Want to try a Turkish take on pizza, or sample an authentic Döner kebab? This is the list for you.
A meaty wrap named after one of Turkey’s largest cities
Cooked on a flat iron skewer, these long, hand-minced lamb kebabs are served straight from the fire pit to your plate. Sprinkled with a seasoning of cumin, lemony sumac, chilli and salt, they’re often rolled into a soft flour wrap with roasted tomato and onion, with a portion of rice on the side. Best washed down with a salty yoghurt-drink called ayran, or the anise-flavoured spirit, raki.
Local tip: Take a trip to a restaurant called an ocakbasi for a kebab cooked in the most authentic way.
An affordable pizza-style dish that’s sold on every corner
These doughy, boat-shaped flatbreads are covered with soft vegetables and a meat of your choice – often lamb, beef or spicy salami slices – and smothered in a layer of gooey cheese, sometimes with a fried egg cracked over the top. Baked to golden, bubbling perfection, they’re brushed with melted butter and served up in finger-friendly strips.
Local tip: These should be savoured with a cool glass of salty, yoghurt-based drink, ayran.
A meaty fast-food favourite to grab on the go
Often described as ‘Turkish pizza’, a circular flatbread base is where the similarity ends. Covered in a concoction of spicy mince, vegetables and a helping of herbs it forms a baked, savoury wrap that should be rolled up around onions, tomato and lettuce. Finished with a squeeze of lemon juice, an optional dash of hot pepper can give it a real kick.
Bite-sized fish bites that are nationally adored
These little anchovies are cheap to buy and easy to throw into a variety of recipes – making them a popular and well-loved everyday ingredient. Gleaming silver and about the size of a finger, they’re rich with ocean-fresh flavour. Perfect atop a crunchy green salad with a squeeze of sour lemon juice, they can also be served with bread, or piled on top of a pizza-style dish called pide.
Local tip: From October onwards you’ll find these being fried up in light cornflour batter at local fish markets – follow your nose and let their delicious smell guide you.
A spicy croquette snack found in kebab shops
These tantalising bites are made from bulgur mixed with minced onions, pine nuts, allspice and a variety of finely ground meats such as beef, lamb or goat. Sometimes formed into balls or flat patties, the most common are an iconic rounded shape with a point at each end. Boiled or fried, a light drizzling of zingy lemon juice brings the flavour alive.
Scrambled egg and spices to perk up your morning
Eggs, green peppers and tomato are thrown into a sizzling pan with a mixture of black and red pepper, a pinch of salt and some oregano. The resulting flavoursome jumble is then plated up with a side of freshly baked bread. Locals use this to scoop up servings of the light, spongy mixture and devour them all at once.
Satisfying stew with a royal reputation
Dating back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, this dish translates as ‘Sultan’s delight’. Mouth-watering chunks of tender lamb or beef are stewed with onions, tomatoes and either green chilli or fiery bell pepper to infuse them with vibrant flavour. The meat is then arranged atop a mound of buttery puréed aubergine for a soft, creamy accompaniment.
Flaky pastry bites for a sweet, nutty snack
Sheets of delicate paper-thin filo pastry are layered up with melted butter and vegetable oil on a large tray. Sandwiched within is a filling of finely chopped nuts such as pistachios, walnuts or almonds. Cut into bite-sized shapes – squares, triangles, diamonds and more – they’re baked before being drizzled with a sweet honey, rosewater or orange flower syrup.
Local tip: Tradition dictates that the filo pastry used in the recipe should be so thin you could read something placed behind it.
A cheese-based pie and surprisingly sweet treat
Taking around an hour to make, you’ll need to order this dessert before you finish your main. Soft melted cheese oozes out from between two crisp layers of ribbony pastry shreds called kadayif. Cooked in a special copper plate, it’s served soaking in a hot, sweet syrup with a dollop of cream and a sprinkling of grated pistachio or walnut on top.
A staple rice dish found in every restaurant
An accompaniment to many Turkish dishes, this simple side is usually served in ample portions – not on the same plate but in its own bowl. To make it, rice and orzo pasta are browned in butter and slowly simmered in stock until perfectly tender. Ready to soak up a variety of sauces, it’s often served with a bean dish called kuru fasulye.
Sweet pastry mouthfuls combining cream and nuts
Almost identical to another Turkish treat called baklava, sheets of delicate filo pastry are stuffed with pistachios and a splurge of sweet milk and semolina cream. Once cooked, they’re cut into a wide range of geometric shapes to be shared amongst family and friends.
Turkey’s unofficial national drink and universal conversation starter
This clear, anise-flavoured spirit is always served with water – either in an ice-cold glass on the side, or mixed in with the drink, turning it a milky white colour. There are two types: yeni, made with raisins, and tekirdag, made with grapes. Usually enjoyed with seafood or a selection of small dishes called a ‘meze’, it tastes particularly delicious with chunks of melon and feta cheese.
Local tip: It can be easy to get carried away drinking this but, at 40% proof, you’ll only need a couple of glasses.
Little parcels of meat made with a centuries-old recipe
A dish with origins in the Ottoman Empire, tiny dumplings are stuffed with a mixture of lamb and crushed chickpeas. Spiced with hot red pepper powder and soaked in golden butter, they’re served up with a dollop of yoghurt and plenty of garlic. The diner then tops the mini mouthfuls with a sprinkling of lemon-flavoured sumac, or dried mint.
Local tip: These form part of a traditional test for brides to be – the smaller the dumplings she makes, the better a cook she’s deemed to be.
Frothy refreshment found on every corner
Often mistaken for milk, this foamy drink is made by mixing iced water, yoghurt and salt. Sipped down almost as often as water, you’ll find it in every restaurant and supermarket, as well as street-side stalls. A refreshing way to rehydrate on a hot day, it’s also considered to be an excellent hangover cure.
Local tip: A glass of this makes an ideal antidote if you’ve had too much raki the night before.
A fast-food favourite that’s famous the world over
A cone-shaped hunk of lamb, beef or chicken is cooked on a special vertical rotisserie and shaved into thin strips with a large knife. Served with a rice dish called pilaf or stuffed into a sandwich, pita or lavash flatbread, it’s usually accompanied by a crisp bed of salad and covered in lashings of cool or spicy sauces.
Local tip: To ensure the finest quality kebab meat, locals would suggest ordering this in a restaurant as opposed to off the street.
Lean spiced meat that’s wrapped up raw
A soft concoction of bulgur, onions and lean, finely-ground beef is fired-up with a generous dose of isot, a dark paprika spice that’s said to ‘cook’ the raw meat. Kneaded with a tangy tomato and pepper paste, a combination of green onions, peppers, mint and parsley are also thrown into the mix. To eat, the spicy meat is rolled into a lettuce leaf and chased down with the cooling yoghurt-drink, ayran.
Local tip: You’ll only find this dish homemade or served in restaurants. Fast food shops are required for hygiene reasons to sell a meat-free, vegan version.
Fast and satisfying pastry bites, stuffed with hidden flavours
Made from flaky, paper-thin layers of filo pastry, these savoury snacks come in many different shapes and sizes. Fillings include tasty combinations of meat, potato and vegetables but one of the most popular is stuffed with a mouth-watering mixture of feta cheese and parsley before brushing with butter. Baked to perfection in a masonry oven, they’re sprinkled with sesame seeds to serve.
Local tip: These pastries are easily found in any bakery, and taste delightful with a cup of Turkish tea.
Steaming coffee brewed in a special way
This brew is made by slowering simmering finely ground coffee beans in a special pot with milk or water, allowed to boil for only a brief moment. The mixture is laced with the preferred amount of sugar – ranging from none to two teaspoonfuls – which is allowed to dissolve before being poured. Once in the cup, a thick, velvety foam should come to rest on the top, with the thickest considered the best of the batch.
Local tip: This drink forms part of an engagement ceremony where the groom drinks a cup dosed with salt to prove that he’ll always stand by his bride.
A bright orange bowlful of deliciously warming stew
This simple, vibrantly-coloured dish is made from a hearty portion of white beans in an olive oil and tomato sauce. Usually served with a generous plateful of bulgur or popular rice dish, pilav, it’s also accompanied by a side of pickles and a dollop of cacik – a yoghurt and cucumber dip.
Local tip: This dish is often served at large family dinners but can also be found as a street food, poured over a portion of pilav.