When talking about Turkish cuisines, the first thing that comes to one’s mind is the delectable spread of meat items it offers, including kebabs and dolmas. That does not, however, mean that its vegetable platter goes neglected. Eggplant finds a special place in most of their dishes followed by beans and lentils. The food pattern varies from one region to the other. Bursa, Izmir, and Istanbul inherit the Ottoman court’s cooking style using lighter spices in their dishes. On the other hand, the areas surrounding the Black Sea Region show a strong preference for fish.
The versatility and deliciousness associated with Turkish food have eventually spread its popularity across the globe.
Menemen, a traditional breakfast dish of scrambled eggs and sautéed vegetables gets its name from the town in the Izmir Province where it supposedly originated. Some versions even include mushrooms, sausages, cheese, and minced meat to enhance the richness. Seasonings of paprika, pepper, oregano, and onions intensify its flavor.
Closely similar to another famous Turkish food, saksuka, menemen is mostly served along with bread. Soft with a smooth texture, the flavorful aroma of the spices adds to its deliciousness.
Dolma comes from the Turkish word dolmak, meaning filling, and that is what the dish is all about. It is popular in the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. It comprises of vegetables like the pointed gourd, eggplant, or zucchini, stuffed with spiced rice cooked in tomato, onion, and a whole lot of spices. Dried fruits and nuts are occasional additions. Cabbage rolls or vine leaves even serve as the base to the fillings.
Rice-stuffed dolmas, prepared with olive oil are mostly eaten cold, with accompaniments like garlic-yogurt sauce. However, the meat variants are served hot with egg-lemon or tahini sauce. They have an assorted flavor shifting from savory to spicy, tart to aromatic since many ingredients go into their making.
Lahmacun in Turkish translates to meat with dough, which indeed justifies the content of the dish. This famous street food of Turkey usually comprises a thin, round dough, with toppings of minced meat (lamb and beef) and vegetables, alongside parsley, tomatoes, onions, spices, and pickles. It is baked, and served either wrapped or folded.
Though often called Turkish pizza, it has a thinner crust. The traditional lahmacun also omits the cheese, a must-add in pizzas. The crispy, rich, and subtle flavor generated with every bite takes its taste to a different level altogether.
Manti is a variety of dumplings stuffed with ground beef or lamb. Aleppo pepper flakes and mint go as seasonings, and it is often served with melted butter and yogurt. They are even known as Kayseri manti in Turkey since they originated from the Kayseri city. The rich flavors of meat, combined with the tartness of yogurt, create an exciting amalgamation indeed. Another interesting variation is its vegetable version, where grilled eggplant replaces the meat.
Borek is a delicious savory Turkish pastry prepared by filling a thin dough with cheese and vegetable and then sprinkling it with nigella or sesame seeds. Though a vegetable dish, fillings of minced meat is also sometimes added into its preparation. Common in the Balkan, Slavic, and Mediterranean cuisines, this dish dates back to the Ottoman Empire’s time.
Light, crispy, soft, and cheesy, the toppings of sesame enhance its nuttiness. It has several variations differing from one region to the other. Su boregi has fillings of feta cheese and parsley, while Sigara boregi or cigarette borek, appears cylindrical with a stuffing of parsley, potato, and feta cheese or even minced meat.
Imam Bayildi, a dish as unique as its name, comprises a whole eggplant stuffed with onions, tomatoes, and garlic, braised, and simmered in olive oil. Often served as a side with pilaf, one can have it warm or at room temperature.
The soft, creamy, spongy flavor of eggplant could be felt in every bite. A similar version is prepared in Iran, with a slight difference in the stuffing that includes several vegetables other than just eggplant, alongside aromatic herbs. An exciting tale follows this dish, which says that the Imam had almost fainted on hearing the price of the ingredients involved in preparing the dish.
Alternately known as pilau, pulao, or pilav, it is a rice preparation cooked in broth or stock, flavored with vegetables, meat, dried fruits, and several spices. Some of the popular varieties of pilaf in Turkey include perdeli pilav that resembles a cake, with the rice being cooked along with chicken, peanuts, onion, and almonds.
Eetli pilav, another variation, is a rice-beef cube combination, while nohultu pilav comprises rice and chickpeas cooked together. The taste for sure varies with the ingredients, though overall, it appears warm, spicy, and nutty.
It is a Turkish meze or side dish made with various vegetables, which differs from one region to another. However, eggplant and zucchini mostly remain constant. The contents are sautéed and seasoned with tomato sauce alongside several spices.
The combination of a lot of veggies and spices adds to its tartness and tanginess. Mostly eaten in the morning it is served along with naan, challah, or pita. Salads, roasted potatoes, or hummus go as accompaniments.
This one is a variety of Turkish salad with dry beans being its primary ingredient, alongside parsley and onions. In Turkey’s Antalya province, piyaz is prepared differently than other parts and is also considered a main dish and not a salad. On the other hand, in Adana, Turkey’s southern province, piyaz refers to an onion-sumac salad. The overall taste spans from creamy, soft, and chewy to touches of sourness and earthiness.
Kuzu Tandir is a juicy, delicious lamb dish, traditionally prepared in a tandir (metal or clay oven). At present, metal baking trays are mostly used for making it. The inclusion of lemon, bay leaves, and rosemary sprigs enhances its taste and aroma. The traditional kuzu tandir is served with pilav or mashed potatoes.
Also known as tarator, or tzatziki, cacick refers to a delicious sauce or soup, prepared from strained or diluted yogurt. Many herbs like parsley, thyme, and mint added to it alongside cucumber lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil, intensifies its freshness to the fullest. The inclusion of lemon juice adds to its tanginess. People mostly eat it cold, as a side or appetizer.
Turkey’s stint with eggplant seems never-ending, and this is another amazing food closely similar to Imam Bayildi having the veggie as the main component. A filling of ground meat, particularly beef, alongside onion, and tomato, is seasoned with pepper, salt, and herbs, and stuffed into the eggplant. Upon baking, it is served warm or at room temperature, along with yogurt and rice.
The eggplant’s softness and creaminess with the beef’s richness, combined with various herbs’ aroma, takes its taste to another level.
Cig translates to raw, while kofte refers to the meatball, making the dish’s content quite evident. Traditional cig kofte had raw ground beef or lamb as its main ingredient. However, there has been an alteration in this dish’s ingredients in the present times, keeping health and safety regulations in mind. Current versions of cig kofte include bulgur, ground walnut, onion, and tomato.
Simit, meaning fine flour or white bread in Arabic, is a circular kind of bread mostly filled with sesame seeds, or even sunflower, flax, and poppy seeds as an alternative. It is crunchy and chewy, with a tinge of nuttiness. Closely resembling a bagel, one can eat it plain or as a part of their breakfast platter with tea, cheese, ayran (yogurt-based beverage), or fruit preserves. It is one of Turkey’s most familiar street foods, and vendors are often spotted selling them on their heads or on trolleys.
Smoked or spiced eggplant is the real star of this dish that is grilled, pureed, and finally stirred with roasted flour, melted butter, and milk. Sautéed lamb cubes sitting on top, with garnishes of chopped parsley makes it all the more enticing.
Indigenous to Istanbul, it was prepared for the first time in the 19th century for Napoleon III’s wife. Soft, peppery, and creamy are the primary flavor that Hunkar begendi generate.
Gozleme is a flatbread pastry, having flour, yeast, yogurt, and olive oil as its primary ingredient. Vegetables, meat, mushroom, and cheese, go in as fillings for the dough that is finally baked and served hot. Of late, it has gained popularity as fast food, mostly sold in carts, also finding its way into menus of most café and restaurants.
A Turkish wrap, this one is immensely popular in Istanbul, mostly prepared from the lavash flatbread, since it is sturdy, chewy, and light, capable of holding the filling well. Fillings of meat and vegetables, seasoned in yogurt-based sauces, make it appear immensely delectable.
Tantuni is South Turkey’s traditional street food, comprising sliced beef cooked in onion, and tomato, seasoned in herbs and spices. The stuffing is filled into a wrap made of durum wheat served with lemon wedges and ground sumac. Initially regarded as a poor man’s food, its popularity increased in the recent times because of its high nutritional content. Warm, soft, and delicious, the addition of the spices and herbs enhances its aroma.
This one is a bean stew, often considered as Turkey’s national dish, prepared by cooking white beans in olive oil. Seasonings of tomato sauce and paste to add flavor. Besides vegetables, meat can be added to enrich the dish, often served with bulgur or rice. The nutty, earthy taste complements the sauce’s tanginess well for a flavorful presentation.
It is a soup made from yellow, black, or red lentils. Chicken stock, carrots, and onions are also added alongside seasonings of paprika, pepper, cumin, and salt. Refreshing and warm, besides satisfying one’s taste buds, it would also fulfill their urge to consume healthy food. Ezogelin corbasi is another of its variation having red lentils and bulgur as its main ingredients.
This one is a tasty Turkish salad made from bulgur, garlic, mint, tomato paste, and parsley, served along with lettuce leaves. The additional ingredients include pomegranate molasses (popular in southeast Turkey) and lemon juice (in the southwestern part).
Served at room temperature or cold, it makes for a perfect inclusion in salads and meze, alongside accompanying as a side for most meat dishes. It has a tart and savory flavor, which differs along with the ingredients.
Kumpir, another of Turkey’s sought-after street food, is a dish of baked potatoes. Many ingredients go in as fillings like cheese, carrot, sliced sausage, mushroom, sweet corn, mayonnaise, pickles, and ketchup. Crispy, crunchy, creamy, cheesy, tangy, and so on are the several adjectives used to describe its flavor, which keeps altering with the varying ingredients.
Vegetables of different colors, shapes, and sizes, arranged in a jar and pickled in brine or vinegar, is all that this enticing dish is about. It is indeed a colorful presentation as the vegetables vary from carrots to zucchini, eggplant to cucumber, and much more. It goes well as an appetizer, while the juice serves as a refreshing summer drink. Tursu means sour in Persian. That is absolutely how the taste is, combined with many other flavors, depending on what goes into its making.
Also known as doner kebap or doner, this is a meat preparation where grilled meat remains conically on a vertical skewer, shredded into slices as the cooking process commences. Seasonings of spices, and herbs, make it tastier.
Doner kebab is either served along with other accompaniments on a plate or eaten as a wrap when stuffed into sandwiches, and flatbreads. The roasted and charred flavor, combined with the softness and juiciness, indeed makes this dish a delight to eat.
A tasty filling enveloped in leafy vegetables or leaves is what sarma is all about. The stuffing comprises bulgur or rice, minced meat, herbs, paprika, red pepper, tomato sauce, and much more. The wrapping involves vine or cabbage leaves. However, other options include Swiss chard, collard greens, and sauerkraut.
Though it originated in the Ottoman Empire, it has also been the traditional cuisine of the Middle East, South Caucasus, and Central Europe. Common mostly in winters, it is popularly eaten on special occasions or holidays. Flatbread, yogurt, or a potato curry often serves as sides.
Kofte, or kofta, famous worldwide, is also an integral part of Turkish cuisine, comprising fried meatballs made of lamb or beef. Different parts of Turkey vary in terms of their kofta preparations. Icli kofte includes deep-fried meatball, potato shell, and bulgur, stuffed with ground meat and a lot of butter. On the other hand, sulu kofte is a tasty meatball stew.
Sis is the Turkish word for skewer, while kebap means roasted meat, defining the dish’s appearance. Lamb serves as the main ingredient in traditional shish kebap preparations. Howevet, at present chicken and beef or even fish go into its making. Marination involves ingredients like yogurt, cinnamon, lemon juice, olive oil, milk, and several spices.
Several vegetables like bell pepper and tomato are also added with the meat. However, in an authentic shish kebap, the grilling of the meat and vegetables are done in separate skewers to allow proper cooking time. Fleshy, smoky, and juicy, the taste alters according to the spices and dips that go along.
This kebap takes its name after its inventor, Iskender Efendi of Bursa.The thinly cut pieces of grilled lamb are seasoned with a spicy tomato sauce and spread over pita bread. The additions of yogurt and melted butter make it all the more lip-smacking.
Though lamb is the preferred choice, beef or chicken often go as alternatives. While the addition of tomato to the already rich lamb meat makes it tangy and tart, yogurt and butter’s inclusion gives it a creamy flavor.
Balik means fish, and emkek refers to bread, perfectly summarizing the contents of this dish. It is a Turkish sandwich, comprising a filet of grilled or fried fish stuffed into bread. Ingredients like pomegranate molasses, honey, pepper, and so on also serve as a part of the stuffing. Dressing it with yogurt sauce would add to its creaminess.
In the 1990s, this platter became immensely popular, and it had become an everyday norm for fishers to create grills next to their boats and serve it hot and fresh to the tourists from there. The tradition continues even at present.
Tombik is a doner kebab variety having shredded meat stuffed into pide emkek, a flatbread resembling a bun. The other ingredients include lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, seasoned with hot sauces. The bread appears crispy outside and soft, the taste varying as per the ingredients and toppings.
‘Cop’ stands for garbage, while ‘sis’ refers to the skewer. Here, cop or garbage refers to the leftover lamb meat pieces used in making this kebap. The lamb is seasoned with tomato and garlic and marinated using oregano, olive oil, and black pepper. Wooden skewers replace the iron ones in the traditional preparation process. It mostly serves as an appetizer along with onion and grilled peppers. The lamb and veggies are often wrapped with the bread and served hot.
One of Turkey’s classic dish, it is a blend of sweet and savory. A milk pudding prepared from the shredded chicken breast is what makes this unique platter. The meat is boiled and softened until it smoothens. It is blended with sugar, milk, cracked rice, and several other thickeners, while vanilla and cinnamon sticks serve as flavorings.
It bears similarity to the European white dish, also mentioned in the Canterbury Tales. Like rice pudding, just its thicker version, the taste is a combination of sweetness and creaminess. The seasonings add an extra touch.
Turkish food does not just limit to the list given above but is a lot more than that. Pide, Inegol kofte, Salep, and Misir ekmegi are among the many dishes Turkey is famous for. Desserts like sekerpare, lokma, baklava, and mehalabiya also form an integral part of Turkish cuisine.
Best Turkish Vegetarian Food: Borek, Saksuka, Kuru Fasulye
Best Turkish Meat Food: Kuzu Tandir, Iskender Kebap, Sish Kebap
Best Turkish Street Food: Lahmacun, Durum, Tantuni
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