If you haven’t tried Turkish food yet, you really should! There is far more to it than just Turkish delight…
Turkish cuisine has developed continuously over the centuries since Ottoman rule and has adopted influences from all over the place including Central Asian, the Middle East, Greece and the Balkans, resulting in wonderfully diverse, unique and flavoursome menus.
Having just returned from a visit to Turkey, on which I binged shamelessly on all my favourite dishes, I thought I’d go one further than the boastful ‘holiday food’ photos on Facebook and write a post on the highlights of Turkish cuisine. Here are some of the best Turkish foods that I recommend you try on your next visit.
Kahvalti (Turkish Breakfast)
While I realise breakfast is a meal rather than a dish, it warrants a mention here for its uniqueness. Turkish breakfasts are very varied, often consisting of several small dishes including fresh tomatoes, cucumber, olives, sliced meats, cheese, honey, jams and bread, all washed down with strong tea served in tall narrow glasses.
A bit like breakfast, some Turkish dishes are served in small portions; these are called meze and can be hot or cold. Cold meze include dip-style dishes that are often yoghurt-based, such as haydari (yoghurt with dill), cacik (yoghurt with mint and cucumber), but can also be vegetable-based such as saksuka (aubergine and tomato) or hummus. Dolma (rice and sometimes meat-stuffed vine leaves) are often included too. Hot meze often include small portions of sigara borek (cigarette-shaped filo pastries filled with cheese), kabak mucver (herby courgette fritters, which can also be served cold) and calamari or meatballs. A great way to sample a few varieties is to order the meze plate in a restaurant.
|Saksuka, haydari and sigara borek, meze, Turkey|
Originally from Central Anatolia, manti are tiny meat-stuffed ravioli served covered with yoghurt and sprinkled with dried red pepper or mint. They are made from tiny squares of dough pinched together to form a parcel around a bit of meat filling, and are slightly heavier to eat than pasta, but delicious.
Pastries are popular in Turkish cuisine. Borek is a general term referring to pastries with various fillings that can include cheese, herbs, ground beef, and potatoes. Su boregi is a borek baked in a large tray, served in sliced portions, with only a mild cheese filling. It has more of a soft doughy texture, as opposed to the crunchy texture of sigara borek.
|Su Boregi, Turkey|
Levrek and Cupra
All along Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean coasts you can find beautiful fresh seafood. Seabass and Seabream seem especially abundant during the summer months. These meaty fish have white flesh and are usually served grilled with lemon and a fresh salad. It’s so simple but so tasty!
|Levrek, seabass, Turkey|
If you’re more of a meat-lover oven-baked lamb may be more your scene. Small pieces of lamb are wrapped in foil and baked until they melt in your mouth. Kuzu tandir is best served with a shake of salt and a dollop of fresh zingy yoghurt.
|Kuzu tandir with yoghurt, Turkey|
These simple but juicy chicken kebabs are often served with rice and salad and are a great dish for children.
|Tavuk sis, chicken kebab, Turkey|
Guvec dishes can contain chicken, meat or seafood. My favourite is prawns (karides). The dishes also often feature tomatoes, vegetables and usually cheese, and are cooked in the oven in ceramic dishes like a stew. They are served piping hot.
|Karides guvec, prawn stew, Turkey|
This glossy and bright orange dessert does resemble its vegetable origins, but the beautifully sweet flavour is deceptive. Pumpkin is stewed with sugar to form glazed pieces of pumpkin, often served sprinkled with nuts.
|Kabak tatlisi, sweet pumpkin, Turkey|
The name ‘chicken breast pudding’ puts a lot of people off trying this dish, which is a shame. It is basically a custard-like dessert containing shreds of cooked chicken giving it a slightly chewy texture that doesn’t really taste like chicken. It is unique to Turkey and very tasty.
|Tavuk gogsu, chicken breast pudding, Turkey|
Baked on large trays, this extremely sweet treat is made of layers of filo pastry oozing with honey and sprinkled with chopped nuts. It is usually served as a single piece (or two if you’re lucky) alongside a coffee.
No list would be complete without mention of Turkish Delight! Traditionally rose-flavoured or plain but containing nuts, these powdered sugar-dusted little cubes come in all sorts of fruity flavours like pomegranate, strawberry and banana, and even coffee and chocolate, and make an excellent gift to take home. I recommend buying it by the kilo ‘pick and mix’ style, as it always seems to taste freshest.
|Lokum, Turkish Delight, Turkey|
What are your favourite Turkish foods? If they're not on this list please share your favourites in the comments below.