Find out all you need to know about the best Turkish food and drinks before your trip.
Turkish cuisine is celebrated as one of the richest in the world. Taking its star dishes from the plentiful Ottoman food culture, Turkish food is usually a galvanizing blend of Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Balkan flavors. Home-cooked stew meals have different varieties, while even the fast-food scene consists of traditional dishes like kebap, doner, or cig kofte. On the other side is the delightful and light cuisine of the Mediterranean and the Aegean, where olive oil, vegetables, and seafood are dominant. Turkish food is not easy to handle, so familiarize yourself with the must-try Turkish dishes for an authentic experience. Before you arrive, also keep in mind these Turkish food tips:
Must-Try Turkish Foods
Here are the top dishes of the Turkish food scene that will help you eat like a local:
Kebap is one of the staples of Turkish cuisine that has made it to the international food scene. If you are coming from Europe, you are most likely familiar with the smoldering kebap cone. It consists of spiced meat cooked on a rotating skewer. You will find different versions in the street food eateries. The ‘urfa’ version is milder than the classic ‘adana’ version which is very spicy and often hot. Taste it with different mezes, the Turkish appetizers.
Dolma is among the staple meals of the Mediterranean cuisine, prepared as a main course dish or a classical appetizer accompanying raki. It is a plentiful filling wrapped in vine leaves. Folding the vine leaves is a craft in the Anatolian culture. The thinner and the most decent-looking ones are considered the best. If you visit a home-cooking restaurant, you can also taste local varieties made with bell peppers or dried eggplant instead of vine leaves.
Small squares of dough filled with a spicy filling of minced meat, manti is another iconic Turkish dish that has a significant cultural value. Rolling out the dough is almost a handcraft similar to dolma. It is inherent to Kayseri, a city near Cappadocia in central Anatolia. But, you will find original manti in the traditional restaurants in Istanbul. Manti is always served with yogurt and a buttery tomato sauce on the top. You can request sprinkled peppermint and chili pepper. Nowadays, most restaurants in Istanbul are getting into vegetarian and vegan manti, so you will get to try it even if you are a plant-based eater.
You will stumble across the iconic Balkan and Turkish ‘borek’ anywhere in Turkey, served hot or cold at breakfast, or as a quick bite in the street food shops. Gozleme is a very traditional variety of borek that is worth a try. Anatolian villagers have been cooking it on a hot convex metal plate for a long time, hand-rolling the dough with expertise. You can choose among different fillings. White cheese, minced meat, spinach, and potato are some of the best. We recommend having it for breakfast with freshly brewed Turkish black tea.
Baklava is arguably the best Turkish food that the nation takes great pride in. The original and authentic baklava comes out of the hand of the baklava masters of Gaziantep, a city in Southeastern Anatolia. They brush 40 sheets of thinly rolled dough and stack them together with pistachios in between. It is a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds with its golden crispy crust and incredibly sweet syrup. You will find equally tantalizing varieties in the many sweet shops in Istanbul.
Lokum (Turkish Delight)
There is no other Anatolian sweet that has made a steady reputation in the western world quite as lokum. It is aromatic cubes of concentrated flavor, no wonder it has come to be called Turkish Delight in English. Corn starch, water, and sugar are boiled together and flavored with rose water, pistachios, and nowadays more unique tastes. Don’t leave before you try saffron and gum mastic flavored lokum if you wish for a genuinely authentic experience.
Must-Try Turkish Drinks
It is without question that Raki is the national drink of Turkey. This traditional alcoholic drink is made from grapes and anise, the latter giving it its distinct odor and aroma. Raki comes from the same family as the Greek ouzo, and its consumption also involves a hearty ritual. Mix it with some water or drink it neat along with the traditional ‘raki table’ It consists of a variety of mezes and seafood delicacies. Keep in mind that raki is very high in alcohol (40-45%).
Turkish coffee holds a unique place among the coffee brewery traditions in the world. Ground coffee goes into boiling water with or without sugar until thick foam forms on the top. You can understand the quality of the coffee from the amount of light brown foam in your cup—the more, the better. If it is your first time, prepare yourself for the bitter taste, as it won’t be like any coffee you have tried. The Turkish coffee ritual involves a cold glass of water to soothe the bitter taste and a few lokum cubes on the side. Don’t drink the thick layer of ground coffee at the bottom of your cup, which is for fortune-telling.
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