A melting pot of cultures and civilisation, Turkey has a rich and varied history of cuisine. Here are some of Turkey's favourite dishes by region.
Modern day Turkish cuisine can rival the best in London, Paris, Milan or New York. It offers a melting pot of flavours and offers everything from international fine dining establishments through to traditional food from street vendors. What is important to remember is that wherever you choose to eat, Turks are passionate about their food so you will be in for a treat.
Turkish Culture and food
Turkish food offers a blend of various influences and flavours. It draws tastes and textures from all parts of the former Ottoman Empire and you will find that different regions have different cuisine specialities.
Food tends to be spicier and richer the further south and east you venture, whereas olive oil, seafood and vegetable dishes are more popular in the west.
Two of the most indispensable items in Turkish cuisine are tea and coffee. Turkish black tea is grown in the Eastern Black Sea region and is an essential part of the culture. Turkish coffee is a unique type of coffee made with a special brewing method invented by Turks. It is stewed in a special coffee pot called cezve. After the raw coffee beans are roasted and milled, it is prepared and served with a frothy top.
Eat what where
Food will vary greatly from region to region with each area boasting its own specialities and recipes.
Istanbul and Aegean region: expect plenty of seafood, olive oil and light spices. The Aegean coastline is one of Turkey’s most fertile regions, resulting in rich olive groves. The olive oils of this region are some of the best in the world. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs grow happily here and those that are pickled have their pickling juice enjoyed as a refreshing drink.
The Black Sea: rich in seafood with a strong influence from nearby Balkan and Slavic cuisine. The wet and windy climate is ideal for growing the area’s produce including tea, corn, and hazelnuts. Tiny, delicious Black Sea anchovies known as hamsi are among the region’s most renowned food.
South Turkey: this is where you will find plenty of kebabs and meze with meat playing an important part in the cuisine. The sweet desert dish baklava comes from the south too.
Mezes are popular throughout Turkey. They are often served as an appetizer but can be eaten as a snack or light lunch. There are many options to choose from depending on your taste.
Probably the most popular Turkish sweet food is baklava, which takes its influence from the Ottoman Empire. The current form of the dish was said to have taken shape in the kitchens of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul as part of the sultans Ramadan celebrations. It has layers of filo pastries, filled with nuts and then covered with a sweet honey or syrup. It is very sweet and will often be eaten after a meal.
Simple soup dishes are also very popular in Turkey. Favourite choices are lentil or tomato soup or black cabbage soup that is traditional to the north east of Turkey.
Pide is similar to a pizza. 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 Turkish version of meatballs is called Kofte. You can buy it as street food normally served in a wrap or in a restaurant on a plate with rice and salad.
Street food in Turkey is cheap, quick, delicious and a real way of life. Some of the best food that you will eat will be made in front of your eyes and there are a few staple dishes that you will see everywhere.
In beachside resorts, you can often find kumpir, a simple jacket potato with a crisp outer skin and soft inside mashed up with butter and a choice of fillings.
Kokorec may not be to everyone’s taste but it is very popular in Turkey. It is spiced offal wrapped in lamb’s intestine and considered delicious by many.
Gozleme is very much like a pancake offered with the choice of many different fillings.
The most important thing to remember when dining in Turkey is that meals are meant to be social occasions so sit back, relax and don’t rush. Even business dinners are intended for enjoyment and socializing rather than closing deals. It is very common to be invited to dine at someone’s home, so make sure you arrive on time and always remove your shoes. Bringing a small gift, especially something for the children, is considered polite. Your neighbour will fill your glass and you are expected to do the same back. After the main course, there tends to be a break before desert and tea or coffee. Tipping in Turkey is similar to most of Europe with about 10% considered normal.