Have you been to Turkey? Don’t you think that Turkish food is amazing? If you are planning a trip to Turkey, you will want to make sure and eat all the best local dishes, and take it from a local, this list has some of the best Turkish food on it!
After living in Turkey, and traveling all around the country, I can tell you one of the major reasons I keep going back is for the food. Turkish cuisine goes back centuries, and because of the Ottoman Empire spread throughout many parts of Europe.
Today you can find Turkish restaurants in many major cities because once you’ve really delved into traditional Turkish food, like our famous Traditional Turkish Borek, you won’t ever be able to get enough.
Just like in our other world food guides, you’ll learn:
- What is Turkish Food?
- Why is Turkish food so great?
- Street Food
- Main Dishes
- Desserts and Drinks
- Can you find vegetarian food in Turkey?
What is Turkish Food?
Wondering what Turkish food is? Well, most Turkish food originated in Central Asia and came to Anatolia in around 1071 (source). Foods that were important were fermented mare’s milk and yogurt. Yogurt is still Turkey’s number one milk product today. The original Turks also brought with them a love of grilled meat and filled pockets of wheat or dumplings.
Later, when the Ottomans were in power, Turkish food spread to many eastern European countries, all the way to Vienna. Here you will see all kinds of kebabs, eggplant dishes, borek, and other pastries similar to what the Turks still eat.
Why Is Turkish Food So Good?
Turks still cook the way their mothers taught them. They have the biggest markets and bazaars where picking up the freshest ingredients is quick, cheap, and easy. The markets are fun to walk around, and you can find everything from seasonal produce, eggs, milk, cheese, flour, baked goods, meat, really anything.
The vendors are both commercial vendors as well as the neighborhood ladies who have picked or made something to sell. Every village, town, city has at least one bazaar, just check to find out what days they are held by asking the hotel clerk.
What to Eat in Turkey – Breakfast
Breakfast in Turkey is a smorgasbord of bread, tomatoes, cheese, olives, cucumbers, honey, and whatever else they have on hand. On weekends, especially, you will see Kahvalti (breakfast) served all over. It’s similar to a western brunch, and the restaurant kahvalti can be eaten into the late afternoon.
One of the best places to experience this is the restaurants right near the bus stop at the Rumeli Hisari in Istanbul since they have some of the best Turkish food.
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Turkish Street Food and Snacks
- Simit – a bread ring sold everywhere, oftentimes the tray is balance on the head.
- Gözleme – Flat bread with stuffing of your choice
Pide or Lahmacun – Turkish pizzas
- Borek – can be filled with potoatoes, cheese, meat.
- Kokoreç – intestines, usually eaten after drinking all night.
- Kumpir – baked potatoes, toppings can include peas, corn, sausage, pickles, mushrooms, esme.
What to Eat in Turkey – Turkish Appetizers
In Turkish, appetizers are called meze. There are so many to choose from that you can easily make your entire meal out of a variety of meze. I have done this, but traditionally the waiter comes around with a “tepsi” or tray highlighting the meze of the day. You can take them right off the tray or point and he will serve them to you.
Usually ordering a few Turkish dishes to share is a good way to start your dinner. There are so many meze, that I couldn’t possibly write them all down, but here are some of the regulars if you’re not sure what to eat in Turkey.
- Acili Esme – a spicy tomato topping
- Fried Eggplants and Peppers
- Haydari – yogurt with mint
- Peppers stuffed with cheese- red peppers baked with cheese
- Pickled anchovies – Just what you envision and tasted better than you think.
- Russian salad – similar to a mayonnaise-y potato salad
- Midye Dolma – Stuffed or fried mussels
- Lahana Sarma – stuffed cabbage rolls
- Yaprak Sarma – stuffed grapeleaves olive
Best Turkish Dishes (Mains)
The Turks do love their meat, but surprisingly you can find a lot of vegetarian foods as well. I love eating the lamb and chicken. In fact, Jim and I pine for Turkish grilled chicken. I think it’s the best, tenderest I’ve ever eaten. Of course, there is no pork at all, and the beef is really not something I would order.
- Döner Kebab – one of most iconic foods, with the lamb and beef on a vertical skewer and sliced off.
- Iskender Kebab – a pide, with the döner meat on top, then tomato sauce, and butter on top of that.
- Beyti Kebab – almost like a tortilla wrapped meatball with sauce.
- Adana Kebab – skewered spicy meatballs (köfte).
- Guveç” – Meat, vegetables cooked in clay dish. Shrimp are delicious.
- Mantı – Like small raviolis, with a garlic yogurt sauce.
- Fresh fish – our favorite is levrek, which is Sea Bass.
Power Tip: Most Turkish people like to share foods, so the best way to enjoy a variety of traditional foods in Turkey is to order 2-5 mezes, a couple of main dishes, and of course a couple of desserts, put them in the middle of the table and have everyone enjoy.
Best Turkish Food – Turkish Desserts and Drinks
- Firin Sutlaç – Which is a rice pudding (made with milk).
- Chocolate soufflé – wetter in texture than other soufflés, it’s decadent and tasty.
- Dodurma – Turkish Ice Cream.
- Turkish Chicken Breast Pudding – yes, no kidding. It’s a dessert with chicken bits in it and tastes much better than you might think.
- Kunefe – dessert offered in almost every restaurant, best in Şanliurfa.
Can you find Vegetarian Food in Turkey?
You can find many Turkish dishes that are vegetarian! It just might not be as obvious as some places, but there are plenty of choices for the vegetarian in your life.
When we lived in Turkey, one of our friends, Patti, was vegetarian and it could get difficult to order. She would usually try starting out in Turkish, but oftentimes it would go to English pretty quick.
Usually her ordering went something like this:
Patti: Etsiz yemek varmi? (Do you have any meatless dishes?)
Waiter: No meat?
Patti: Yok (technically means nothing, but is slang for no and is better used here than the word for no, which is “hayer”).
Waiter: No chicken?
Waiter: No fish?
Well, you get the picture. Many restaurants, especially outside of Ankara or Istanbul, the more she had to try and explain. Of course once she found a few dishes she could rely on, it got easier.
The easiest were the mezes and pides. There were many appetizers that didn’t have meat, and if you order off of the tepsi (tray) they bring around, you can see what is in the dish. The same with pide, gozleme, or borek. They all have fillings or toppings of all kinds, and vegetarian ones are very common.
Some Vegetarian Dishes to Order in Turkey
- Fried eggplants
- Imam Bayaldi – an eggplant baked dish
- Stuffed peppers or grapeleaves or cabbage – but make sure you ask them is it is “etsiz” (meatless), because they have both kinds
- Gozleme – potato or spinach or cheese
- Menemen – Turkish scrambled eggs. Just make sure not to get the ones with “sujuk” or sausage.
- Borek – cheese or potato
- Pide or Poaca, which is a sandwich. Most of these come with cheese or herbs
- Salads, of course, like the most common one Coban Salatasi
- Kuru Fasulye – white bean stew
Turkish cuisine is one of the best tasting in the world. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. From the best Turkish dishes to breakfast and beyond, you won’t be disappointed.
Turkey Get Started Planning Guide
The following are our top recommendations for Turkey:
We’ve found the best accommodations in Turkey can be found on the Booking.com website.
The Best Sightseeing Tours in Turkey are:
*Best of Istanbul Day Tour ($64)
*Hot Air Balloon Flight over the Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia ($254)
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.
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