Turkish Dishes: What to Try When in Turkey

Turkish Dishes

Credit: Christian Bredfeldt

The Turkish people claim that there are only three cuisines that exist on the planet – Chinese, French and Turkish. To the rest of the world, the meaning is not lost; it simply means that the Turkish cuisine is one of the best in the world. For tourists who are visiting Turkey for the first time, there is always that unexpected, pleasant surprise for them as they discover the many wonderful flavors of Turkey.

The cuisine is a fusion of Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Balkan cuisines. It is largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine that has been refined by epochs of experience. Today, it is celebrated for its pure quality and simplicity. All these influences contribute to a great variety of delectable Turkish dishes. Erlend Geerts of Witt Hotels writes in the post Our Top Turkish Dishes, the Best of the Turkish Cuisine:

“You can find a great variety of mouth watering dishes in Turkish cuisine which is mostly the heritage of Ottoman cuisine. It is the mixture and refinement of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. Therefore it is impossible to fit Turkish cuisine into a short list.”

The article offers a gist of the big world of Turkish flavors. Here are “some of the most common and most favorite Turkish dishes people cook and eat both at home and in restaurants.”

Vegetable or Zeytin Yağlı Dishes

There is a great bounty of fresh vegetables in Turkey and this is reflected in the wide array of their vegetable dishes. If these are cooked without meat, they are called as “zeytin yağlı.” Some favorites are:

  • Yaprak Sarma:  Wrapped vine leaves with a filling of rice, onion and spices like mint, currant, pepper and cinnamon.
  • Dolma: Vegetables, either fresh or dried eggplants, peppers, tomatoes or zucchinis are stuffed with a mixture of rice and onion with various spices.
  • Taze Fasulye: Green beans cooked with tomato and/or tomato paste, and of course, onion.

Turkish Dishes with Meat

  • Karnıyarık: This a must-try dish. The eggplants have a filling that consists of minced meat, garlic, onion, tomato and parsley. A good one should have no smudge of the color of the peel and must not look dry or dark.
  • Lahmacun: This Syrian-influenced dish is pizza-like that can be rolled up and eaten like tacos. It has thin flaky dough topped with finely diced onions, meat and spices along with lettuce, tomatoes, parsley and a good squeeze of lemon.
  • Kurufasulye: This is a Turkish staple. It’s made up of beans with or without meat. Some prefer to cook it with pastirma (dried spiced thin slices of beef) and served with turşu (pickles and sauerkraut) and sade pilav (plain rice).

Best Known Dishes and Masterpieces of the Turkish Cuisine

  • Kebaps: This is what you call a chargrilled meat dish that’s wrapped around a skewer. Traditionally, lamb or beef is used in kebaps. These days chicken is as much used.
  • Döner: Basically, the meat in this dish is beaten and seasoned with spices, local herbs and suet before being skewered and grilled vertically.
  • Köfte: It is a dish that uses ground meat of mutton or lamb mixed with bread crumbs, minced onions and certain local spices. The most popular is called Izgara Köfte.
  • Mantı: This is like a dumpling. It has a dough/wrapper and a filling of ground lamb or beef, onion, and salt and pepper to taste.

Popular Turkish Side Dishes

  • Pilav: There are several kinds of pilaf in Turkey, but the most popular is sade pillav. It is plain rice with sehriye (noodles), butter or vegetable oil, plus your choice of additional chickpeas, meat or liver slices and some condiments such as pepper, thyme, cinnamon, cumin and almonds.
  • Bulgur Pilavı: This is a wheat dish. The popular variety is cooked with roasted onions, tomato paste, green peppers, and mint.
  • Fried vegetables:  Simple, but veggies such as eggplants, zucchini and green peppers are rendered memorable with the traditional sauce of tomato sauce or yogurt that’s flavored with liking garlic.
  • Mücver: The basic recipe of this fried side dish consists of shredded zucchini, flour and eggs. Variations can include green onions, white cheese and mint
  • Cacık: This is a refreshing dish of shredded cucumbers with diluted yogurt, mint and garlic dressing. These may even be frozen in ice cubes to make it even more refreshing during hot summers.

With the aniseed- flavored raki (also referred to as “lion’s milk”), the favorite alcoholic drink in Turkey, your dining-drinking experience is rendered unforgettable. For an exotic experience, try it with meze and fish. If you’re not up for the challenge, don’t worry; you can always go for a “true Turkish coffee, which is strong and thick. To remove the bitterness of the robust coffee, take a bite of the Turkey’s popular baklava or a slice of mozaik cake.

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