Turkish flavors and Turkey may be famous for their kebabs, but the popular dish is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Turkish cuisine. Europe, as a continent, covers over 300,000 square miles. So, the European destination’s rich and diverse food is largely thanks to its landscape. Plateaus and plains of fertile soil formed by now extinct volcanoes, snow-covered mountains, and fast-flowing rivers lend themselves to a rich and varied table.
So, what tastes this landscape includes? Olive oil-based dishes from the Mediterranean Coast, hearty pastries from central Anatolia, subtle spicy flavors from the east and southeast are only some of the flavors to count. And when it comes to Turkish cuisine, some of its foods are permanent guests of the world’s best food lists. By the way, you may also want to take a look at the best Turkish street foods, as well. We guarantee that you’ll fall for the flavors!
As for traditional Turkish foods, they mostly rely less on seasonings and more on tasty fresh ingredients rolled, kneaded, shaped, and cooked to perfection with care, dedication, and passion. In fact, the Turks love their food so much that they even write songs about it. One example is “Domates, Biber, patlican” by Anatolian rock star Baris Manco translates to “Tomatoes, pepper, eggplant.”
To make the long story short, here are 23 of the top Turkish foods beyond the basic kebab:
23- Ezogelin Corba
According to legend, an unhappily married woman named Ezo dreamed up this dish. She was trying to win over her mother-in-law via her stomach.
She concocted a zesty soup consisting of red lentils, tomato salca (tomato paste — sweet or hot), grated fresh tomatoes and onions. People generally serve the soup with dried mint and pul biber (chili flakes) sprinkled on top.
There’s no proof it actually worked, but just in case, ezogelin (which literally translates to bride Ezo), originating from a small village near Gaziantep, is still the food of choice for brides-to-be.
Turkish cuisine incorporates a huge range of vegetable dishes known as zeytinyagli yemegi — foods cooked in olive oil. The majority are vegetable-based. Moreover, they include green beans, artichokes, and of course, eggplants.
One of the tastiest eggplant offerings is sasuka. Here silky purple-skinned cubes of green flesh are cooked with zucchinis, garlic, tomatoes, and chili. How much of the latter depending on where in Turkey it’s made. It is, then, one of the best Turkish flavors.
Kisir is a salad made from fine bulgur wheat, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and mint.
There are numerous versions from all over Turkey, but the Antakya one includes nar eksisi (sour pomegranate molasses) and pul biber (hot red chili flakes). They like it hot down south.
20- Mercimek Kofte
Known to Diyarbakir locals as belluh, mercimek kofte is a vegetarian delight. Made from red lentils, fine bulgur, salt, finely chopped onion, scallions, tomato and aci biber salca (hot red pepper paste). Furthermore, you can also add crushed cilantro, they come in handy bite-sized servings. Just pop one of these nuggets of flavor onto a lettuce leaf, add a squeeze of lemon juice. Then roll it up and munch away.
19- Yaprak Dolma
In the Isparta version of yaprak dolma, people cook rice with tomatoes, a bunch of parsley, onion, garlic, tomato paste, olive oil, black pepper, salt, and water. A spoonful of this mixture is placed on a vine leaf, folded in, and carefully rolled by hand into neat little cylinders.
While people sell leaves at most street markets, the best ones come from a neighbor’s tree, usually picked at midnight. Yaprak dolma is part of Turkish Aegean cuisine. Moreover, it sometimes includes a pinch of cinnamon in the mix, a nod to the Rum people, Greeks born in Turkey.
18- Inegol Kofte
Meatballs are so much more than just balls of meat in Turkish cuisine. Each style brings its own unique serve of history.
Mustafa Efendi invented the one of the best known Inegol kofte. He is originally from Bulgaria, migrated to Inegol in northwest Turkey in the 19th century.
Unlike other Turkish kofte, his mix uses only ground beef or lamb and breadcrumbs, seasoned with onions.
17- Iskender Kebab
Located in northwest Turkey, Bursa is famous for three things — silk, the ski fields of Uludag and a type of kebab called Iskender. Apparently, a gentleman of the same name first cooked this dish for workers in the city’s Kayhan Bazaar back in 1867.
Thin slices of doner meat are reverently laid over pieces of plump pide bread, smothered in freshly made tomato sauce, and baptized with a dash of sizzling melted butter. What’s more, people serve it with a portion of tangy yoghurt, grilled tomato and green peppers.
16- Cag Kebab
The people of Erzurum take their meat very seriously. So much so, they’re prepared to wait more than 12 hours for a sliver of hot and tasty lamb cag kebab.
First the meat is smeared with a mix of onions, salt and black pepper and left to marinate for half a day. Then it’s fed onto a long skewer and cooked horizontally over a wood fire.
Divine on its own, cag kebab is also served wrapped in flat lavas bread with slices of tomato, white onion and long thin green peppers called sivri.
15- Hamsili Pilav
The dish is one of the most delicious and traditional Turkish flavors. Hamsi, aka European anchovy, is a staple in Turkish Black Sea kitchen. In the city of Rize, the slender fishes are prepared with rice to make Hamsili Pilav.
This dish is cooked in a stock made from fried onions, butter, peanuts, Turkish allspice and raisins, which is mixed with fresh parsley and dill. Then filleted anchovies are arranged over the rice and the whole lot is cooked in the oven.
14- Perde Pilav
The town of Siirt is home to perde pilav, or curtain rice, a rice-based dish wrapped in a lush buttery dough, baked in an oven and served up hot. Thus, it appears as one of the most mouth-watering Turkish flavors.
Usually served at weddings, perde pilav is cooked with chicken, currants, almonds, pine nuts and butter, and seasoned with salt, oregano and pepper.
The shape of the dish is thought to represent the creation of a new home — the rice symbolizes fertility and the currants are for future children.
The most popular type of manti, small squares of dough with various fillings, are those made in Kayseri.
This central Anatolian version contains a spoonful of mince sealed into a small parcel, but they use cheese elsewhere. The manti are dropped into boiling water and topped with yoghurt and pul biber (chili flakes).
Legend has it, a good Turkish housewife can make Manti so small that 40 fit onto one spoon.
12- Testi Kebab
This one of the most delicious Turkish flavors belongs to the Nevsehir region. It features pottery made in Avanos, using red clay from the famous Kizilirmak River. First, the clay jug is filled with beef, tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic and a knob of butter. Then, its opening is then sealed with a peeled slice of potato and covered in alfoil, before the jug is placed in a wood-burning oven.
Once the contents are ready, the cook must hold the alfoil covered top in one hand and a small hammer in the other to break open the meal.
The trick is to aim for the thin line circling the body of the vessel three quarters of the way up.
Alternatively known as sac boregi, pastry cooked on a sac, a hot convex metal plate, gozleme are flat savory pockets usually filled with salty white cheese, spinach or minced beef.
Although often considered village food, it takes expert handling to roll out the paper-thin dough without tearing it.
The word goz means “eye”, and the name gozleme is believed to come from the dark spots that form as the pastry cooks and absorbs the oil on the sac, forming “eyes.”
Pide are a firm favorite among Turks, with some of the tastiest originating in the Black Sea region. Here dough balls are stretched out into an elongated base and loaded with a choice of fillings.
The most popular is sucuklu yumurta, spicy Turkish sausage and egg mixed with kasar (yellow sheep cheese) but ispanakli kasar, spinach with cheese, is equally good.
It’s the crust that makes pide a winner. Cooked in a wood-fired oven, the high temperature produces a crisp crunchy base ideal for all types of ingredients.
9- Su Boregi
Borek, a savory pastry made from layering sheets of a fine filo-like dough called yufka, is a staple of the high plateaus of central Anatolia. Moreover, as you can imagine, it is one of the most delicious Turkish flavors.
It was brought to Turkey by nomadic herders hundreds of years ago, and different varieties can be found all over the country and throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
Su boregi, meaning “water borek” is the most commonly available, relying on white cheese, butter, olive oil and salt for flavor.
If a country can be said to run on its stomach, simit is the fuel that keeps Turkey going. You can buy it from everywhere. And with everywhere, we mean “everywhere”! Street vendors carrying baskets or pushing carts, in bakeries and cafes, at tram, train and metro stations and even on ferries. You can simply find it everywhere in Turkey.
People believe that simit were created in the palace kitchens of Suleyman the Magnificent in the 1500s, but no official records exist.
According to Ottoman explorer Evliya Celebi, who roamed far and wide in the 17th century, lahmacun takes its name from the Arabic word lahm-i acinli.
It’s a type of pastry made from lahm, meat in Arabic and ajin, paste. The paste consists of low fat mince mixed with tomato paste, garlic and spices. They smeare it on a thin round of pita dough and you can make it much spicier on request.
Places serve lahmacun with fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. So, Turks have been eating this dish for more than 300 years.
6- Cig Kofte
Cig kofte originates from Sanliurfa. It takes its name from the original recipe using raw (cig) ground beef. It combines with bulgur, tomato paste, onions garlic, pepper and Turkish spices.
The mix was kneaded until it was declared ready, determined by throwing a piece up to the ceiling. When it stuck there it was done.
These days the meat has been wholly replaced by bulgur and sometimes ground walnuts, making for a healthier, but equally tasty choice.
The people of Gaziantep, also known as Antep, in Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Region, know the best way to make baklava is to use a darkened room with a controlled temperature. It is perfect for stacking the 40 sheets of tissue-like pastry that go into this Turkish culinary icon. Thus, the most famous and one of the most delicious Turkish flavors appears.
First each sheet is brushed with butter, and ground pistachios are sprinkled over every few layers. Then a honeyed syrup is poured over the contents, and the pastry is baked until golden.
Different versions have enticing names such as twisted turban, nightingale’s nest, saray or palace baklava, and are all equally irresistible. Baklava can be enjoyed plain or with a dollop of kaymak, Turkey’s answer to clotted cream.
Where can you find ice cream you can eat with a knife and fork?
In Kahramanmaras, home of traditional Turkish dondurma, of course. Traditional dondurma (which means freezing in Turkish) is made from milk and two special ingredients, sahlep and mastic.
Sahlep is a type of flour produced from orchids that provides a smooth velvety finish to the ice cream, while the mastic, a natural gum, adds a unique chewiness.
Lokum, known in English as Turkish Delight, dates back centuries. However, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that it became a hit with the Ottoman sultans. It is undoubtedly one of the most mouth-watering Turkish flavors.
That’s when people invented corn starch. And then, Istanbul confectioner Haci Bekir added it to the list of ingredients. This simple combination of water, starch and sugar, boiled together to produce delicate cubes flavored with rose water. As for other types, pistachio is the most famous and other flavors continue to delight.
2- Ekmek Kadayifi
So, this Afyonkarahisar dessert consists of a special type of dehydrated bread with a consistency similar to crumpets. People who make this desert place the bread on a large tray and steeped in water to make it expand. Then they cover it in a syrup of sugar, water and lemon and simmered on the stove.
The syrup is constantly spooned back over the bread to infuse it with a sweet sticky texture. Later on, when it is ready, they turn it upside down onto a serving dish and eaten with kaymak. It is, by the way, a thick Turkish cream. So, here we are with another one of the tastiest Turkish flavors.
1- Balık Ekmek
Here is another one of the most delicious Turkish flavors. Fish Sandwich (balık ekmek) is quite a simple and also delicious meal. Balık ekmek contains grilled white fish, raw onions, and salad in a half loaf of white bread. So, it is an absolute Istanbul classic. The usual tourist stops in Eminönü often serve imported fish. But, the city’s lesser-known spots in Beykoz and Yeniköy offer more delicious ones. These two neighborhoods of Istanbul continue to serve authentic sandwiches with fresh fish.