One of my favorite parts about traveling is getting lost in the sea of new flavors that inevitably comes with sampling new food. Food says so much about culture and history, and is the best way to explore cities and countries.
Prior to visiting Turkey, my knowledge of Turkish cuisine was limited to Turkish coffee and döner kebabs. I assumed the food would be similar to what I was used to eating at home, since there’s a lot of crossover between Arab and Turkish culture.
I was right…but also wrong. Turkish cuisine may be a fusion of Arab and Greek food, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same. In fact, I discovered plenty of exciting new dishes and flavors that delighted my palate.
If you’re looking for a guide on what to eat on your trip to Turkey (or to your neighborhood Turkish restaurant), you’ve come to the right place! Without further ado, I present the foodie’s Turkish food guide!
More fondly known as Turkish pizza, this was the first thing I ate upon arrival to Turkey. It’s made with slightly thick and hearty bread, and topped with spiced minced meat, veggies, and/or cheese. Sometimes it’s served like an actual pizza, and other times it’s wrapped, almost like a tamale. Either way, it’s delicious and it’s cheap! It can be found at most restaurants, although I found it to be freshest at the specialty bakeries.
Manti, or, as the waitress at Ficcin called it, Turkish ravioli. Ravioli, dumplings, whatever you want to translate it as – this stuff is delish! It’s a pasta dish stuffed with either veggies or meat (I had both a potato and beef version), and topped with yogurt and spices. Fresh, flavorful, and filling – now that’s what I’m talking about! Definitely worth adding to a Turkish food guide.
3. Döner Kebab
One thing I learned when I went to Turkey is that there are a LOT of types of kebab. Döner kebab is the one most people are familiar with – the wrap served with slices of meat shaved from a spit. The slices are served with veggies on a thin flatbread, and can be found all around Istanbul, although my first taste was at a stall in Taksim Square. No Turkish food guide would be complete without it.
4. Testi Kebap
Testi Kebap is most famous in Cappadocia – specifically in Goreme. Spiced meat and veggies are cooked slowly, and served in a sealed clay pot. Half the fun is watching the chef setting fire to the pot right before your eyes. The meat is delicious too, so it is well worth it!
A dürüm is a Turkish wrap that is actually not a kebab. In fact, it’s minced meat or chicken pieces barbecued on a skewer and wrapped in lavaş – which is basically a Turkish tortilla. It’s hard not to compare döner to dürüm, but if I had to choose, the latter would take the cake. It is full of smoky charcoal goodness and is served with fresh tomatoes, parsley, and onion – I mean, there really is no comparison. I’m sure that the fact that I ate this at Dürümzade (a restaurant once visited by Anthony Bourdain himself) helped swing the vote in its favor.
6. Hünkar Beğendi
If I had to choose a single Turkish dish to eat every day for the rest of my life, it would be the hünkar beğendi from Karakoy Lokantasi. Also known as Sultan’s Delight, this dish consists of tender, slow-cooked beef, served over a smoky eggplant puree. It truly is a dish fit for a sultan. I’m not usually a fan of eggplant, but this dish had me wishing that my Airbnb was next door to the restaurant, so it had to be on my Turkish food guide.
Kofte is Turkey’s version of meatballs, served in patty form. Spiced minced ground meat and breadcrumbs are hand-mixed before being grilled, and it is one of the quintessential foods of the country. Like kebab, it comes in many forms (including raw!), but the grilled version is most common.
Mezze is not a single item; rather, it’s a collection of small plates of different foods. Hot, cold, meats, veggies – you name it, it’s served as mezze! It’s essentially the appetizer course, and, depending on the restaurant, is offered on a large tray where you can select each plate that looks appetizing. It’s an excellent way to sample a variety of dishes such as spreads, stuffed grape leaves, and so much more. If you only try one thing from this Turkish food guide it should be mezze, because you get so many dishes to choose from.
9. Dips / Spreads
Spreads are often a part of the mezze course, but there are so many great ones that I couldn’t resist adding them as a separate item on this Turkish food guide. Tomato and pepper, eggplant, chickpea, and yogurt are just a few of the most popular ones. If you aren’t normally the biggest fan of eggplant or yogurt, these Turkish spreads will definitely change your mind.
10. Mercimek Çorbası
Translation: red lentil soup. Warm, hearty and absolutely perfect for winter, I tried this comforting dish in Cappadocia. The lentils are finely blended, so you aren’t left with that beany texture, either. Add a squeeze of lemon to your bowl and enjoy!
Yogurt is easily the national food item of Turkey, and thus it has to be on any Turkish food guide worth its salt. Yogurt is served as a dip, a sauce, or even as a drink – it is everywhere and in all forms. You’ll have no problem sampling some if you order any variety of mezze, but the best way to consume it is either in its pure form with a little honey, or as a drink served with salt. You won’t have a problem getting your daily intake of dairy here!
Pronounced “chay”, this is probably Turkey’s second national drink. The Turkish alternate between drinking black tea and apple tea, and both are always served in a glass. You can add sugar, but neither are ever served with milk. And if you’ve never had apple tea before – prepare yourself for a newfound addiction!
13. Turkish Coffee
Turkish coffee may look like espresso, but it is definitely not. It’s made in a pot called a cezve and carefully boiled until it forms a “skin” layer, then served in a mini mug. You have to let it settle a little first, otherwise you’ll end up with a mouthful of chalky coffee powder. Don’t drink the bit at the bottom of your cup either – that’s all coffee residue!
This Turkish pretzel is made fresh on the daily and sold in street carts. Unfortunately, my first bite of this sesame-covered hunk of carbs was cold thanks to the snowy weather, but I imagine it would taste much better at room temperature. It’s commonly eaten either for breakfast or as a snack throughout the day.
15. Pomegranate juice
I obviously don’t need to explain what pomegranate juice is, so let’s keep this short. Fresh juice is big in Turkey – especially orange and pomegranate juice. It’s fresh, inexpensive, and delicious, and you should try it. The end.
There are more or less 15 countries out there that make baklava and act like they invented it. I have no idea where it actually originates from, but you can find heaps of it all over Turkey. Available both at bakeries and in restaurants, prepare to fall in love with this syrupy, nut-filled dessert.
17. Turkish Delight
Last, but not least, is Turkish Delight. I distinctly remember trying Turkish delight when I was 7, and promptly spitting it out. Either the American version sucks, or my palate has expanded significantly since I was a single digit age, because now I love it. Essentially, Turkish delight is a sticky and sugary gel-based candy. It comes in a multitude of flavors and is oftentimes covered with nuts, sugar, or both. Even if you think you’ll hate it, give it a chance. Try all the free samples at the Spice Bazaar before buying what you want. Just don’t leave Turkey without trying some!
I hope this post has inspired you to experience the mouthwatering marvel that is Turkish cuisine. And if you don’t have a trip to Turkey planned for the foreseeable future – well then, perhaps it’s time to plan a trip to your local Turkish restaurant!
Have you ever tried Turkish cuisine? Have we left anything out of our Turkish food guide? Share your thoughts in the comments below!