What comes to mind when you think of Turkish food? You might picture köfte (kurf-teh), delicious spiced meatballs sizzling on a barbecue, or gözleme (gurz-lem-ay) – pancakes stuffed with potatoes, cheese, herbs and other fillings. There are the many different kinds of kebab, not to mention vegetable dishes, stews, soups and meze.
Safe to say that Turkey’s cuisine is rich and varied, and we all have our favourites. But not all its dishes are so mainstream – some are an acquired taste, others might sound a little strange but are definitely worth trying, and others you might not even have heard of.
When it comes to food, it’s always good to keep an open mind – you could really miss out if you don’t. Here are a few Turkish dishes you should definitely try – take a look and, if you haven’t tasted them already, do so when you get the chance.
Poached eggs with yoghurt might not appeal to you but trust us – çılbır (chull-bur) is surprisingly good. It’s also lauded as real Turkish comfort food. Çılbır is usually served as a hot meze, although it also makes a good breakfast dish – one to whip up on the kitchen of your luxury holiday villa in Kalkan, maybe. The yoghurt is often infused with garlic, and it’s also common to serve it with melted butter over the top, along with some Aleppo pepper or paprika.
If you’ve ever indulged in a cocktail too many while enjoying your holiday in Antalya, Turkish friends might suggest a bowl of işkembe çorbası (ish-kem-bay chor-ba-suh), or tripe soup. These days, tripe isn’t a staple part of the popular western diet, but in Turkey it has a solid reputation as ideal hangover food. A bowl of soup before you go home after the bars or nightclubs close is something of a tradition; while you might feel lentil or chicken is the better bet, don’t dismiss işkembe çorbası – flavoured with lemon and garlic, you might enjoy it more than you expect.
Desserts made with cheese might not sound that unusual – many of us love cheesecake, for instance. But melted? Künefe (coo-neff-eh) has a thick layer of melted cheese separating two layers of shredded filo pastry, and the whole thing is soaked in a sugar syrup. The kadayıf (cad-ay-uf), or pastry, is crunchy and topped with grated or finely chopped pistachio nuts. Trust us, it’s delicious. Eat it warm with ice cream or clotted cream, and you’ll wonder why you’ve never tried it before.
We find many foods strange simply because they are unfamiliar. That’s generally true of kuzu kelle (kuz-uh kell-eh), or sheep’s head. Traditionally, it’s prepared in one of two ways. Boiled and served cold, it’s known as kelle söğüş (kell-eh suh-oosh) – literally, cold head. This will generally be cut into thin slices and covered with salt, parsley and onions before it’s served. Alternatively it might be roasted and served hot, known as tandur kelle (tan-dur kell-eh). The lean meat of the tongue and juicy brain are considered the best parts of the meal and will often be offered to guests.
If you weren’t sure about künefe, then how do you feel about chicken in your dessert? Well, tavuk göğsü (tav-uck gur-soo) is one of Turkey’s signature dishes and dates back to Ottoman times. Essentially, it’s a milk pudding made with boiled, shredded chicken breast that has been pounded to a smooth consistency. Mixed with sugar and cracked rice, it’s often flavoured with cinnamon. Made well, the chicken flavour should be undetectable – so get your head around the idea of chicken in a sweet dish and give it a go!
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