Sampling the local delicacies is an important part of travel, and indulging in Turkish food when you travel to beautiful Turkey is no different.
A typical initiation to Turkish cuisine is the doner kebab, Once you arrive in Turkey though, you’ll soon find that Turkish food goes far beyond kebabs. Traditional Turkish cuisine incorporates a mouth-watering blend of seasoned meats, fresh vegetables, indulgent mezes, and sweet, sticky 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 to Turkey.
- 1 24 Mouthwatering Turkish Food Dishes to Try
- 2 #1 Islak Burgers
- 3 #2 Salep
- 4 #3 Doner Kebab
- 5 #4 Sis Kebab
- 6 #5 Yogurtlu Kebab
- 7 #6 Iskender Kebab
- 8 #7 Kunefe
- 9 #8 Simit
- 10 #9 Durum
- 11 #10 Balik Ekmek
- 12 #11 Pide
- 13 #12 Kayısı Tatlısı
- 14 #13 İmam Bayıldı
- 15 #14 Turkish Teas and Coffees
- 16 #15 Lokum – Turkish Delight
- 17 #16 Kahvalti
- 18 #17 Baklava
- 19 #18 Meze
- 20 #19 Kokoreç
- 21 #20 Lentil Soup (Mercimek Corbasi)
- 22 #21 Kofte
- 23 #22 Manti
- 24 #23 Lahmacun
- 25 #24 Borek
- 26 #25 Kazan Dibi
- 27 #26 Hünkar Beğendi
- 28 #27 Kuzu Tandir
- 29 #28 Gullac
- 30 #29 Kumpir
- 31 #30 Turkish Rice (Pilav)
- 32 #31 Dolma
- 33 Turkish Food: A Conclusion
- 34 Melissa Douglas
24 Mouthwatering Turkish Food Dishes to Try
#1 Islak Burgers
Roughly translated, islak burgers are “wet hamburgers”. Rest assured, they are much more appetizing than they sound!
My Turkish friend Betul and I had been wandering around Taksim in Istanbul. When she suggested stopping for an islak burger, I screwed my nose up in disgust at this ludicrous suggestion – a wet hamburger?? When I ate one though, I completely fell in love!
Islak burgers are comprised of grilled meat patties tucked into a bun and soaked in a rich, garlicky tomato sauce. The entirety of the burger and bun are drenched in the sauce and the burgers are then stored in a little steam cabinet. Islak burgers are teeny tiny, and at $1 a burger, they are one Turkish food that you definitely have to take the time to try!
Nothing is more cosy and comforting after a long day of sightseeing than a steamy cup of salep. This is especially the case if you are travelling to Turkey during the winter. Salep is a rich, milky, cinnamon-tasting drink that is actually made from orchids.
To make salep, orchids are boiled, dried, and ground into flour. Cinnamon is then added. Salep is known not only for its cosiness, for also for its health benefits. The drink is said to aid respiratory problems, coughs, and gastrointestinal problems.
#3 Doner Kebab
Kebabs and grilled meats could well be considered as being the “national dish” of Turkey. That said, there are numerous variations of kebabs available here. While “kebab” may be something that we associate with being unhealthy, greasy and nasty in the west, the quality of the meat in Turkey is usually pretty good.
The marinated doner kebab meat is cooked on a vertical rotisserie and then “shaved” into a pitta. You can select the toppings that you want to add to this, but typically your pitta will be stacked with onions, salads, spice, and a delicious garlicky yoghurt.
#4 Sis Kebab
While in Turkey, seize the opportunity to sample the world famous sis kebabs in the place where the concept was born. Sis kebabs can be found practically everywhere in Turkey but it’s impossible to get bored of the perfectly cooked skewered meats prepared on hot charcoals.
Sis kebab is comprised of skewered cubes of beef or lamb beautifully marinated and typically served with a salad, yoghurt, and spicy tomato sauce.
#5 Yogurtlu Kebab
A yogurtlu kebab is comprised of sumptuous kofte kebabs that are prepared with beef or lamb. The kebabs are then laid on a base of pitta bread and topped with fresh yoghurt, tomato sauce, and herbs.
#6 Iskender Kebab
The Iskender kebab is a popular Turkish food that shares some similarities with the yogurtlu kebab. Named after Master Alexander of the Ottoman empire (Iskender Efendi), his namesake kebab is cooked over rice and topped with a spicy tomato sauce.
Delightfully sweet, sticky and sinful, kunefe is a popular dessert across the Middle East and in Turkey. Often when you finish a meal, you will be presented with a selection of kunefe and baklava.
Kunefe is made from cheese topped with shredded pastry and scatterings of pistachio nuts.
Simit is a popular Turkish food to enjoy in the mornings. This is a circular piece of bread that is usually topped with sesame seeds. Simit could be regarded as being the Turkish answer to the pretzel, and is very similar to the Greek koulouri.
Durum is the Turkish cuisine alternative to the Mexican burrito or the Greek gyro. Durum is comprised of doner meat (typically chicken, lamb or beef that has been slow cooked) wrapped in lavas flatbread. The wrap is then stuffed with veggies and condiments in a very similar way to how the traditional doner kebab is prepared.
#10 Balik Ekmek
If you find yourself wandering along the seafront promenades of Ortakoy during your Istanbul itinerary, be sure to look out for the street food vendors serving up hot steamy plates of balik ekmek. Balik ekmek is a grilled fish sandwich prepared fresh with the latest catches.
Pide is the Turkish answer to pizza. This is a boatshaped flatbread that is stuffed with a variety of toppings – from sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage) and melted cheese, spinach and fresh vegetables. You can find pide at many takeaway establishments around Istanbul.
#12 Kayısı Tatlısı
If you find yourself wanting to sample a Turkish dessert delicacy that is different to the baklava and kunefe that you will see practically everywhere, step inside a local patisserie and ask for a kayisi tatlisi – fresh apricots stuffed with cream.
#13 İmam Bayıldı
Imam bayildi is a lovely home cooked Turkish food that is similar to dolmas. The literal translation of “imam bayildi” is quite comically, “the Imam fainted”. These sumptuous Turkish dishes are comprised of eggplants stuffed with garlic, onions and tomatoes.
Perhaps not the best choice for fresh breath, but a nice vegetarian option that is bursting with flavour!
#14 Turkish Teas and Coffees
Wandering the narrow streets and marketplaces of Izmir or Istanbul, and stumbling across quaint little tea rooms that are decorated with lanterns and Turkish carpets is a magical highlight of any Turkish adventure.
Tea is a huge part of the local culture. Not only is sitting in a tearoom and people watching a nice way to while away the time, tea is also commonly handed to you in stores and markets as you browse.
Traditional Turkish tea is black and flavourful, commonly enjoyed with a few dollops of sugar. Flavoured teas are also very popular here, one of the most common (and my personal favourite) being the Turkish apple tea.
On the contrary, Turkish coffee is very strong and thick in texture. It is the same as Arabic coffee and is served in a tiny dish. It’s a bitter, acquired taste that you may either love or loathe. At the end of your drink, it is customary for locals to read their fortunes from the coffee smudges at the bottom of the cup.
#15 Lokum – Turkish Delight
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. The sweet is often served as a complementary side when you order a glass of Turkish tea (“kukuk cay”) or coffee.
Forget about the boring “continental breakfast” that most travel destinations offer, the kahvalti is far 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 and off the beaten path Turkish travel destinations 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 eggs cooked in sauteed vegetables and served up with a side of hot bread. Yum! I had plenty of kahvalti during my time in Turkey, including some really fancy spins on the dish in Cappadocia.
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.
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 (meatballs), 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.
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.
This 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.
#20 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. I would eat it all the time as a starter for my meals.
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 kofte meatballs 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 Turkish 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.
#25 Kazan Dibi
Kazan Dibi is a wonderful Ottoman Turkish dessert that is in some ways like the Turkish answer to Panna Cotta. The dessert also has a pretty funny story behind its invention as it was created completely by mistake!
Several centuries ago, an Ottoman Sultan asked his Chef to invent him a new dessert. The chef tried making a concoction of cream and sugar but all of the ingredients burned and stuck to the bottom of the pan. The Sultan loved the burnt mess and thus, Kazan Dibi was born!
#26 Hünkar Beğendi
Hünkar Beğendi is a wonderful Turkish dish for meat lovers. Here, soft, marinated chunks of lamb are served on top of a bed of pureed eggplant, butter, and melted cheese. This dish is often nicknamed “Sultan’s delight” as it was a Royal favourite during the days of the Ottoman Empire.
#27 Kuzu Tandir
Kuzu Tandir is a Turkish roasted lamb dish. The meat is usually slow-cooked over many hours, leading to a delicious lamb that is so tender that it falls apart in your mouth. In some ways, it reminded me of Moroccan mechoui.
The name “tandir” comes from the name of the oven that was used to cook the lamb centuries ago. The lamb was cooked underground, just like Moroccan mechoui is today. Today, the “traditional” way to cook the dish in Turkey is to hang the lamb up over hot coals. In Istanbul, you can find many specialty restaurants serving this Turkish delicacy.
Gullac is essentially the official dessert of Ramadan in Turkey. If you find yourself exploring Turkey during this holy month, then you will find gullac in plentiful supply as it is served up on various seasonal menus, and sold in local bakeries.
Gullac dates back to the Ottoman era. It is a soft dessert that is made with milk, pastry, and sweet pomegranate. Sometimes, different bakeries and regions put their own spin on the dessert.
Kumpir sounds exotic and all but the reality is that kumpir translates to… baked potato! That said, who doesn’t love a good old fashioned baked potato? You can find several street food vendors across Istanbul and other large Turkish cities that serve up delicious hot Kumpir. These stalls are especially popular in trendy Ortakoy.
If you want a filling and affordable dinner on the go, kumpir is a good option. Fillings for Turkish baked potatoes are very similar to those we enjoy in the west – Russian salads, coleslaw, melted butter, and generous mounds of cheese.
#30 Turkish Rice (Pilav)
Turkish rice is called pilav. Pilav is a major staple of Turkish cuisine and is often served as a side dish alongside meats and mains.
Turkish rice is far more flavourful and special than your standard boiled white rice. It is cooked in butter and salt, making it extra soft and flavourful. As you explore Turkey, you will no doubt encounter variations of pilav. Some restaurants add chopped mushrooms (Mantarli pilav), while others add chickpeas (Nohutlu pilavı).
Dolma is a popular dish in Turkey, Greece, and various parts of the Middle East and the Balkans. This dish is comprised of vine leaves that are stuffed with meat, vegetables, rice, and spices. Dolmas can be eaten on its own as a light lunch. It also makes a common appearance as a part of meze platters.
Turkish food is rich, diverse and varied. The above list gives you an insight into the types of Turkish dishes that you can expect to find during your travels through Turkey but it is by no means extensive.
Although at first glance Turkish food seems to place a lot of focus on meat dishes, you will quickly discover that there are also many options for vegetarians.
Wherever you travel in Turkey, ask your accommodation host or hotel receptionist to advise you of the best restaurants in that area, and the delicacies which are native to that region. This will help to ensure that you eat the very best, most authentic Turkish cuisine, rather than falling into tourist traps.
Have any further questions about Turkish cuisine, or what other food from Turkey you should try? Feel free to reach out to me via the comments below. I’ve travelled to Turkey a bunch of times over the last few years and strongly regard it as being one of my favourite countries! The food from Turkey is perhaps some of the best in the world! Safe Travels, Melissa xo
This article on Turkish food was originally published in March 2017. It was last updated on the 22nd October 2019.