Hungry travelers should think about taking their next trip to Turkey. With a culinary culture incorporating a melting pot of Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Balkan cuisine, these dishes have been refined to be authentically Turkish. You’ll find many dishes with flaky golden pastry, flavorful minced meat, oozing cheeses and freshly grilled meats. To help guide you through the Turkey’s tasty side, here is a culinary guide to the country.
Possibly the most iconic Turkish dish for international visitors, the kebab comes in many forms, two major ones which include shish and doner. While both include meat — beef, veal or lamb — cooked close to the flame, there are some differences. The shish kebab features chunks of meat cooked on a skewer over a flame. Moreover, the doner kebab is made using a large seasoned block of meat that is cooked on a rotating vertical spit and sliced off when necessary. It is usually served on flatbread like lavash or pita like a wrap. There are many variations of the doner kebab, some of which include Porsiyon, when it is served on a heated plate with grilled peppers and tomatoes, Pilavüstü, when it is served on a bed of rice and Tombik, which features a crispy crust and soft inside.
This hearty Turkish stew is made with meat and wheat or barley, and traditionally also contained ewe’s milk. Although it can be eaten anytime, the dish has a ceremonial meaning and is typically eaten for breakfast on the day of a wedding as well as for circumcisions and religious holidays. Keskek dates back to the 15th century, and has such a strong cultural association is was declared by UNESCO to be of special cultural importance.
Borek can either come baked, steamed or fried, and encompasses phyllo dough pastries fill with white sheep’s milk cheese, feta, parsley, mashed potatoes, ground lamb or spinach. The shape of Borek changes from chef to chef, as it can be folded, rolled or layered. Once it is done cooking, sesame seeds are usually sprinkled on top. This light meal, which is often enjoyed as a quick breakfast or lunch, comes from the early era of the Ottoman Empire, and were considered an important part of Ottoman culinary culture. Some popular boreks include the Puff Borek (Püf böregi), which comes in a fried triangular shape and is filled with white cheese and parsley, the Cigarette Borke (Sigara böregi), which is similar to the Puff Borek but shaped like a cigar and the Water Borek (Su böregi), which is cut into small squares, steamed and sprinkled with white cheese and parsley.
These savory Turkish crepes feature lavas bread laid flat and filled with a combination of spinach, feta cheese, yellow cow’s milk cheese, minced meat, mushrooms, egg, potatoes and seafood. From there, it is sealed and cooked over the griddle. This dish has been popular with locals for centuries as a light meal. Part of the fun of ordering Gozleme is watching it being made, with the chef rolling out the dough with a rolling pin and adding the delicious fillings.
These savory hand-made meatballs are made of minced meat — usually lamb or mutton — combined with onion, bread crumbs and spices and can be grilled, boiled, baked or fried. They also come in different shapes and sizes, and preparation styles vary greatly between the different koftes. For example, Ladies Thighs (kadin budu) is when the kofte are shaped into plump ovals, dipped in egg and fried, while Salçalı köfte is when the meatballs are simmered in a savory — usually tomato-based — sauce.
And, don’t forget dessert. This iconic Turkish pastry features flaky layers of filo pastry, chopped pistachios and walnuts and sugar for added sweetness. Until the mid-19th century, this now-popular treat was a food eaten only by the rich. Today, the dessert is especially popular to serve to guests on religious holidays. If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the baklava culture of Turkey even further, head to Gaziantep where the dessert is said to have originated from.