Turkish food or Turkish cuisine is largely inherited from the Ottoman cuisine (Ottoman Empire 1299 – 1922), which is actually an amalgamation of Mediterranean, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Eastern European and Armenian cuisines. In turn, due to the influence of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish food also influenced the culinary traditions of neighboring countries, including the cuisines of Southeast Europe (Balkans), Central Europe, and Western Europe. With Turkey being a center of cultural exchange based on its geographical location, it was inevitable for the Ottomans to fuse the various culinary traditions of the territories that are within their vast empire. This included the Levantine cuisines, Egyptian cuisine, Greek cuisine, Balkan cuisine, along with traditional Turkic elements from Central Asia (such as yogurt and pastırma), creating a vast array of specialties.
Of course, Turkish food is just a small part of the greater Mediterranean diet despite of its cuisine varying from region to region in the country. For example, the Ottoman court cuisine has many elements in the cooking styles of Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir, and rest of the Asia Minor region. The cooking styles in these parts of Turkey prefer to use spices lightly compared to other regions in the country. They also prefer to eat rice over bulgur for their source of energy, koftes and “türlü” or vegetable stews which have different varieties, eggplant, stuffed dolmas and fish. The Black Sea Region, on the other hand, uses fish extensively in their cuisine and their “hamsi” (Black Sea anchovy) and maize dishes are notably delicious. In Southeastern Turkey particularly in places such as Urfa, Gaziantep, Adıyaman and Adana is known for their kebab varieties, mezes and dough-based desserts such as künefe, kadayıf, şöbiyet and baklava.
In Western Turkey olive trees grow abundantly and because of this it’s common to find olive oil as the main cooking oil for most dishes. The regions comprising of the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean had developed cuisines rich in vegetables, herbs, and fish. Local favorite dishes like keşkek, mantı (especially from Kayseri) and gözleme can be found in Central Anatolia. The Chinese mantou “steamed bun” has highly influence the Turkish manti, which is also found in Korean cuisine called mandu.
Traditional Turkish food rely less on seasonings and more on tasty fresh ingredients rolled, kneaded, shaped and cooked to perfection with care, dedication and passion. The Anatolian rock star himself even wrote a song about how delicious Turkish food is and the song is called “Domates, biber, patlican,” which in English means “Tomatoes, pepper, eggplant.”
Here are 15 of the top Turkish foods beyond the basic kebab:
The piyaz has made the Turkish city of Antalya world renown – and the secret to its addictive flavor is its beans. They’re the smaller version of the butter bean known in Turkey as “candir,” which is the same name of the province where they are cultivated. Piyaz is made by mixing and thinning the beans with a small amount of water, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, garlic, parsley and olive oil – this creates the aromatic smell and flavorful accent of the dish. Traditionally, this Turkish food is prepared with a soft boiled egg that is chopped and mixed with the rest of the ingredients before serving it to the guests.
2.) Ezogelin Corba
Legend has it that this dish was invented by a village woman who was unhappy with her marriage, because she couldn’t win the favor of her mother-in-law. She allegedly prayed to Allah to help her cook the perfect meal to win the heart of her mother-in-law through her stomach, so that she would no longer have any trouble with her husband. So Allah sent a messenger via a dream-vision to show her how to put together specific ingredients such as red lentils, domato salca (tomato paste – sweet or hot), grated fresh tomatoes and onions, served with dried mint and pul biber (chili flakes) sprinkled on top, which became the famous zesty soup known today as “ezogelin,” which in the local language means “the bride Ezo.” Unfortunately, no one can confirm whether this soup really did the trick; however, the soon-to-be-brides in the small village near Gaziantep would eat this dish weeks prior to their wedding day for good luck charm.
About a third of Turkish food comprises of a wide range of vegetable dishes that are cooked in olive oil called “zeytinyagli yemegi.” Most of these dishes are vegetable-based and use artichokes, green beans and especially eggplants. It’s almost hard to imagine how eggplants can be so delicious, but the Turks did it with their tasty saksuka cuisine. The eggplant is cut into cubes and then cooked together with zucchinis, garlic, tomatoes and chilli – the spiciness of the dish varies on different regions in Turkey.
With ingredients like fine bulgur wheat, tomatoes, garlic, parsley and mint, this salad is packed with multiple flavors and nutrients that make the Mediterranean diet the world’s best diet plan. There are a wide variety of kisir salad all over Turkey; however, the one from Antakya is of particular interest because it includes a pul biber (hot red chili flakes) and the nar eksisi (sour pomegranate molasses).
5.) Mercimek Kofte
Mercimek kofte which is a palatable vegetarian dish is known to the Diyarbakir locals as “belluh.” This Turkish food is made with ingredients such as red lentils, fine bulgur, salt, finely chopped onion, scallions, tomato and aci biber salca (hot red pepper paste) and crushed cilantro, they are made at about two-thirds the size of your fist which are easy to bite. They are served with lettuce, lemon slices and sometimes olives.
6.) Yaprak Dolma
Perhaps the most preferred version of the yaprak dolma is the one made in Isparta, because the way they cook it is they take the rice and cook it with tomatoes, parsley, onion, garlic, tomato paste, olive oil, black pepper, salt and water. Once cooked, the chef takes a table spoon and scoops this mix and then places it on a vine leaf. The leaf is then folded and rolled carefully with the finish product looking like edible cylindrical leaves. You could buy vine leaves from street markets to make the yaprak dolma, or you could just ask some from your neighbor (if you live in Turkey that is) – most houses grow vines in that country. The yaprak dolma belongs to the Turkish-Aegean cuisine. Some versions of it have cinnamon added to the mix which is a nod to the Rum people (Greeks who are born in Turkey).
7.) Inegol Kofte
In Turkey meatballs have so much more ingredients in them than the meatballs in other countries. Each style brings its own unique serve of history. A 19th century Bulgarian who was called Mustafa Efendi immigrated to Turkey and invented the Inegol kofte (his version of the kofte). Efendi’s kofte uses ground beef or lamb and breadcrumbs exclusively and is seasoned with onions, which makes it one of the tastiest Turkish food.
8.) Iskender Kebab
Bursa is a region in northwest Turkey that is known for 3 things – the ski fields of Uludag, silk and a variant of the kebab known as Iskender. According to local historians a man named Iskender is responsible for inventing this dish when he prepared it for the Kayhan Bazaar’s workers back in 1867. The iskender kebab is made from thinly sliced doner meat that are laid over round pieces of pide bread, with tomato sauce smothered all over it, and hot melted butter poured on top and served with a portion of yogurt, grilled tomato and green peppers.
9.) Cag Kebab
Residents of Erzurum City are quite the food fanatics and that’s because they’re willing to wait for the delicious lamb cag kebab for 12 hours to cook before enjoying it on a hot plate. Amazing isn’t it? Most Americans will complain waiting for their burgers to be ready in 10 minutes on a fast food restaurant, but these Turks are overflowing with patience. The cag kebab is meticulously prepared and there are multiple ingredients and several steps involved in its cooking. It starts with the meat being smeared with a mixture consisting of onions, salt and black pepper and is left in a bowl to marinate for 12 hours. Then the meat is placed on long metal skewers and cooked over wood fire like barbecue. Cag kebab is said to be the Turkish food worthy of the gods! It is often served wrapped in flat lavas bread with tomato slices, white onion and siyri (long thin green peppers).
10.) Hamsili Pilav
In the region near the Black Sea in Turkey, the people there have a liking towards the hamsi (a European anchovy). In Rize City they prepare these small and thin fishes with rice and call this dish the Hamsili Pilav. The creation of this dish involves a stock made from fried onions, butter, peanuts, Turkish allspice and raisins, that’s mixed together with dill and parsley. The filleted anchovies are then arranged over the rice and the mixed ingredients are cooked in the oven.
11.) Perde Pilav
The perde pilav – a local favorite of the Siirt City, Turkey – is a rice-based dish with chicken, onion and peanuts enveloped in a thin layer of dough, topped with almonds. It’s also called curtain rice is usually served at weddings and it has certain significance to married couples based on Turkish tradition. The rice symbolizes fertility and the currants are symbols for when they bear children in the future. This dish is considered a sacred Turkish food in Turkish tradition.
There are dozens of variants of manti in Turkey, but the most popular type are those made in Kayseri City. It is sometimes called manty, mantu or manta, is a type of dumpling (small squares of dough with various fillings) popular in most Turkish food. In central Anatolia they put a spoonful of mince in the manti which is unique, because in other parts of Turkey they use cheese. The manti is cooked in boiling water and then removed and topped with yogurt and drizzled with pul biber (chili flakes).
13.) Testi Kebab
Now here’s one of the strangest cuisines in the world! The testi kebab is prepared in such a way that is akin to the Japanese teppanyaki – both chefs from 2 different countries puts on a show for the pleasure of their guests. Turkish food it seems has its own sense of irony as we know it. The small province of Nevsehir in central Turkey is where this dish comes from and it uses red clay taken from the Kizilirmak River, which is made into the famous Avanos pottery. The dish is prepared by first filling the clay jug up with beef, tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic and a knob of butter. Then the opening is sealed with a potato that’s been peeled and sliced in a circular form to fit the opening of the clay jug. After that the top is covered with alfoil before the jug is placed in an oven that uses wood as fuel (wood makes the ingredients tasty when compared to coal or any other types of fuel). When the dish is ready, the cook must stand in front of the guests at the table and hold the alfoil covered top in one hand and a small hammer in the other in order to break open the meal. This is a traditional performance and is only meant for entertainment.
Gozleme is a savory Turkish stuffed flatbread. The dough is usually unleavened and made only with flour, salt and water, but gozleme can be made from yeast dough as well. It is also sometimes called sac boregi which is the same name of the hot convex metal plate where it is cooked upon. Gozleme are flat savory pockets usually filled with salty white cheese, spinach or minced beef.
Pide, which can be made with minced meat (together with onion, chopped tomatoes, parsley and spices), kashar cheese, spinach, white cheese, pieces of meat, braised meat (kavurma), sucuk, pastırma and/or eggs put on rolled-out dough, is one of the most common traditional stone-baked Turkish food. Pide originated in the Black Sea region and it is made by stretching dough balls to form elongated flatbreads that can be added with fillings of your choice, so the dish was intended to be very versatile even from the get-go.
Turkish Food is World Class and Should Be a Part of Your Diet
Phew..did you just drool? It has been tough to keep it dry behind the teeth while compiling this list of Turkish foods. And since it is part of the Mediterranean diet, there is no question about its health benefits as it is equally tasty and healthy as the other food groups in this type of diet including the Greek, Italian, Spanish and other cuisines. There are literally dozens and dozens of Turkish food to wallow in and no, gluttony is never a sin when it comes to the Mediterranean diet, although we recommend that you sample these dishes in moderation.