Top 10 foods to try in Turkey
Published on: November 21st, 2019
Last modified: July 28th, 2023
From ravioli equivalents to tons of different kebab varieties, Turkish cuisine is definitely something to write home about.
Blending the flavours of the Mediterranean with distinct spices, Turkish food is uniquely delicious.
To help you satisfy your taste buds while you’re away, we’ve put together this list of our top 10 foods to try in Turkey.
Turkey’s very own version of Italian ravioli, manti is served differently across the country. Despites its variations, there is one thing all forms of manti have in common – incredible taste. Most often, it’s served as small angular parcels of dough filled with a delicious mixture of minced lamb and onions. There’s also a vegetarian version, stuffed with aubergine, for non meat-eaters. The whole affair is finished off with a trio of mouthwatering sauces – caramelised tomato, brown butter and garlic yoghurt. The whole dish is a wonderful, distinctively Turkish, combination of flavours.
2) Cappadocia’s potatoes
Cappadocia is more commonly associated with hot air balloons than potatoes, but this region’s foodie heritage shouldn’t be overlooked. Due to Cappadocia’s unique climate and structure, potatoes can be kept fresh underground for up to a few months. Natural underground stores here maintain a temperature of around 13°C, so potatoes remain tasty year-round. Turkey is one of the biggest potato producers in the world, producing around 4 million spuds each year. A staple of Turkish cuisine, these potatoes are put to good use in herb-infused standalone dishes or served as an accompaniment to the finest cuts of meat.
3) Turkish coffee
Although it’s not technically a foodstuff, Turkish coffee is a must-try during your trip. It’s aptly named, as the Turks have been enjoying this caffeine-laden tipple since 1540. It’s thought that the Ottoman Governor of Yemen Özdemir Paşa introduced coffee beans to Turkey in 1517, and Turkish coffee has been around ever since. Nowadays, coffee houses line the streets of Turkey’s major cities and city-dwellers carve time out of their busy days to meet loved ones for a coffee. Beyond its excellent taste, the most intriguing thing about Turkish coffee is reading your coffee grounds once you’ve emptied your mug. Locals have been doing this for centuries and, according to many Turks, there’s no better way to predict your future.
Perhaps Turkey’s most famous export, local kebaps come in all shapes and sizes. Most people will have heard of the ubiquitous döner but shish, iskender and adana varieties are all worth a try. Döner kebabs are lean cuts of chicken served over a bed of rice, while shish is usually chunks of chicken or lamb served on a skewer.
Iskender kebabs are named after culinary visionary Iskender Efendi, who invented a special grill which allowed people to grill meats vertically. They’re traditionally slices of döner kebab served on pitta alongside melted butter, creamy yogurt, and a tangy tomato sauce. Last but not least, adana kebab is named after one of Turkey’s most famous ‘kebab cities.’ One of the spiciest Turkish kebabs, adana is made from ground meat, onions, garlic and Turkish spices. Usually served alongside a hearty portion of bulgur and vegetable pilaf, this is one of the most wholesome Turkish dishes out there.
One for the more daring travellers, ayran is a traditional Turkish yoghurt drink. It’s strangely appetising, and is hailed across Turkey for its healing properties. Ayran has been around since Turks were living as nomads across central Asia. Made from cultured milk, diluted water and a little salt, this traditional drink is more palatable than it sounds. Thought to aid digestion, it’s commonly drunk alongside grilled and fried meat.
Why stop at one dish, when you can have many? This has been the cornerstone of Turkish culinary philosophy since time immemorial. In Turkey, meals are social events, with the food coming second to the social aspect of sharing a meal between family or friends. That doesn’t mean it’s any less delicious though. Hummus, fava, aubergine dishes, calamari, meatballs and feta cheese all combine to create a wonderful array of appetisers. Mezze are found everywhere from locals’ homes to high-end restaurants, and given that they taste so good, it’s not hard to see why.
We couldn’t write a Turkish food guide without mention of Turkish desserts, and baklava is one of the most ubiquitous. A rich and sweet pastry, baklava consists of layers of flaky filo pastry stuffed with a mouthwatering pistachio filling. Held together with a sugary syrup of honey, this traditional Turkish delight is a real indulgent treat. Although the origins of baklava are still somewhat mysterious, it’s thought that this dish first appeared in the imperial kitchens of Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. Whichever part of Turkey you sample baklava in, it still tastes as though it’s fit for royalty.
One of the most typical dishes found in Turkish cuisine is köfte. A simple peasant staple, this meatball dish is made from minced lamb, mutton, veal or beef combined with fragrant herbs. Typically served with Turkish rice or bulgur, köfte is a typical dinner dish. It’s so popular amongst Turks that there’s thought to be almost 300 different types of köfte across the country. From dry köfte to köfte drizzled with delicious tomato sauce, there’s all sorts of Turkish meatballs to sink your teeth into.
One for those who can’t decide between sweet and savoury, kunefe is essentially baklava with a cheese filling. This gourmet delicacy is made with kadayif, a traditional shredded wheat dessert finished with a classic pistachio filling. Served fresh from the oven, the cheese inside is melt-in-your-mouth worthy. It’s notoriously hard to prepare at home, so going out for kunefe has become somewhat of an occasion. Finished off with a large helping of clarified butter and a sprinkle of pistachios, this indulgent dessert isn’t for those who are on a diet.
10) Mercimek çorbası
Turkey’s equivalent to dal, mercimek çorbası is essentially red lentil soup. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a deceivingly tasty dish. A warming winter delicacy, mercimek çorbası is popular when temperatures start to decline across Turkey. It’s also an important part of Ramadan celebrations, and is often used to break fast once the sun sets. This dish is one that Turks have inherited from the Ancient Greeks, with lentils first being used in cooking around 8000 BC. A satisfying yet nutritious dish, you don’t have to feel bad about tucking into a bowl of this hearty soup.