Turkish cuisine

Food in Turkey
Updated 2020-05-25 13:35

Just like Turkey and its society, Turkish cuisine bears the influence of a variety of neighbouring regions — North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern European countries — and can be viewed as a bridge between Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines.

Making abundant use of fresh vegetable and of local herbs and spices along with tasty meat, Turkish cuisine is as healthy as it is delicious.

Culinary culture

As in many Mediterranean countries, food is of utmost importance in Turkey and forms a key part of everyday life. In fact, most socialisation events revolve around food sharing.

Your Turkish hosts will consistently insist on feeding you home-made dishes, and demonstrating reluctance can be perceived as indelicate.

It is customary to give some of your home-made food to your neighbours on special occasions and holidays, who will, of course, return the favour. Most Turkish households are equipped with a device formed of a hanging basket with a pulley system that can be sent to other floors of the building to exchange objects with neighbours without constantly having to go up and down the stairs. However, with the spread of the new high-rise apartment complex sites around big cities like Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir, and Ankara, this tradition started to disappear.

While the staple of continental Anatolian cuisine is grain, vegetable and meat, the Western coastal areas, more influenced by Greek gastronomy, offer many fish or seafood specialities. You can find some the best virgin olive oil ever produced in the western and southern coasts of Turkey.

Signature Turkish dishes

The mention of Turkish food immediately evokes the kebab (in Turkish, kebap); a seasoned, grilled piece of meat - generally lamb - served on skewers alongside bulgur or inside a pita bread.

Among the other signature dishes are the dolma, made of tomatoes or peppers filled with a mixture of seasoned rice and minced meat, the yaprak sarma, a rice-based mixture wrapped inside a vine leaf, and the kofte, consisting of grilled meat-based pads. 

Many traditional Turkish dishes involve meat, but vegetable-based options ' stews, soups, casseroles ' exist for vegetarian or vegan expats. Take note that Turkey is very rich when it comes to the variety of fruits available in the country.

When it comes to desserts, besides the well-known baklava and lokum (Turkish Delight), Turkish cuisine offer many interesting options ' for example the kunefe, a cheese-based pastry, or the tavuk göğsü, a sweet cream made with milk, sugar, and chicken breast.

Good to know:

Turks have the custom of eating anything and everything with yoghurt. While this practice is surprising to many expats at first, most eventually come round and follow suit. As goes a common joke among expats, 'you know you've spent some time in Turkey when you spontaneously ask for yoghurt.'.

Useful links:

Turkish chef, Refika Birgul's website
Turkish recipes

Signature Turkish drinks

The ultimately Turkish beverage is undeniably the freshly brewed black tea, which is consumed at all times of the day and in every possible setting. You will be offered tea in the doctor's waiting room, in administration services, and even when stuck in the traffic, as street vendors move from car to car to offer drivers a cup.

Turkish coffee, an unfiltered coffee made of a strong roasted and ground blend, is almost equally popular. It can be consumed either with sugar or sade (plain).

Ayran, a creamy mixture of yoghurt, water and salt, is deliciously refreshing and is said to have anti-ageing properties. It is a must to try this drink with kebab or döner (Turkish gyro meat).

For mature drinkers, raki, a potent anise-based liquor similar to the Greek ouzo or the French pastis, but with less anise flavour, is the national alcoholic beverage. It is usually consumed in traditional restaurants called meyhane, along with meze (appetizers) while listening to traditional Ottoman music. Seafood is the most prominent choice when it comes to enjoying raki.

Good to know:

Consumption of raki is amply codified and subject to dozens of sophisticated rules. Although you are not expected to know all the subtleties, the one important rule is to drink slowly. The point is to share a precious moment with loved ones, and there is no such thing as binge-drinking with raki.

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