turkish flatbread, sliced onions, fresh parsley and grilled chilli peppers with homemade sauces on the side.
Grilled Lamb chops. Lamb is a very popular protein in Turkish cuisine.
Handmade Yaprak Manti. A pasta dish that consists of tiny triangle dumplings stuffed with minced lamb and beef, similar to ravioli, topped with a yoghurt and garlic sauce, spiced with red pepper powder and melted butter, finished with dried spices (thyme and/or oregano).
Careful – highly addictive!
Beyti kebab, an interesting dish consisting of ground beef or lamb, grilled on a skewer, wrapped in a thin flatbread and topped with rich tomato sauce and healthy portion of fresh Turkish yogurt.
A delectable variety of Turkish Meze. The Turks love to eat, but more importantly, they love to take their time and enjoy the dining experience with friends and family. Meze is primarily served as the appetizer course, although the combination of various meze can easily become the main course.
As the photo above illustrates, Meze comes in many forms – hot and cold, fried and fresh, dips and sauces, meats and fish, pickled vegetables and salads. Depending on the restaurant, you can either order off the menu or a server will present a tray with a selection of items. Add a glass of Raki and/or a cold Efes Beer and you’ve got the perfect Turkish dining experience!
Dolma (pictured below) is a variety of stuffed vegetables. Like Meze, Dolma is served in many forms, with a variety of ingredients and combinations. There are many vegetarian options, but if a meat mixture is used it’s typically served hot with yoghurt and spices such as oregano and red pepper powder with oil (similar to Manti).
Zeytinyagli dolma (dolma with olive oil) is another very popular dolma that is made with vine leaves cooked with olive oil and stuffed with a rice-spice mixture – usually vegetarian but common to find stuffed with minced lamb or beef.
Stuffed eggplant, stuffed red pepper and deep fried stuffed pastries
Goreme’s famous Testi Kebab is a mixture of lamb, mushroom, tomato and local herbs and spices, cooked in a sealed clay pot, as shown in the picture above.
When served at the table, the clay pot is cracked open with a sword or large knife (appealing to the touristic vibe in Goreme). The trick is to only add the stewed ingredients to the rice when you’re ready to eat it. In other words, don’t dump the testi kebab on the rice once it has been opened. The clay pot will keep the testi kebab very hot.
Turkey’s popular beer, Efes Pilsen. Although a Muslim country, you can find a cold bottle of Efes virtually anywhere in Turkey, especially in urban areas.
Turkey’s famous Yeni Raki, an anised flavoured alcoholic beverage that is commonly served with Turkish Meze. When poured into a glass, Raki is clear like vodka. It becomes cloudy when water is added, which dilutes the strength of the drink.
It is similar to several kinds of alcoholic beverages available around the Mediterranean and Middle East, including pastis, ouzo, sambuca, arak, and anise castellano.
It must be noted that although the photo below may look like a typical espresso, it most certainly is not. Turkish coffee, like Greek coffee, is finely powdered roast coffee beans boiled in a pot called a cezve. The coffee is then served in a small cup, as shown in the photo.
Don’t make the mistake of drinking Turkish coffee like a typical espresso! The coffee must settle, which will take several minutes, otherwise it will taste very chalky and powdery. When finished, there will be a muddy coffee residue at the bottom of the cup, so don’t be alarmed!
Turkish tea (cay), served in a traditional glass. Turks drink tea several times throughout the day, typically after each meal.
A tasty and creative display of Turkish Delight, which is a traditional sweet desert or snack often served with tea or coffee.
The popular baked Simit, commonly referred to as the “Turkish Bagel”
Every morning we would hear this friendly man’s call as he shouted down the street, notifying residents that he had arrived with the morning’s freshly baked breads. He is balancing a large wooden board filled with Simit, a circular bread with sesame seeds that is a common breakfast item in Turkey.
Roasted chestnuts from a street vendor in downtown Anakara
McDonald’s scooter delivery service. Now, I understand that McD’s has absolutely nothing to do with Turkish cuisine, but I do find it interesting how McDonald’s seems to work its way into virtually every major market.
Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to Turkish food. Like most cultures that produce fantastic cuisine, the best way to experience it is to actually visit the region and try it for yourself.
If that’s not possible, hopefully this post will have you thinking about visiting your local Turkish restaurant today!
What is your favourite Turkish food or beverage?
Share your favourites in the comments section below!