Turkey is a rich country not only with its ancient history and diversity but also with the tasty dishes of all kinds. I personally consider Turkey to be one of the best countries for food. Each region of this beautiful country offers a collection of uniquely made dishes and treats. If it happens to visit Turkey I want you to know where to start when it comes to surprising your taste buds with the amazing Turkish food.
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Baklava is a layered filo pastry dessert with nuts and drenched in honey. Walnuts, pistachios, almonds, or hazelnut are most often used, and the type of nut alters the flavor considerably.
This Ottoman sweet is believed to have been invented in the Topkapi Palace kitchen and Istanbul is still the best place in Turkey to try it. Local Istanbulites’ sweet tooth is obvious with nearly every street having a baklava shop. Any good baklava shop will have a wide range of different options and best of all they allow you to try a small piece before buying since every variety has a different taste.
Although it is atmospheric to buy baklava in the souk, shops such as Karakoy Gulluoglu and Hafiz Mustafa provide much better quality and value. Baklava is normally bought by weight with some nuts such as pistachio being more expensive. Prices vary from 20-30 lira for a couple of pieces in a cafe to 100-200 lira for a kilo in a shop. In general, look for a shop full of locals and you cannot go wrong.
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Kunefe is a popular dessert all over Turkey, and people who find baklava too sweet will love this heavenly dessert. It is believed that this dessert has Arabic roots and the best Kunefe is to be had in Hatay province in southern Turkey
Kunefe is made from shredded Kadayif or semolina noodles which are soaked in a sweet syrup of sugar, water, and lemon juice. A layer of the syrup-soaked noodles is placed in a round metal pan, which has been buttered. A thick slice of unsalted cheese is placed on the noodles, before adding another layer of soaked noodles. Then it gets baked until the cheese has melted, and is served immediately.
The combination of gooey cheese, crunchy, thin noodles, and sweet syrup is indeed as good as it sounds. Traditionally kunefe is served with pistachios sprinkled on top, but these days seeing ice cream on top of a kunefe is also common.
One of the best things to do in Istanbul is to indulge in the country’s excellent cuisine. For the best kunefe and other Turkish desserts, you must not miss Hafiz Mustafah 1864. There are several branches in Istanbul, with the most convenient one for tourists being the one in Sultanahmet.
Turkish Delight / Lokum
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If you have a sweet tooth and you find yourself traveling in Turkey, you cannot miss the opportunity to try Turkish delight!
Also known as Lokum, Turkish delight is a confection made of starch and sugar, which is then cut into small cubes and dusted in icing sugar. The origins of Turkish delight aren’t precisely known, however, this candy has been produced in Turkey since at least the late 18th century.
Because Istanbul is often the first destination for many visitors to Turkey, this is a great place to get a taste of Turkish delight and Hafiz Mustafa is the place to go. This confectionery shop was founded in 1864 during the first years of Sultan Abdulaziz’s reign in the Ottoman Empire. Today the shop has numerous locations across the city, however, you can visit the original shop on Hamidiye Street in the old district of Eminönü.
The window displays are filled with colorful mountains of Turkish Delight that are truly hard to resist!
There are lots of different flavors to choose from including rosewater, cinnamon, mint, strawberry, lemon, orange, kiwi, pomegranate, and apple. Meanwhile, the more elaborate Turkish delight features chopped hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, dates, pomegranate seeds, and even shredded coconut.
Prices for Turkish delight can range from 5TL to 50TL ($0.70-$7.00 USD) per kilo depending on what you’re getting and where, so sitting down with a cup of Turkish tea and a small plate of Turkish delight is a delicious and affordable treat.
Boza / Turkish ice cream
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Boza is an unusual refreshment – a slightly funky forerunner to the soft drink. This beverage of fermented millet is opaque, viscous, a little bit effervescent, and a little bit sweet. It was popular throughout the Ottoman Empire and is still popular in many Balkan countries of the former Ottoman empire. It’s like nothing else you may have tried – boza is truly a taste of the past.
How far in the past? Today’s boza has its roots in the fermented grain beverages of Mesopotamia and Anatolia dating back several millennia.
Alcoholic versions were popular – but frowned upon – in the Ottoman world of the 17th century. In fact, it was ultimately forbidden by the Sultan. However, a sweeter and non-alcoholic version of boza, favored by the Ottoman court, came into vogue in the 19th century. It’s this version that the Haci brothers made in their shop in the Vefa district of Istanbul – “Vefa Boza” – where it’s still made today.
This beautiful shop with its big marble bar, carved wood, Iznik tiles, and stained glass is a classic Istanbul stop and an interesting addition to a tour of Turkish sweets and desserts.
Vefa Bozacisi – Mollahüsrev, Vefa Cd. No: 66, 34134 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey – you’ll find it very close to the Şehzade Mosque.
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Although the döner kebab was invented in the Ottoman Empire, one man took it to the next level and created one of Turkey’s best-loved dishes: the İskender Kebap!
The İskender kebap was born in Bursa, a city in northwestern Turkey that’s famous for being the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, by a man named Master İskender in the late 19th century. The dish consists of thin slices of döner kebab placed on top of soft pieces of bread and smothered with yogurt and tomato sauce. Authentic restaurants will even pour a generous portion of melted butter when they deliver the dish to the guest’s table.
Travelers can find the İskender kebap all over Turkey, although the most authentic is in its birthplace, Bursa! In fact, there’s even an alley that is made up of restaurants only serving İskender kebap. One of the best restaurants in that alley is Yesil Izgara Pideli Kofte, which offers delicious kebabs along with excellent service (and a delicious local grape drink called Şıra that pairs well with said kebab).
A hearty portion of İskender kebap costs between 35 to 50 TLR ($5 to 7 USD) and is well worth the trip to Bursa (or the local kebab spot)!
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Legend has it that Turkish soldiers were cooking their hunt on their swords in the 1300s and invented what we now call kebabs. If you visit Turkey, you are likely to see dozens of different types of kebabs with marinated meat or even vegetables on a metal or wooden skewer.
But for the best food-on-a-stick experience, you should try the delicious Urfa Kebab. Unlike the typical cubed meat kebabs, the Urfa kebab is made with ground beef, ground lamb, or a combination of the two along with traditional Turkish spices like cumin, cinnamon, paprika, and mint. They are bursting with flavor without being spicy.
Urfa Kebabs hail from the city of the same name. Well, it used to be the same name, now the city is called Sanliurfa, and of course, this is the best place to try their signature dish. You can get an Urfa Kebab meal for 50-100 Turkish lira. One of the best restaurants to try Urfa Kebabs is Altin Lokantasi at Shutim Yenihal Market C Block NO:1.
When you return from Turkey, if you find yourself craving these tasty skewers, you can always make Urfa Kebabs at home and the taste will transport you back!
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Manti is a traditional dumpling that is popular in both Turkey and her surrounding countries. You’ll also see manti in many post-Soviet countries.
The dish name comes from “mantu” meaning dumplings and so it’s no surprise that manti will remind you of dumplings and Tibetan momos. Manti dates from the 13th century when they were brought from Central Asia to Turkey by nomadic Turkish tribes – so it doesn’t necessarily originate from any single Turkish city.
Turkish manti are traditionally made with a spiced minced lamb or beef combined with onions in a dumpling wrapper. The manti are then boiled or baked. What makes manti unique to Turkey is the way in which they are served with a sauce that is typically cold yogurt and garlic.
It’s also possible to get vegetarian manti, but you’ll need to look specifically for this. The beautiful look of manti is finished off with a sprinkle of either dried chili, paprika, dried mint, and ground sumac. The Yeni Lokanta Bar in Istanbul is a great place to eat manti, but you’ll also find them in many cafes and restaurants in Istanbul.
Pide / Turkish Pizza
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In its simplest form, pide is a flatbread with a variety of toppings that has been baked in a stone oven. This popular food and its different varieties can be found all over, common in cities like Istanbul and Izmir.
Often described as an open-top calzone to those who have never heard of this dish, it is one of the most popular snacks and fast foods in the country. The base is a flat-bread similar to that of a pizza crust and toppings vary widely, with the most readily available being cheese and onion. Other toppings for the more adventurous include ground beef, mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes. Traditionally prepared during Ramadan, the most authentic form of pide is conventionally cooked in hot clay ovens.
The crunch of the crispy crust and the smell of the parsley is nicely complemented by the milk-like taste of the cheese. Fortunately, it is very easy to find, readily available at common restaurants and street cart sellers all over. This relatively cheap meal at around 25 TL is a must-try when in Turkey and is sure to leave you smiling in delight long after the meal is over.
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One of the most popular street food dishes in Turkey that locals love and not many tourists know about is pilaf. But Turkish pilaf is not the same as pilaw in the Middle East or Central Asia, for example. In Turkey, this dish is made in a more simple way but is no less delicious.
It is basically plain white rice cooked in water or chicken broth with the addition of butter or olive oil and served either with meat (chicken, lamb or beef), vegetables, corn or chickpeas that come on top of rice. Meat can be boiled, grilled, sauteed with spices, or when each piece fried separately with onions. In some places (and regions) cooks also mix rice with small noodles. In other parts of the country, they prepare it not from rice but from wheat groats.
Pilaf is considered the best late-night food and often comes as street food. It is easy to find it anywhere in Turkey, you just need to look for glass-covered carts or pop into one of many street cafes with the name ‘pilaf’ on them. One of my favorite places where to find pilaf is Istanbul, a city with thousands of eateries and restaurants. Literally, in all neighborhoods of Istanbul, you can find it.
I advise you to try it in Zeferan restaurant near Sultanahmet neighborhood, Pilav House in Kadikoy, and anywhere on Istiklal street.
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Sometimes referred to as Turkish scrambled eggs or a Turkish omelet, Menemen is a medley of eggs, spices, tomatoes, and peppers, sauteed together in a pan. The tomatoes, peppers, and occasionally onions are cooked until they are soft and tender, with the eggs mixed through.
Menemen is usually served for breakfast, usually in the pan it’s cooked in, with crispy bread. Sometimes, it will come with white cheese or Sucuk (a type of dry, fermented beef sausage), depending on what you order and the establishment. Either way, it’s delicious!
Menemen is named for the town it comes from, a district of Izmir on the east coast of the country. Now, however, Menemen has become common throughout the country and you can sample it in restaurants in most neighborhoods in Istanbul.
Lades Menemen in Beyoglu is a popular choice, however, you can find the dish in most cafés, restaurants, and tea gardens. Prices vary according to where you go, but you can expect to play around 10-25 lira per serving.
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Turkish Kumpir is mainly a huge baked potato loaded with all the goodies you can think of. It is prepared by cutting open a freshly baked potato and mixing its fluffy flesh with garlic butter and cheese until it becomes creamy. This improved filling is stuffed back into the potato and one’s favorite toppings are added on top.
Kumpir is a popular street food dish in Turkey and the stands sell them for around 3 Euro. Usually customers get the chance to build their own kind of thing. There are a lot of toppings on display and one can choose what and how many to add. Some of the common toppings are sausages, sweetcorn, sliced olives, mayo, chives, grated carrot, beans, sheep cheese, mushrooms, pickles, sliced beets and many more.
Istanbul has countless shops that serve Kumpir, but the best place to try one is in Ortaköy district, on the coast of the European part of the city. One can also find Kumpir in other cities, like Izmir and Ankara, or even prepare it at home while enjoying a Turkey-inspired evening. Kumpir makes for a simple and fast dish that even the most irresolute people will love.
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The Turkish breakfast is a fantastic spread of different delicious products, balancing both savory and sweet and always including vegetables and fruits as well. In a typical Turkish breakfast, you can expect to find meats such as salami or cold sausage, but also different cheeses.
Turkey produces some amazing cheese and at breakfast is when you can try some of them. The most common ones are the beyaz peynir and the kasar peynir. The beyaz peynir is a crumbly white sheep’s cheese with a tangy taste, whilst the kasar penyir has the texture of Cheddar and tastes quite mild, with hints of sweetness. Another cheese that you will find in a Turkish breakfast most of the time is the dil peynir, which is a white cheese that pulls apart in stringy strips. It tastes quite milky and sweet, just like mozzarella.
Olives are almost always part of a Turkish breakfast as well. Usually, you will receive both black and green olives, sometimes dried ones too. Eggs are not missing either, be it hard boiled or cooked to order. When it comes to fruits, there will be both fresh slices or dried varieties such as apricots or prunes.
The sweet element of the breakfast consists of butter, jam, and/or chocolate spread. With a Turkish breakfast you can expect to receive coffee and tea as well. Sometimes both.
Even if you visit Istanbul on a layover and don’t have much time, you must indulge yourself with a Turkish breakfast. You can have it pretty much at every restaurant in town that is open for breakfast.
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Although Dolmas is a popular dish in Caucasus, Balkan, Middle East region, the origin of Dolmas is believed to have come from the Turkish word “dolmak” which literally translates “to fill”, which originated during the Ottoman era.
Dolmas are vegetables or leaves wrapped and filled with another vegetable or cooked rice. Most commonly found Vegetarian Dolmas are pepper, zucchini, vine leaves, eggplant, tomatoes, and cabbage leaves. Vegetarian dolmas are the most popular dish not only in Turkey but across Central Asia and Middle Eastern cuisine.
While meat plays a huge role in Turkish cuisine, vegetable dishes like Dolma are a huge savior for vegetarians and vegans. And the good news is every city and town in Turkey has Dolmas on their menu.
Dolmas can be part of Meze (a starter ) or a vegetarian main dish. They can be served either hot or cold, warm dolmas accompanied with a yogurt dip, and cold dolmas are served with a dash of lemon juice. Either way, Dolmas is a culinary delight and a legacy of Ottoman cuisine that one must try while in Turkey.
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