Turkish cookery is essentially the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, which can be described as a fusion and refinement of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. Turkish cuisine has in turn influenced those and other neighbouring cuisines, including those of Western Europe. The Ottomans fused various culinary traditions of their realm with influences from Middle Eastern cuisines, together with traditional Turkic elements from Central Asia (such as yogurt), creating a vast array of specialities, many with strong regional associations.
Turkish cuisine isn't homogeneous. Aside from common Turkish specialities that you can find throughout the country, in addition there are many region-specific specialities. The Black Sea region's cuisine (northern Turkey) is based on corn and anchovies. The southeast-Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana-is well-known for its kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts for example baklava, kadayif and künefe. Especially in the western areas of Turkey, where olive trees are grown in abundance, olive oil is the most important type of oil used for cooking. The cuisines of the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean areas display basic characteristics of Mediterranean cuisine as they are rich in vegetables, herbs and fish. Central Anatolia is known for its pasta specialties, such as keskek (kashkak), manti (especially from Kayseri) and gözleme.
A specialty's name sometimes includes that of a city or region, either in or outside of Turkey, and may even refer to the particular technique or ingredients utilised in that area. As an example, the difference between Urfa kebab and Adana kebab is the use of garlic rather than onion and also the larger amount of hot pepper that kebab contains. Frequently used ingredients in Turkish specialities include: meat, eggplants, green peppers, onions, garlic, lentils, beans and tomatoes. Nuts, especially pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts, along with spices, possess a special place in Turkish cuisine. A great variety of spices are sold in the Spice Bazaar (Misir Çarsisi). Preferred spices and herbs include parsley, cumin, black pepper, paprika, mint, oregano and thyme.
Popular Turkish Dishes
Chorba / çorba - it may be hard to believe, but the simple soup dish is very popular in Turkey so do not be surprised to find some Turks eating it for breakfast. Popular choices are lentil or tomato soup but if you are adventurous with your culinary preferences try tripe, sheep brain or tongue soup. Black cabbage soup is traditional to the north east of Turkey, in the black sea region.
Kumpir - is another form of street food that is popular in the beach side resorts and cities. It is simply a jacket potato with a crisp outer skin and soft inside, mashed up with butter. Choose a variety of fillings to top it off, including cheese, sausage, pickles and Russian salad.
Pide or Lahmacun - is a popular dish in lokantas (Turkish restaurants serving cheap and traditional Turkish food) A thin crust of pastry is covered with toppings including cheese, egg, diced meat, chicken or tuna and then it is put it into a high heat stone oven. The nearest equivalent western food is pizza. Another version which is lighter is lahmacun. Both are traditionally served with salad. This is an ideal option for vegetarians as many fillings are available.
Kofte - is the Turkish version of meatballs. Sold in a wrap as street food or served on a plate with rice and salad in restaurants. There are many different types of kofte and their taste will vary depending on the region that recipe originates from. Çiğ kofte is unusual as it is raw meatballs originating from the south east of Turkey and these are traditionally eaten as a snack or appetizer.
Baklava - possibly the most popular Turkish food is baklava which will suit anyone with a sweet tooth. Taking it influence from the Ottoman Empire, it is layers of filo pastries, filled with nuts and then covered with a sweet honey or syrup. Purchase baklava from most supermarkets or pastry stores.
Street kebab - there are more than 40 different types of kebabs in Turkey but the most popular is the traditional street kebab. Large skewers of rotating chicken or beef are cooked slowly before the cook slices stripes from the outside of the skewer, places them in a pastry wrap, and then fills it with lettuce, onions and tomatoes. A street kebab is especially delicious with a glass of Ayran. (Yogurt, salt and water.)
Mezes - appetizers, traditionally eaten before a meal or on their own as a snack. Popular mezes include acılı ezme, a hot paste made from peppers, patlıcan salatası (cold aubergine salad) and cacik (yogurt, cucumber and garlic). Mezes are also the traditional food served in the Meyhanes of Istanbul.
Gozleme - cheap, tasty and very filling, gozleme is a popular street food sold at local markets. Traditionally considered the working man’s food, it is layered pastry filled with a variety of fillings including spinach, cheese, potatoes and parsley. Cooked on a large grill and normally accompanied with tea or Ayran, it is a perfect choice for lunch and ideal for people travelling on a budget.
Menemen - is not often seen on restaurant menus but most kitchens will make it for you, as it is quick and easy. Peppers, onions and tomatoes are fried in a pan and then eggs are scrambled into the mixture. It is served with fresh bread and delicious with home-grown olives.