What is Turkish food and what are the best Turkish dishes? If you’re a foodie visiting Turkey for the first time and are wondering what the best Turkish foods to try are, I’ve got you! 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 traditional Turkish food 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 in Turkey (or at your neighborhood Turkish restaurant), you’ve come to the right place! Without further ado, I present the ultimate foodie’s guide to the best Turkish food to try in Turkey!
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29 Traditional Turkish Foods You Must Try in Turkey
There are probably hundreds of traditional Turkish dishes out there but this list primarily includes popular Turkish food that can be found in most places around the country (with a few exceptions). A lot of people wonder what type of food people eat in Turkey and the answer is a cross between Mediterranean, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Some of these “typical” Turkish foods are actually quite popular in neighboring countries Still, many of these dishes either originated in Turkey or have their own Turkish twist on them. So let’s see how many you can try on your upcoming trip to Turkey!
Simit (Sesame Pretzels)
This Turkish pretzel is made fresh on the daily and sold in street carts and is a very popular on-the-go Turkish breakfast food. It’s not particularly flavorful but boy is it filling! Dense and inexpensive, simit is commonly eaten either for breakfast or as a snack throughout the day.
Turkish breakfast is epic on many levels but menemen is easily one of the best parts of it. I’m not a big egg person but this veggie omelette makes American vegetable omelettes cringe in shame. Menemen consists of perfectly scrambled eggs mixed with sautéed onions, tomatoes, and peppers. It has tons of flavor and spices and is served with a side of toasted bread. So. Good.
Kahvalti (Turkish Breakfast)
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There’s breakfast, and then there’s Turkish breakfast: an impressive and massive spread of all kinds of dishes and sides. Forget about the boring hotel continental breakfast with toast and jam – Turkish breakfast is a feast for the senses (and the stomach!). There’s no rule or system to exactly what goes into a kahvalti, but it usually includes eggs, olives, fresh vegetables, cheese, bread (simit) and so much more. The Turkish take that whole breakfast is the most important meal thing very seriously.
Pide (Turkish Pizza)
More fondly known as Turkish pizza, pide was one of the first things 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 cheap. It can be found at most restaurants, although I found it to be freshest at the specialty bakeries.
If we were to classify lahmacun as another type of Turkish pizza, then it would be New York style – thin and crispy – whereas pide would be a Chicago deep dish. More accurately, though, I’d call lahmacun Turkish flatbread. It’s a thin and crispy bread topped with minced beef at its most basic. However, like pizza, in can be topped with pretty much anything you want: I usually went for beef, cheese, and veggies. Lahmacun can definitely be eaten for lunch, but it’s actually a popular street food so it can be eaten anytime, whether as a snack or as a quick meal.
Gozleme is, in a nutshell, a Turkish savory crepe. Prepared dough is rolled into a thin layer over a hot plate and cooked, then stuffed with whatever items you’d like. I was personally a fan of the feta and spinach combination but you can pretty much add whatever you’d like to it. Like lahmacun, this is a quick meal or snack that you can have any time of the day. The best gozleme is usually found at little street stalls throughout Turkey.
Kumpir (Baked Potato)
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Think baked potatoes are somewhat boring? Think again! Kumpir is no ordinary baked potato. In Turkey, there are entire stalls dedicated solely to the creation and consumption of these. You start with a large baked potato served with a generous amount of cheese and butter and then the rest of the toppings are totally up to you. Just a few of the toppings you can add: sausage, mushrooms, corn, cheese, olives and more. Go hard or go home. But most likely – go home with a food coma.
Balik Eknek (Grilled Fish Sandwich)
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If you think you’re not much of a seafood person, I bet Turkey (specifically, Istanbul) will change your mind. Where else can you get the fresh catch of the day immediately grilled and served in sandwich form? Balik eknek is a fish sandwich typically sold by fishermen as a street food – you can buy it along the Bosporous River or at fish markets. The sandwich usually consists of grilled fish topped with lemon, pickled veggies, and lettuce. This is definitely one of those quintessential things to eat in Turkey, especially in Istanbul.
Manti is Turkish ravioli / mini dumplings. 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 including in this Turkey food guide. Oh, and if you’re in Istanbul, consider trying it at Ficcin.
Sarma (Cabbage rolls)
Sarma is Turkish-style cabbage rolls, usually stuffed with rice or bulgur, spices, and minced meat. I’m not sure if this dish actually originated in Turkey or not, as many neighboring countries and regions have their own versions of stuffed cabbage rolls, varying in spices and fillings. Regardless of the origin, the Turkish version of sarma is delicious. Although this is usually served with meat, you can occasionally find vegetarian versions. If cabbage isn’t really your thing, consider trying dolma instead – stuffed vine leaves.
Borek (Savory pie)
If there’s one thing Turkey loves, it’s savory pastries with fillings or toppings. Borek is just that: basically, a savory pie made of phyllo dough that’s often stuffed with spinach and cheese (but can also be made with minced beef, and / or potato). Borek also comes in many varieties. There’s su borek (pictured above), a wetter version of the traditional stuffed pie, as well as cigara borek, which is rolled into a thin pasty (like a cigarette – hence, the name). But given that you can’t go wrong with a savory pastry, I recommend sampling all three while in Turkey if you can. Say yes to carbs!
Imam Bayildi (Stuffed eggplant)
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Imam bayildi hilariously translates to “the imam fainted,” which is indicative of just how good this eggplant dish is. It’s one of those famous Turkish dishes because of the name alone. The story goes that a wife cooked this dish for her husband and he lost consciousness from the delicious flavor. And I don’t blame him!
I’m not a huge fan of eggplant myself, but in Turkey I am. All their eggplant dishes are amazing and this one is no exception. Imam bayildi is a dish consisting of roasted eggplant stuffed with tomato, garlic, onions and parsley. Not only is this dish great for vegetarians but it’s also so popular that it can be found in neighboring countries as well. Yum!
Hünkar Beğendi (Eggplant puree)
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. Incidentally, this place serves some of the best food in Turkey (in my humble opinion) so if you get a chance to eat here, do it!
One thing I learned when I went to Turkey is that there are a LOT of types of kebab. Döner kebab is a staple of Turkish cuisine and is the type of kebab 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.
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, then cracking it open. The meat is delicious too, so you get a little entertainment and a yummy meal. Woo!
Turkey has an impressive variety of kebab dishes but Iskender is one of the most popular ones amongst locals. Named after Iskender Efendi from Bursa, it comprises of lamb kebab meat topped with a tomato sauce and butter and served with a side of yogurt. Can you say instant food coma?
Iskender is a food that everyone has strong opinions about – specifically, where to eat the best version. I’m personally not the biggest fan of this dish, mostly because it’s quite heavy for my liking. However, it’s definitely one of those Turkish dishes to try at least once while you’re in Turkey!
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.
Kofte (Mined meat skewer)
Kofte is Turkey’s version of meatballs, served in patty or skewer 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.
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.
Mercimek Çorbası (Lentil soup)
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!
I’ve talked about the must try food in Turkey but what about the drinks? Yogurt is easily the national food item of Turkey, and thus it has to be on any Turkish food guide. 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. Although apple tea is found all over Istanbul, I was told that it’s pretty much a tourist drink and most Turks only drink black tea. Either way, both teas are always served in a glass and never with milk. Incidentally, if you’ve never had apple tea before – prepare yourself for a newfound addiction! I don’t even care that it’s touristy because it’s delicious!
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!
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 claim to have invented it. I have no idea where it actually originates from, but you can find heaps of it all over Turkey. Baklava is a dessert comprising of layers of phyllo dough stuffed with nuts and topped with syrup. It comes in many different and creative varieties, although this is the standard version. Available both at bakeries and in restaurants, prepare to fall in love with this syrupy, nut-filled dessert. I recommend getting the version at Hafiz Mustafa, a popular and scrumptious bakery chain.
Like baklava, kunefe is a dish that can be found in quite a few countries in Central Asia, The Middle East, and North Africa. In Turkey, kunefe is made of layers of thin, noodle-like dough with a gooey central layer of string cheese and soaked in a sweet syrup. It’s often topped with pistachios, as pictured above (this version was served with ice cream as well).
Turkish Ice Cream
What do Turkish people eat for dessert all summer long? Ice cream! Seriously, they take their love for ice cream seriously and you’ll find stands at pretty much every corner during the summer. But Turkish ice cream (dondurma) isn’t just regular ice cream that you’re eating in Turkey. Instead, it’s infused with an aromatic called mastic, which makes it sticky and stretchy. It tastes really good, although the texture is a bit different than regular ice cream (as are the flavors, of course). But what makes Turkish ice cream truly stand out is the vendors – because the ice cream doesn’t melt quite as quickly, they have a field day performing tricks for customers. Just Google Turkish ice cream vendors and prepare to be amazed.
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 give you a little taste of the best Turkish food out there and inspired you to experience the mouthwatering marvel that is Turkish cuisine. And if you don’t have a trip to Turkey planned in the foreseeable future – well then, perhaps it’s time to plan a trip to your local Turkish restaurant!
More Turkey ResourcesPlanning a trip to Turkey soon? Check out ALL my posts on Turkey below:
- Turkey Travel Guide
- IstanBRR: The Best Things to Do in Istanbul in Winter
- Fairy Chimneys and Fairy Tales: Cappadocia in Photos
- The Foodie Guide to Turkish Cuisine
Have you ever tried Turkish cuisine? Have I left anything out of my Turkish food guide? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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