Turkish cuisine has a delicious and rich selection of various dishes: desserts, pastries, meat and vegetables. Some recipes you can encounter in Istanbul are the modern versions of Sultan high-end kitchen, others are eat-on-the go street food. And many of them you’ve probably already tried because they gained international recognition – or maybe you at least tried their variations from Mediterranean or Arabic cuisine. Scroll down to learn more!
Simit is one of my most vivid memories of Istanbul from my first trip here, and there is no surprise in that. It’s a type of bagel usually with sesame seeds frequently sold from red food pushing carts (but of course you can buy them anywhere, even in the subway!). Believe me, your trip won’t be complete with a simit!
Another type of pastry you can buy from pushing carts is açma, thicker, softer and fluffier type of round bread.
Börek is an umbrella term for the pastry made with many dough sheet layers, or yufka. Some look like spring rolls, others are more like lasagna, fillings also vary: cheese, spinach, meat, potato… My absolute favourites are cigars-like fried cheese böreks – try them without hesitation if you like savoury crunchy food!
Pide always reminded me of a boat-shaped pizza – and cheese filling was definitely my favourite. Among other popular ingredients there are spicy sausages, spinach and tomatoes.
Testi Kebab is more of a performance than a food and it’s often chosen by tourists. I couldn’t miss that too. Our waiter brought a tray with a sealed clay pot with some meat and veggies inside. Then he set the fire to the tray, lightly hammered the pot for a few minutes and then cracked it open and finally emptied it into my plate.
Köfte is a delicious Turkish take on meatballs! I encountered this minced meat of all shapes: oval, round, and always they were very good.
Sis Kebab is another popular meat Turkish dish – you probably know it already because you can meet it everywhere in the world as well as Turkish Donner! It consists of pieces of marinated screwed chargrilled meat (usually lamb) with a side of rice, veggies and sometimes potatoes.
Manti is kind of like Russian pelmeni or Italian ravioli: boiled or fried (pictured) dumplings filled with meat filling usually served a few sauces like the tomato spicy, brown or yoghourt-like ones.
Balık ekmek is another street food you must try out of Turkish cuisine. It’s a sandwich with grilled fish and veggies. I had mine around the Karakoy area (there are many stalls closer to the bridge), and it was really nice.
Well, meze, or a set of appetisers, is a must for every Turkish meal. Usually it includes hummus, puréed eggplant in different variations, yoghourt-like sauce, crushed spiced olives accompanied by flatbread.
Kumpir is a Turkish take on the loaded jacket potato: and of course you can choose the fillings up to your taste. The best place to enjoy lumpur is the Ortakoy area.
One of my personal discoveries in Turkish cuisine was a creamy eggplant puree prepared with cheese, butter and bechamel-like sauce. Traditionally it was a part of Hünkar Beğendi dish (lamb stew with eggplant puree) but you can find it with any type of meat actually (on the photo there are Turkish meatballs, for example).
Dolma is a broad term for stuffed dishes. Sometimes it’s the whole vegetable (like bell pepper) stuffed with filling, sometimes it’s a filling wrapped in vine leaf. Most popular one is probably sarma, rice with veggies wrapped in a vine list.
Karniyarik is a Turkish eggplant stuffed with meat, tomatoes and other vegetables. This dish of Turkish cuisine was very popular since the rise of Ottoman era!
15. Turkish chestnuts
Hot Turkish chestnuts are sold in pushing carts just like simits all over the city – some fine them even tastier that the chestnuts sold in France!
Well, no list of Turkish cuisine is complete without a döner kebab. It’s a piece of meat with tomatoes and other veggies wrapped in a piece of flatbread and served with side salad and fries (you might’ve tried another similar dishes such as Gyros or Shawarma). Did you know that actually the modern version of this dish came from Germany in the 1960s?
Desserts of Turkish cuisine
Baklava is a world-wide known super sweet Turkish dessert made out of layers of dough, nuts, butter and honey.
Sütlaç is Turkish rice pudding baked in the oven and served in a clay bowl like creme brûlée. You can even try different flavours of it like pistachio! I loved my sütlaç so much that I even didn’t make a photo of it (very unprofessional of me, I know)
Dondurma is a very special Turkish ice cream: it’s made with mastic (plant resin) that makes it chewy, and salep, orchid ‘flour’ from the plant tubers. Small kiosks with dondurma are easily findable everywhere around the touristic area of the city, and the vendors frequently wear feska and traditional red jackets and ‘play’ with customers tricking on giving’ not giving them their ice cream cones.
Lokum, or a Turkish delight, is a famous chewy super sweet dessert with a texture a bit like hardened jelly thanks to the corn starch. It comes in different flavours, and is served in cubes powdered with finely grounded sugar. It’s such a must of Turkish cuisine to try! If you like sweet desserts like lokum, you might also like Turkish halva or kunefe!
There are much more to Turkish cuisine including beverages – and of course, you can try all sorts of international cuisines in Istanbul too.
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