What is there to know about food in Turkey? It’s the land of kebabs and baklava!
True, but it’s also so much more! Actually, after having been to over 55 countries, I can say that Turkey is in my top 3 for food (the other 2 being Italy and Japan).
While that is absolutely true that kebab is literally everywhere in Turkey and baklava is a very popular dessert indeed, there are also different variants of those and also some more uncommon foods in Turkey you should definitely seek to savor.
One thing is for sure – Turkey has both awesome main meals and delightful desserts.
Let’s dive into the amazing Turkish cuisine.
Kokoreç is basically animal intestines (mostly lamb, sometimes goat) wrapped around the innards, seasoned well, and grilled on a skewer.
They are then usually cut into small pieces and stuffed in a piece of bread with tomatoes and onions.
2. Adana Kebab – one of the best foods in Turkey!
The Adana kebab has become so famous that I’ve even seen it packed and ready for the grill in Lidl.
Take a note though: it’s actually a patented meal and there’s a two-page guideline on how to prepare and what constitutes an authentic Adana kebab published by the Adana Chamber of Commerce.
I have to say that the kebab in Adana is really much tastier than the one I’ve had elsewhere in Turkey. It’s made of lamb meat with spices and tail fat.
It’s usually served with sliced onion, some well-chopped tomato salad, and a regular tomato, cucumber, and pepper salad.
You crush the charred tomatoes on a piece of bread and make a small improvised dürüm.
There are also mint leaves as a side dish, which neutralize the strong smell of onion after eating this delicious meal. Most people drink ayran, but the local Adana favorite is Şalgam.
Şalgam is fermented turnip juice. Honestly, I am not a big fan. The purple carrot they put in as a condiment makes it look all fancy, but in reality, it tastes salty and sour (as expected, I mean, it’s fermented vegetables!).
I guess it works well as a digestif, but I prefer a nice sweet sherry. Not all foods in Turkey are tasty.
4. Fırın Kebap
Fırın Kebap is lamb baked in a closed oven called tandoor. It is usually cooked for many hours making the lamb extremely tender.
It’s served over bread and with raw onion – something that I don’t quite get the appeal of. The lamb though… it’s delicious!
5. Ali Nazik Kebab
Ali Nazik kebab comes from the gastro-capital of Turkey – Gaziantep. If you think I am making this title up – google it.
It’s literally a UNESCO city of gastronomy. So anyway, this meal is a lamb kebab over a plateau of mashed grilled eggplant mixed with yogurt.
It’s a unique meal and you will likely not see it in bigger cities, so if ever in Gaziantep – do try that.
The story of the meal tells of Sultan Selim I who went to Aintab (remember, the Gazi title the city got in 1922 after the successful defeat of the French in the War of Independence, whereas the spelling Antep is the modern version of the 16th century one) and was presented with this dish, which absolutely delighted him.
He asked: “Whose gentle hand made this?”.
The Turkish for gentle hand is nazik el. Close enough.
A similar meal is the Iskender kebab. Instead of eggplant, it has simple tomato sauce to top the kebab meat.
You can find it pretty much anywhere in Turkey but is very closely associated with the western city of Bursa.
Restaurants in tourist areas often just call it Turkish pizza. It’s not far from it. Bread topped with whatever you want, most commonly minced meat (kıymalı pide).
A restaurant usually has 10-20 variations they offer with all sorts of different toppings.
It’s a typical breakfast in Turkey.
Börek with cheese is my favorite as it fills you up and gives you enough energy until lunchtime.
8. Cold Baklava
It’s a pretty recent innovation. You know how baklava is so sweet that you can usually only have a piece or two before you feel on the verge of diabetes?
Well, so did a baklava master from Diyarbekir, who used way less sugar, a ton of milk, and some chocolate before cooling it to make a refreshing, delicious dessert.
I can easily eat 10 pieces of this baklava, that’s for sure!
If the name sounds Spanish, that’s because it is. It comes from Mexico, but has made its way to Turkey with a bang!
How? Soap operas!
That’s right – it has appeared in Latin American soap operas and as the rumors go, Turkish wives domesticated the recipe to their own needs and ingredients.
It’s a very light dessert with a lot of milk.
10. San Sebastian Cheesecake
As the name suggests, this dessert didn’t originate in Turkey either. It comes from Spain and I suspect it just traveled overland and overseas to Europe and Turkey because it’s just very tasty.
Anyhow, make sure you try it as it’s making a splash in Turkey at the moment!
Kadayif is a staple of Turkish desserts. I tried a local variant in Adana with plenty of pistachios in between the kadayif as well as smooth cream on top to balance the sweetness. Simply delicious.
Katmer is a flaky pastry dating to the early days of the Ottoman Empire. A lot of butter and oil, a filling of clotted cream, pistachios, and sugar, and a nice crunch.
All desserts in Turkey are quite sweet! It’s as famous as baklava and dare I say even better than it!
Let’s end the list with my personal favorite: Kunefe! There are as many spellings of this dessert, as there are countries where you can find it: knafeh, kunafeh, kunafa, كنافة…
This Middle Eastern dessert is found all across Turkey and packs a sweet punch – it’s kadayif lavishly soaked in syrup, baked, and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. This massive amount of sugar is due to its history – it was invented to satiate the Caliph during the month-long Ramadan fasting.
In Turkish restaurants, it’s usually served with pieces of fruit, fresh pistachios, and milk, but you can get a takeaway piece from many street stands.