When compiling my list, I realized how much I love Turkish cuisine and found it difficult to simply select 10 dishes.
Turkish food focuses on fresh ingredients and is packed full of flavor! Many of the dishes date back hundreds of years to the Ottoman era. Also, the variety of foods will vary from one part of Turkey to the next with the seaside towns focusing on seafood and garden-fresh produce; and the more central villages will have comforting, hearty dishes that center on meat.
The dishes I selected are typically found in nearly every city or village in Turkey. Whether you are going for a long vacation or late Turkey holidays, you will certainly discover a delicious meal here.
1. Throughout our travels in Turkey, the quintessential dining experience always involves Turkish mezes. Mezes are boringly labeled as ‘Cold Starters’ and ‘Hot Starters’ on most restaurant menus.
But, to me, mezes are really the star of the meal with the fish or entrée simply being an afterthought. You select several meze from a large tray that your server is presenting, you chat with your friends, you drink some Turkish raki and share in a good time together. Repeat for the next two hours.
Turkish mezes often consist of beyaz peynir (Turkish feta), cacık (yogurt with cucumber and garlic), hummus, olives, acılı ezme (a hot pepper paste mixed with walnuts), patlıcan salatası (cold aubergine salad), dolma (rice-stuffed grape leaves), olive oil dishes, hot or cold calamari, salads and more.
2. A simple grilled fish usually follows the mezes. You’ll find a variety of fish in Turkey, but the most common and my two favorites are Sea Bream (Çupra) and Sea Bass (Levrek). Try to stop by one of the lively fish markets on your travels.
3. Ahtapot (grilled octopus) is a somewhat seasonal dish, which is served with an herbed or spicy olive oil. Be sure to use some of your Turkish bread to sop of the delicious juices at the bottom.
4. Turkish cuisine, of course, focuses on plenty of meat dishes too. Adana kebab is a long, hand-minced meat kebab grilled on an open mangal with burning charcoal. This somewhat spicy kebab is named after Adana, the fifth largest city in Turkey, while the non-spicy version of this kebab is called Urfa after another city in southeast Turkey. Kebabs are served with charred peppers and tomatoes, an onion-sumac-parsley salad and lavaş (thin flat bread).
5. Köfte (Turkish meatballs) is another favorite in traditional Turkish cuisine. These simple, but tasty meatballs are made from ground lamb or beef or a mixture of both and seasoned with spices, herbs and onions. Children love köfte!
6. The Turks love soup! Look for Mercimek Çorbası (made from red lentils) on the menu. This soup is comforting, filling and a well-loved Turkish dish.
7. Mantı (meat-filled Turkish dumplings) are traditionally boiled and topped with a garlic yogurt, melted butter and spicy red pepper flakes. One of my favorite places to eat mantı is at Ficcin in Istanbul.
8. For a quick snack or tasty appetizer, look for börek. Turkish börek are made from a flaky dough called yufka and are filled with cheese, meat, vegetables and/or herbs and then baked until crispy. I prefer the sigara böreği, which look like small, fried cigars and are stuffed with Turkish cheese and herbs.
9. Perhaps the most famous Turkish dessert is Baklava. This sweet pastry is made from layers of thin, buttered phyllo dough, filled with chopped nuts and soaked with a sugar syrup. Baklava is even more sublime when served with kaymak (clotted cream) or ice cream.
10. However, künefe is my most loved Turkish dessert! This sweet dessert hails from the city of Antakya in southeast Turkey and consists of a white cheese sandwiched between two layers of buttered kadayıf (similar to shredded phyllo dough). This sublime concoction is cooked in small copper plates, and then served piping hot in sugar syrup and topped with kaymak and pistachios.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy these Turkish dishes on your next, or even your first, trip to Turkey!