A Guide to Turkish Cuisine: What to Eat and Where to Find It

If you're a foodie or a traveller, Turkish cuisine is an experience you won't want to miss.

With its diverse influences and regional specialities, Turkish cuisine is a reflection of Turkey's history and culture. From the Ottoman era to modern-day fusion dishes, Turkish cuisine has something for everyone.

Regional Cuisine

Turkey is a vast country, and its cuisine varies widely depending on the region. Some of the most famous regional cuisines include:

Istanbul

dolma

The heart of Turkey, Istanbul's cuisine is a fusion of flavours from the Ottoman era, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Some of the most popular dishes in Istanbul include kebabs (such as lamb, chicken, or beef kebab), stuffed grape leaves (dolma), meze (small plates of appetizers), and fish sandwiches.

As you walk along the high streets of Istanbul, you will see many popular restaurants that entice you with their lit-up signs designed with attractive fonts and of course, the aroma of the food.

Aegean Coast

With its coastal location, Aegean cuisine is heavily influenced by seafood. Some of the famous dishes include grilled octopus, stuffed mussels, and shrimp casserole. The region is also famous for its olive oil-based dishes, such as stuffed peppers and eggplants.

Southeastern Anatolia

manti

The southeastern region is known for its spicy dishes and hearty stews. Adana kebab, a skewered meat dish served with a fiery pepper paste, is a must-try. Other popular dishes include lamb and chickpea stew, flatbreads like pide and lavash, and Turkish dumplings (mantı).

Black Sea Region

With its lush forests and fertile land, the Black Sea region is known for its unique flavours. Hamsi, a fried anchovy dish, is a regional speciality. Other dishes which are not to be missed include bean soup, cornbread, and cabbage rolls.

Famous Dishes

Kebabs: Perhaps the most famous Turkish dish, kebabs are skewered and grilled meats served with rice, vegetables, and a variety of sauces. Doner kebab, thinly sliced meat roasted on a vertical spit, is a popular street food in Turkey. Other kebab varieties include shish kebab (cubed meat on a skewer) and kofte (meatballs).

Meze: Meze is a selection of small dishes that are served as appetizers or snacks. They can include anything from stuffed grape leaves to dips like hummus and tzatziki. Some of the best meze dishes include haydari (yoghurt dip with garlic and herbs), acili ezme (spicy tomato and onion salad), and patlican salatasi (eggplant salad).

Baklava: A sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts and honey syrup, baklava is a dessert that should be on the top of your list of things to try in Turkey! It's often served with a cup of Turkish tea.

Where to Eat

Lokanta: A traditional Turkish restaurant that serves home-style dishes, often in a buffet-style setting. It's a great way to try a variety of dishes such as sarma, karnıyarık, and mantı. Sarma is a dish made of grape leaves stuffed with a flavourful mixture of rice, ground meat, herbs, and spices. Karnıyarık is a classic Turkish dish consisting of eggplant halves filled with a savoury mixture of minced meat, onions, and tomatoes. Mantı are small dumplings filled with seasoned ground meat typically served with yoghurt and a drizzle of melted butter.

lokanta

Lokantas offer a wide range of dishes that cater to different tastes and dietary preferences. You can expect to find a variety of vegetable-based dishes, hearty meat stews, flavourful rice pilafs, and a selection of salads and meze. The buffet-style setup allows you to choose from the assortment of dishes available, allowing you to try a little bit of everything.

In addition to the main dishes, lokantas often offer a variety of freshly baked bread, soups, and desserts. You can indulge in traditional Turkish sweets like baklava, künefe, or şekerpare, which provide a sweet ending to your meal.

kunefe lokanta

The atmosphere in a lokanta is usually warm and inviting, resembling a cosy home kitchen. It's a place where locals gather to enjoy a satisfying meal and engage in lively conversations. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, ready to guide you through the different dishes and help you make the most of your dining experience.

Kebab House: Kebab House, or "Kebap Evi" in Turkish, is a type of restaurant that specializes in serving delicious kebabs and grilled meats. Istanbul, being a culinary hub, is home to several renowned kebab houses where locals and visitors alike can indulge in the flavoursome delights of Turkish cuisine. Here are a few popular kebab houses in Istanbul:

• Karadeniz Pide ve Döner Salonu: Located in Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district, Karadeniz Pide ve Döner Salonu is a beloved kebab house known for its authentic flavours and warm atmosphere. They offer a variety of kebabs, including Adana kebab, shish kebab, and döner kebab. Additionally, they are famous for their freshly baked pide, a traditional Turkish flatbread that pairs perfectly with grilled meats.

• Kebapçı İskender: Situated in the lively neighbourhood of Beyoğlu, Kebapçı İskender is a legendary kebab house that has been serving mouthwatering dishes since 1867. Their speciality is İskender kebab, a delicious combination of thinly sliced döner meat, warm butter, tomato sauce, and yoghurt served over pieces of pide bread. This iconic dish has become synonymous with Kebapçı İskender and is a must-try for kebab enthusiasts.

iskender kebap

• Hamdi Restaurant: Located near the Spice Bazaar in Eminönü, Hamdi Restaurant is a popular choice for those seeking a delightful kebab experience with a view. Situated on the rooftop, the restaurant offers panoramic views of the Bosphorus and the historic skyline of Istanbul. Their menu features a wide range of kebabs, including lamb, beef, and chicken options, cooked to perfection and bursting with flavour.

 Şehzade Cağ Kebap: Tucked away in the Fatih district, Şehzade Cağ Kebap is renowned for its unique speciality, Cağ kebab. Cağ kebab is a traditional Turkish kebab made from marinated, skewered lamb cooked over an open fire. The succulent meat, combined with the distinct smoky flavour, creates an unforgettable culinary experience.

These are just a few examples of the many exceptional kebab houses you can find in Istanbul. Each of these establishments offers a delightful atmosphere and a wide range of kebab options, allowing you to enjoy the rich flavours and aromas of Turkish grilled meats. 

Pide House: Pide is a type of Turkish flatbread, and pide houses specialize in making it fresh and delicious. They also serve other Turkish dishes such as lahmacun, gözleme, and börek. Gözleme is a savoury stuffed flatbread filled with various ingredients like cheese, spinach, or minced meat. Börek is a pastry made with thin layers of dough filled with ingredients such as cheese, spinach, or minced meat.

peynirli pide

These pide houses offer a wide variety of toppings and fillings for their pide, allowing you to customize your meal according to your preferences. Whether you prefer a classic cheese and spinach pide or a flavorful meat-filled option, you're sure to find something to satisfy your taste buds at a pide house.

In addition to pide and other Turkish dishes, pide houses often serve appetizers like meze, salads, and traditional Turkish desserts such as künefe, şekerpare or Turkish rice pudding, known as "sütlaç". This makes them a great option for a complete meal where you can sample a variety of flavours and specialities.

When visiting a pide house, you can expect a welcoming and inviting atmosphere with friendly staff who are knowledgeable about the different pide options available. Whether you dine in or take your pide to eat on the go, you can enjoy the fresh ingredients and unique textures that make Turkish cuisine so beloved.

Street Food: Some of the best Turkish cuisines can be found on the streets. From simit to stuffed mussels, street vendors offer a variety of quick and tasty options such as:

Simit: Simit is a circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds, often referred to as the Turkish bagel. This iconic street food is a staple breakfast item and is enjoyed throughout the day. Its chewy texture and slightly sweet flavour make it a delightful on-the-go snack.

simit sunshine

Döner Kebab: Döner kebab is a classic Turkish street food that has gained international popularity. It consists of marinated, thinly sliced meat (typically lamb, beef, or chicken) stacked on a vertical spit, slowly roasted, and then shaved off and served in warm pitta bread or dürüm wrap. The tender meat is complemented by a variety of toppings and sauces, making it a satisfying and flavorful option.

• Lahmacun: Known as Turkish pizza, lahmacun is a thin, crispy flatbread topped with a spiced mixture of minced meat, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. It is often rolled up with fresh herbs, such as parsley and mint, and a squeeze of lemon juice before being savoured as a quick and delicious street food snack.

• Midye Dolma: Stuffed mussels, or midye dolma, are a popular street food delight, especially along the coastal regions of Turkey. Fresh mussels are filled with a flavorful mixture of rice, herbs, and spices, then steamed and served with a squeeze of lemon. They offer a unique and delectable seafood experience.

• Sulu Köfte: Sulu köfte, or meatball stew, is a comforting and hearty street food dish. It features small meatballs made from ground meat and bulgur, simmered in a flavorful tomato-based broth. Served with a side of bread, it's a satisfying and filling option for those craving a warm and flavorful meal.

Street food in Turkey is a culinary treasure trove, offering a wide array of flavorful and convenient options for food enthusiasts. As you stroll through the bustling streets of Turkish cities, you'll encounter street vendors and carts serving up delicious treats that reflect the vibrant and diverse culinary culture of the country. Here are a few examples of popular street food dishes you can enjoy:

These are just a few examples of the delightful street food options you can find in Turkey. Whether you're exploring the vibrant streets of Istanbul, strolling along the seaside promenades, or visiting local markets, street food vendors are sure to tempt you with their aromatic and enticing offerings. Embrace the street food culture, indulge in these quick and tasty treats, and let your taste buds embark on a flavorful adventure.

Fish Restaurants: Fish restaurants in Turkey, such as Balıkçı Sabahattin in Istanbul, are renowned for their exquisite seafood offerings. Given Turkey's extensive coastline, these establishments take full advantage of the abundance of fresh fish and seafood available.

fish restaurants

In addition to the classic grilled fish, fish stew, and fish sandwiches, these restaurants offer a diverse array of seafood delicacies that will delight any seafood enthusiast.

A speciality you can enjoy at fish restaurants is "Çupra" or sea bream. This prized Mediterranean fish is often grilled whole, allowing you to experience its delicate and flaky texture, enhanced with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil. The succulent flavours of Çupra are a true delight for seafood connoisseurs.

If you're seeking a more hearty seafood dish, you can indulge in "Karides Güveç," which is a shrimp casserole cooked with tomatoes, peppers, and aromatic herbs. This comforting and flavorful dish showcases the natural sweetness of the shrimp and is often served with crusty bread to soak up the savoury sauce.

Bazaars and Markets: Turkish markets are a feast for the senses, and they're a great place to try local specialities like Turkish delight, spices, and dried fruits. Many markets also have food stalls that offer a variety of street food options including:

• Sweets and Desserts: Turkish markets are renowned for their sweet treats, and you'll find an abundance of delectable options. Indulge in the famous Turkish delight, or lokum, which comes in a variety of flavours and textures. You can also try baklava, a rich and sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts and drenched in honey syrup. Other sweet temptations include künefe, a cheese-filled dessert topped with syrup and pistachios, and helva, a sesame-based confection.

• Kestane: Roasted chestnuts, or kestane, are a beloved street food snack during the cooler months. You'll find vendors roasting chestnuts over open fires, filling the air with their enticing aroma. Grab a paper cone filled with warm chestnuts and enjoy their earthy flavour and satisfying crunch as you explore the market.

kestane

• Fresh Juices: Quench your thirst with refreshing and freshly squeezed fruit juices available at many market stalls. From orange and pomegranate to sour cherry and grape, you'll find an array of vibrant juices that offer a burst of natural flavours and essential vitamins.

As you navigate the bustling aisles of Turkish markets, take your time to explore the food stalls and sample the local specialities on offer. Allow yourself to be enticed by the vibrant colours and enticing aromas, and indulge in the unique flavours that Turkish markets have to offer. It's a fantastic opportunity to discover new tastes and experience the culinary traditions of Turkey firsthand.

Etiquette

Turkish cuisine is often served family-style, with dishes shared at the table. It's considered polite to wait for the host to start eating before you begin. In more formal settings, it's common to use a fork and knife to eat, but in more casual settings, it's perfectly acceptable to use bread to scoop up food.

It's also customary to offer a small tip (around 10%) at restaurants, especially if the service is good. Turkish tea is often served after a meal, and it's considered polite to accept it even if you don't want any.

etiquette turkish tea

Turkish cuisine is a reflection of Turkey's diverse history and culture. From street food to high-end restaurants, there's something for everyone. Whether you're in Istanbul or the Aegean coast, make sure to try the regional specialities and soak up the vibrant flavours and aromas. And don't forget to wash it all down with a cup of Turkish tea!

Turkish cuisine is a feast for the senses, with its rich flavours, vibrant colours, and diverse influences. Whether you are exploring the bustling streets of Istanbul or the tranquil beaches of the Aegean coast, you are sure to find delicious and unique dishes that will satisfy your cravings and expand your culinary horizons.

To truly experience the best of Turkish cuisine, be sure to visit local markets, try street food stands, and dine at traditional restaurants. With so many flavours and dishes to discover, you'll never run out of new and exciting things to try. So pack your appetite and get ready to embark on a culinary adventure through the delicious world of Turkish cuisine!

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