10 Traditional Turkish Foods You Must Try
Merhaba from Istanbul! If you’re looking for beautiful scenery, incredible beaches, and a fascinating history in the places that you visit, then you’ve definitely made the right decision in choosing Turkey as your travel destination. However an additional way to truly immerse yourself in the culture of the country is to experiment with the typical local cuisines. When you arrive, you’ll soon find that Turkish food goes far beyond kebabs and incorporates a mouth-watering blend of seasoned meats, fresh vegetables, mezes, and sweet pastries. To assist you in selecting your dinner options from unfamiliar menus, I’ve compiled this list of ten of the best traditional Turkish dishes you should try during your upcoming trip.
Don’t be fooled by the imitation versions of Turkish Delight that you find in commercial stores internationally. Even those who believe that they don’t actually like Turkish Delight find themselves pleasantly surprised when they visit Turkey for themselves and try the authentic versions. Turkish Delight (or “Lokum” as it’s known as locally) comes in a variety of flavours – from chopped pistachio to fragrant rose.
After a week or so in Turkey, you are certain to stumble upon a meze at some point. Quite simply, a meze is a small selection of dishes that may be served at the start of a meal, or can make for a pleasant, light lunch. This selection typically consists of hummus, yoghurts, and perhaps an assortment of other such dips, warm fresh breads, kofte (meatball), dolmas (rice stuffed vine leaves) and eggplant salad among other tasty local favorites. This concept is great as it allows you to try a little of everything.
Kahvalti (Turkish Breakfast)
Forget about the boring “continental breakfast” that most travel destinations offer, the kahvalti is far more more unique and tasty. It does share some similarities to the continental breakfast however in that you should expect to receive a lot of different dishes as part of this. Arguably the best Turkish breakfasts can be found out in the small villages for authenticity, but assured most locations offer fabulous ones. Sliced cucumbers, peeled tomatoes, olives and cheeses make a regular appearance in kahvalti, instead of butter or jam on your bread, opt for typical kaymak (clotted cream) and honey. Be sure to give Menemen a try at breakfast time too – scrambled egg cooked in sauteed vegetables and served up with a side of hot bread. Yum!
Arguably the most popular dessert in the country, baklava is a sticky, sweet filo pastry that consists of several pastry layers, filled with chopped nuts and held neatly in place together with syrup or honey. Since the dish is so popular, you are certainly sure to have the opportunity to try it during your trip and it is served up at most restaurants.
Kokoreç is a flavourful dish that less adventurous eaters may feel a little wary to experiment with at first. However once they have experienced the mouthwatering taste and texture of this marinated meat dish, they will no doubt be happy that they tried it. Kokoreç is made with either lamb or goat intestines that are then wrapped around seasoned offal. It’s actually technically a Turkish “street food” so you will find this dish around a lot of bustling marketplaces in the town and city centres, The dish comes in a couple of forms – You can enjoy Kokoreç as part of a sandwich, or as simply meat without bread or garnishes on a plate.
Lentil Soup (Mercimek Corbasi)
Simple yet delicious, Turkish lentil soup, or “Mercimek Corbasi” as it is known locally is a blended puree of lentils and spices, then garnished with cilantro and a squeezed lemon slice for added zing and flavour. Served with hot pitas on the side, this dish is satisfying and filling while remaining inexpensive. You will note that it is widely available at most restaurants and eateries.
As per its earlier mention, Kofte is a common sight in meze platters and can be considered a staple part of the Turkish diet. The dish consists of balls or patties of ground beef or lamb and can be found served in a variety of ways – you can find them in delicious casseroles (that go by the name of izmir kofte), eat them totally raw, or have them coated in egg and then fried (kadin budu) among many other options. The different variations of kofte available have different levels of spice, different ingredient blends, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Vegetarian travelers who are intrigued about this dish can try mercimek koftesi.
A dish that could be seen as the Turkish answer to ravioli, manti may bear a somewhat similar resemblance to the popular Italian meal however it is completely different when it comes down to taste and texture. These little dumplings are meat-based, contain either beef or lamb and are boiled or fried and then served with yoghurt and a range of spices.
A popular street food dish that is widely available in Turkey, Lahmacun is a crispy flat bread that is usually topped with minced meat, salad, and lemon juice for the taste (though variations are possible!). If you’re having a busy day sightseeing and you want to grab a quick yet delicious snack, lahmacun is a great option.
Typically filled with meat, cheese, potato or spinach, Borek is a stuffed pastry that is essentially Turkey’s answer to the pie. This hearty delicacy can be found at the majority of bakeries around the country though you will also find dedicated borek shops where the quality is notably better. The pastry also comes in several variations, for example: su borek (also known as ‘water’ borek) is a very soft, wet pastry whereas sigara borek (“cigarette” pie) comes in the form of a long, thin puff pastry.
This article details just a few of my favourite local dishes, however Turkey has an extremely expansive food culture and there are many more flavourful traditional favourites. I personally recommend experimenting with everything that you can. Oh, and don’t forget to wash it all down with a nice Turkish tea or coffee!