are passionate about food; indeed, Turkish cuisine is world renowned for its diversity
and flavour, drawing influences from all corners of the former Ottoman Empire, and each
region today boasting its own specialities: generally, food is spicier and richer the
further south and east you travel, whilst in the west, olive oil, seafood and vegetable
dishes are more prevalent.
Food in Turkey is first and foremost a social occasion and always to be enjoyed with
gusto. From home-cooked meals shared by family and friends to symbolic religious or
celebratory feasts and the street theatrics of roadside sellers, food is closely
intertwined with the fabric of society. Turkey is also self-sufficient in food
production with surplus for export, meaning that fresh, local ingredients and seasonal
produce are at the heart of its cooking culture.
Eating Out in Turkey
Restaurants are very much part of Turkish cultural life, with a huge array of regional
varieties, styles and locations at your fingertips, from gourmet restaurants and
Bosphorus-side cafes in the heart of Istanbul to charming coastal fish restaurants,
traditional Turkish kebap houses and lokantas where home made dishes are the order of
the day, Turkey is a food-lover's paradise for all tastes and budgets.
Eating three meals a day is the norm in Turkey, starting with a Turkish breakfast,
typically consisting of bread, beyaz peynir (white cheese, similar to feta), butter,
honey or jam and Turkish tea - but will also often include boiled eggs or menemen
(omelette), olives, tomato & cucumber salad and sliced beef sausages. A main meal,
eaten either at lunch or dinner, will usually start with soup or meze, a selection of
small cold and hot dishes which are made for sharing - anything from hummus and dolma
(anything stuffed with rice such as vine leaves or peppers) to kalamar (fried calamari)
and aubergine dips.
main course is usually meat or fish, but at home, vegetable dishes and stews are also
popular. Bread will always accompany a meal in Turkey, and main courses are usually
served with rice - and a çoban salatas -, a "shepherd's salad" of tomato, cucumber and
onion dressed with olive oil and lemon. Lamb and chicken are the most popular meats in
Turkey, often prepared as kebab (cubes of meat on a skewer) or köfte, which are like
small lamb burgers. Turks are also fond of stews or sulu yemek (food with sauce). There
are restaurants which specialise in these, usually with large containers of the
different varieties on display. Fish and seafood are also popular in Istanbul and the
coastal resorts - and for the most part, it is simply grilled to bring out its natural
A meal is often rounded off with a plate of fresh fruit, most of which will feature
karpuz (water melon) and kavun (melon). Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the honeyed
desserts to follow, of which there are many - but baklava (layers of filo pastry filled
with nuts) is perhaps the best known. There are also many fruit and milk based puddings
to enjoy in Turkey, as well as the famed Turkish delight, best washed down with black
tea or thick Turkish coffee.
Although much of Turkish food culture revolves around sit-down meals, food on the go is
also popular for snacking - although not as a means to replace sit-down meals with
family and friends. Börek (filled fried or baked filo pastry), simit (bread ring) and
po?agça (buns) are popular snacks, as are those bought from the array of street vendors:
from döner kebab and pide or lahmacun (types of Turkish pizza) to roasted chestnuts,
stuffed mussels and corn on the cob.
Although most Turks consider themselves Muslim, most adult social evenings will include
alcohol - and it is also freely available on sale and in restaurants and bars across
Turkish resorts and cities. Only if you are heading off the beaten track or to
conservative areas will you need to ask whether restaurants serve alcohol. The
traditional tipple is rak-, a clear, strong aniseed based spirit, sometimes known as
"lion's milk"; turning cloudy when water, ice or soda is added. Rak- is so entwined with
eating meze, that the meze spread is often called a rak- table.
Did you know that wine production is said to date back to 4000 BC in Eastern Turkey?
Today, Turkey is undergoing a renaissance in wine-making, with some excellent results in
recent years from the big domestic players such as Doluca and Kavaklidere, as well as a
whole host of newer brands and grape varieties from Cappadocia and the Aegean regions.
Those who prefer beer will not be disappointed with the locally produced Efes pilsner
and its light, dark and extra strong varieties, now exported around the world, as well
as the Troy, Tuborg, and an increasing range of international brands. Locally produced
vodka, brandy, whisky and gin are also available at much lower prices than imported
brands, but can be somewhat rough and ready.
soft drinks include fruit juices such as vi?ne (sour cherry juice) and ?eftali (peach) -
and ayran, a salted yoghurt drink, often enjoyed with meals at home, in restaurants or
as a thirst-quencher from the corner shop. Bottled mineral water or su is cheap and
easily available and fizzy drinks are sold everywhere.
Turkish tea or çay is flavoursome and aromatic when freshly brewed. This is done in a
combined kettle/tea pot placed directly on the hob and drunk from small tulip-shaped
glasses, always black and usually with plenty of sugar. Convenience however is catching
on to the cities, and nowadays, unless you specifically ask for brewed Turkish tea, many
hotels and restaurants will present you with a teabag in a cup and saucer. Herbal teas
are also widely available - ku?burnu çay- (rosehip) ad- çay- (sage tea) and -hlamur çay-
(linden flower tea) being the more common varieties.
Introduced to Europe via the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th Century, Turkish coffee is
an indulgent pleasure and the perfect way to finish off a good meal. When ordering a
Türk kahvesi, you will be asked how you take it - sade (no sugar), orta (with some
sugar) or ?ekerli (sweet), as it is brewed with the sugar before serving in small cups.
You may even find a local willing to tell your fortune from it, a popular custom across
Turkey. Although in more rural parts you will often find instant coffee being served,
cities are catching up with Italian coffee trends and in many of the more modern
establishments you will find the usual fare of lattes and cappuccinos alongside the
not combine a holiday to Turkey with a cooking course or culinary tour, where you could
enjoy anything from speciality wine & cheese tasting and learning home cooking
techniques (such as the 25 different ways to prepare aubergine) to sourcing fresh local
ingredients from local farmers markets.