Turkey’s culinary heritage is as diverse and vibrant as its history. Blending together flavours, techniques and influences from a real melting pot of cultures, the food is rich and flavoursome, with signature dishes that vary across the country. The Aegean region is known for seafood and fresh vegetables, as well as dishes like 'deniz börülcesi' (samphire salad) and 'şakşuka' (eggs poached in a rich tomato sauce). If you’re in the Black Sea region, make sure to order a plate of 'hamsi pilaf' (fresh anchovies and rice) or if you find yourself in Central Anatolia, it’s worth trying 'etli ekmek' (which literally translates into bread with meat). Is your tummy rumbling yet? Read on to discover more about traditional food in Turkey, made with ingredients that have delighted palates for centuries.
Also known as kahvalti, breakfast is the first chance you'll get to experience traditional food in Turkey. This dish holds a special place in the hearts of Turkish people and is considered the most important meal of the day. So eat like a local and start your day with a delicious and hearty spread of food. From breads and pastries to cheeses, eggs and vegetables, there’s an assortment of textures and tastes to enjoy. If it’s the savoury dishes that get you salivating, make sure to order sucuk (a spicy Turkish sausage made from beef or lamb and flavoured with garlic and spices) or pastırma (air-dried cured beef seasoned with spices and herbs).
Need a quick energy boost before lunch? While the concept of ‘elevenses’ isn’t particularly prominent in Turkey compared to other cultures, there’s still some small bites and beverages to enjoy at this time of day. If you pass by a bakery or street vendor, look out for the bagel-like simit – circular bread covered in sesame seeds that can be enjoyed plain or with toppings such as cheese, butter or chocolate spread. Alternatively, take a bite of poğaça, a savoury pastry filled with ingredients like cheese, olives, minced meat or potatoes. If your brain is telling you it's time for a brew, order a cup of çay – a strong black tea served in a small tulip-shaped glass.
Lunchtime is prime time to get a taste of traditional food in Turkey with a multitude of flavours and regional specialties to try. Nothing beats a meze for lunch and Turkey is certainly one of the best places for it. This tapas-like selection of small dishes will likely feature creamy hummus, stuffed vegetables (dolma) and a colourful bowl of tabbouleh. Got room for more? Go for an Adana kebab served with vegetables and rice or bread, or Lahmacun – a crispy flatbread topped with minced meat, vegetables and herbs. Whatever you do, make sure you save room for dessert. There are some sweet treats that you won't want to miss out on including baklava (a layered filo pastry, filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey) and künefe (spun pastry soaked in a sweet syrup and layered with cheese).
It's time for the mid-afternoon snack, also known locally as ikindi atıştırması or beş çayı (literally meaning ‘five o'clock tea’). Choose something simple and savoury like cheese and olives and you may get to taste a slice or two of beyaz peynir (white cheese), kaşar (yellow cheese) and tulum (aged cheese). Or, if you have a sweet tooth, keep your eyes peeled for lokma – a sweet and doughy deep-fried pastry soaked in syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Known as akşam yemeği in Turkish, dinner is typically the main meal of the day. It’s a chance to gather with family and friends and enjoy a leisurely feast. Seafood is a prominent part of Turkey’s cuisines so make sure to order grilled or baked balık (fish) such as sea bass or sea bream, particularly if you’re staying in a coastal area. Peruse menus for mantı – a traditional Turkish dumpling dish that consists of small pasta pockets filled with a mixture of ground lamb or beef and spices. It’s generally served with yogurt, garlic and melted butter, and sprinkled with fiery red pepper flakes. If you're after a warm and hearty pick-me-up after a busy day of exploring, go for etli güveç – a slow-cooked meat and vegetable casserole. What a delicious way to round off your time eating traditional food in Turkey.