Turkey's cuisine is diverse, reflecting the history, regional variations and the landscape of the country. The Ottoman Sultans enjoyed feasts consisting of various dishes, cooked to perfection by hundreds of cooks. The kitchens were huge and spread under ten domes in the Topkapi Palace. Visitors to the palace should see the kitchens, which must have catered to every fancy of the royal palate.
Of the seven countries in the world that produce enough food grains for domestic consumption and have surplus grains to export, Turkey is one of them.
Our Turkey Restaurant Guide below will tell you all you need to know about food and cuisine in turkey. After an exciting local shopping spree, relax in an authentic Turkish restaurant and taste a variety of delicious dishes. You can check out information about what the local dining scene is like in the destinations below, as well as some of our local suggestions on places to have a meal.
Food & Cuisine in Turkey
More than just a meal
A typical Turkish evening meal begins with sips of raki and bits of meze. Meze includes small quantities of any or all of these - freshly baked bread, dishes of fruits, vegetables with dips, dried fish and creamy feta cheese. All this is relished while watching the sunset and enjoying leisurely conversation. The meal could linger on till late in the night. Social drinking in Turkey is always gentle, cultured and communal, never boisterous or lonely.
Turkish cuisine consists chiefly of grains and vegetables, with the grains of choice being rice or wheat. Not many ingredients go into a single dish; this ensures that the flavour of the main ingredient stands out. Too many sauces and spices are frowned upon.
You will find Pide, the staple Turkish food, wherever you go in Turkey. Pide, pizza's Turkish cousin, is a kind of long, thin bread covered with topping, baked in a hot oven burning solid fuel, and served piping hot. Rolling out the long, thin bread takes a lot of skill. Pide makes for a filling lunch.
Fashions in food
The Anatolia region is known as the "bread basket of the world". Clay ovens, hot embers and griddles are all used to bake both unleavened and leavened breads. You should try "bugra", which is dough with fillings, "manti" or dumplings, and varieties of "dolma", which is translucent cabbage leaves wrapped around a delectable mix of sautéed rice, currants, spices, pine-nuts and herbs. Other staples are cheeses, kebabs or skewered meat, and yoghurt.
Cereals, honey, meat, butter, cheeses and yoghurt make up the staple food of the locals in the eastern region, which has long and cold winters. The rugged, snow-capped mountains yield aromatic herbs that are used to flavour cooking. Herb flavoured meatballs, yoghurt soup, and endless cups of tea help people endure the long winter.
The influence of the trade routes in the central region is seen in the cuisine of Konya. Helva desserts, tandir kebabs baked in a clay oven, meat and vegetable dishes, and boreks form part of the lavish cuisine of Konya.
The western region on the shores of the Aegean Sea, with its warm, fertile valleys, has an abundance of fruits, vegetables, seafood and olive oil. Olive oil is used for making both hot and cold dishes.
Corn, tea, and hazelnuts are found in abundance on the Black Sea coast. "Hamsi", a shimmering, small fish is found in plenty here. This fish is cooked in almost 40 different ways. Top-notch fish restaurants are located in Ankara and they claim to have the best catch of fish from this region. Several large and small fishermen's taverns are located along the Bosphorus, from Rumeli Kavagi to Kumkapi. Bebek and Tarabya boast of a few fashionable taverns. Fish is the food of choice during the winter.
The hot and desert-like south-eastern part of the country is a great place for sweet pastries and kebabs. Dishes in this region are spicier than food in other regions.
Istanbul and the rest of the Marmara region can be called the culinary heart of Turkey. The area is temperate and fertile and thus has plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Delicately flavoured lamb and fish from the Bosphorus are specialities of this region. The Sultan's Palace always employed cooks from Bolu, a city from the mountains of Marmara. The tradition continues, and Bolu still supplies Turkey with great chefs.
Sweets to die for
The famed baklavas are baked pastries. Paper-thin pastry sheets with rich fillings of walnuts, ground pistachios and cream are given liberal brushings of butter, folded and layered over and over, and then baked to perfection. Baklava is served with syrup poured over it.
Flour or semolina and pine nuts are pan-sautéed in butter, and then cooked in milk or water; finally, sugar is added to make melt-in-the-mouth helva. Long winter nights are passed over helva conversations. Another version known as the tahini helva, moulded into blocks, can be bought in local grocery shops.
If you are worried about all the calories in helva or baklava, you should try the muhallebi. This dish is made with starch and rice flour and originally did not contain eggs or butter. A lighter version leaves out the milk, too, and uses citrus fruits like lemon and orange for flavouring. A variety of milk desserts and puddings are also available. Puddings with subtle flavours like rose water, and milk puddings with strands of chicken breast are available here. Sariyer on the Bosphorus and Istikial Street in Beyoglu-lstanbul are the places to have such interesting desserts.
Coffee is very significant in Turkish social life. Both the ambience and the company are very important for a Turkish coffee session. Your visit to Turkey must include a taste of Turkish coffee in a Turkish coffee house. The coffee is thick but not strong and does not give you a typical caffeine surge. It is supposed to be sipped slowly and not swallowed in a hurry.
Caffeine rich tea is an important part of a working day. Tea is brewed over boiling water and served in small, dainty, clear glasses. The glasses let you see the rich deep red colour of the tea. Turkish tea is drunk hot to maintain high efficiency at work. Most workplaces ensure a constant supply of freshly brewed hot tea to ensure maximum productivity from their workforce.