Turkey Street Food
Traditional Turkish Food
Straggled between Europe and Asia and having a rich history makes Turkey one of the most diverse country’s in the world. It is a melting pot of several generations and influences from Central Asia and the Middle East to Eastern Europe and the Balkan states. As a result of this diversity, Turkish cuisine has an expansive palette which changes as you travel through the vast plateaus of the east to the seaside towns of the west.
Navigating Turkish food in itself is an unforgettable journey for your taste buds, but it can be a little overwhelming if it’s your first visit. Choosing between the delicious street food or the delicacies served in only the high-end restaurants is a constant struggle. While fitting all that Turkey has to offer in one trip is near impossible, we have devised a guide that can help you fit in as much as possible without overwhelming your senses.
Turkish land spans across 4000 miles, and while the local food keeps changing, there are a few staples that you are sure to spot, wherever you go. Staples are often found on street carts or local eateries and are quick bites that you can take between place hopping. These are the reliable ones of the batch. The dishes you can turn to if the menu is too complicated or if you need comfort food after a long adventure.
Stuffed Mussels or Midye Dolma is a street food specialty that is found in almost all coastal cities in Turkey. The black shells stuffed with rice and served with a squeeze of lemon is a famous starter that seafood lovers will fall head over heels for. If you are ever in need for something small before your swim in the ocean, you can easily hail down one of the mussel sellers who amble across the town with baskets of the black shiny shells. While the stuffed rice and lemon is a staple, some eateries may also include pine nuts and cinnamon to spice up the fish.
The Turkish version of baked potato, Kumpir is a dish you can never get enough of. Huge potatoes slid open and stuffed with salt, Turkish cheese and butter, the potatoes can form a meal in itself. Kumpir is also made like a subway, where you can choose the topping you want inside your potato. This includes olives, peppers, mushrooms, jalapenos, etc along with an array of sauces to choose from.
Another highly customisable staple is the Turkish Pide. This is a version of pizza, made on Turkish flatbread or more famously known as a variant of pita bread and served with runny eggs or meat. Pide also has vegetarian options that are reminiscent of a margherita pizza. If you enjoy some meat to your food, we suggest you order up a portion of Kiymali Pide made with minced meat and toppings.
Much like the Pide, Lahmachun is a piece of dough, albeit thinner, topped with an array of minced meat and vegetables and flavoured with your favourite Turkish spices. These big, thin dishes are easy to carry around and filling enough to be a meal in itself. In true Turkish fashion, squeeze some lemon or herbs on the dough, roll it up and bite into it to get a burst of flavours in your mouth.
Durum/ Doner Kebab
Durum or doner kebab is an on-the-go meal that you do not want to miss. Durum consists of cut pieces of meat- chicken, lamb or beef, served inside a wrap with fries on the side. Due to it take away nature, Durum is readily available at street side vendors with huge slabs of meat being cooked to perfection, for all to see.
If you have ever looked up pictures of Turkey and seen pictures of a spread of small plates with bread and drinks, you’ve probably witnessed a meze. A meze platter or starters, are cold appetizers with a variety of up to 20 choices of sauces and dishes that you can dip your breads in. Think of this as a hummus and pita bread situation, only with a feast of delectable options. Meze platters are normally had with cups of tea or drinks. We recommend ordering the dish with a side of Raki, a local alcoholic drink that is paired with beetroot juice.
As the first meal of the day, breakfast is as essential as it is tasty. Turkey understands the importance of this meal, and offers up a feast fit for kings with delicacies that you must try. A full Turkish breakfast or Kahvalti includes cut cheese, veggies, olives, jams and spreads and a whole lot of bread.
Here, we’ll stick to the important components of this spread and a must have for anyone who wants a taste of Turkish breakfast, without going all out every day.
If you like eggs for breakfast, you will love Menemen. A version of scrambled eggs, Menemen is a slightly runny mixture of eggs with black pepper, olive oil and tomatoes. Many Turkish establishments put their own embellishments on this simple yet mouth-watering dish and the dish is also a staple in Turkish households.
So, dependant is Turkey on simit, that even the Oxford dictionary felt compelled to recognize it. The circular baked bread is embedded with sesame, poppy or flax seeds. While simit is a great addition to your breakfast, it is the easiest grab and go you can get. In fact, you will find simit in carts, bakeries, restaurants or even public transport and ferries, all over the country, making it the best go to food for you.
Coming from the family of pastries, Borek is a filling breakfast food through and through. You will often see the stuffed pastry gracing the displays of many bakeries. The delicious dough is yufka, local to Turkey, and the most common Borek you will find is Su Boregi or ‘water Borek’ that is made of flavourful cheese and olive oil.
MAIN FOOD IN TURKEY
Since Turks are known for what cooks in their kitchen, it is only fair that their meals are a feast in itself. There’s something for everyone when you sit down for a Turkish dinner- creamy soups, lighter rice and of course, kebabs!
Corba is a broad term for Turkish soup. Now, you must be wondering what’s so special about soup that you must try it, but soup in Turkey is so diverse and filling that they can be meals in themselves. While the type of soup may differ from region to region or even restaurants, the core ingredients remain the same. If you want to try something more traditional, pick a Ezogelin Corbasi which is red lentil soup or Tarhana Corbasi which translates to dried yogurt soup.
There’s nothing as mouth-watering as meatballs bursting with flavours. Turkish meatballs are known as Kofte and are made with ground beef or lamb (with vegetarian options available). Like Kebabs, Kofte can be prepared in various ways- the Cig Kofte which is made with raw meat and wheat, Eksili or Izmir Kofte which is made with rice and tomato sauce and the vegetarian Mercimek Kofte.
Initially reserved for the Sultan, Dolma is an imperial dish which means ‘stuffed’. This is because in a traditional dolma, peppers are stuffed with minced meat along with other veggies that are added when making the stuffing. You will also come across a similar preparation for Sarma, which has meat and rice stuffed into vine or cabbage leaves and served as a delicacy.
Kebabs are the first thing anyone thinks of when you imagine yourself traversing through Turkey and eating your heart out and rightly so. Turkey has a whole range of kebabs that differ in taste, region and the way it’s served. The infamous kebabs are Iskender, Sis Kebab and Urfa or Adana kebab. The first is a dish served on pita bread and covered with tomato sauce and butter. The next, is skewered kebabs that are fond street food and the last is special to the region of Adana and are lighter, spicier options.
Turkish pilav or rice is a universal dish used ceremoniously, in meals and even as a famous street food. When visiting, trying Tavuklu Pilav or Chicken Pilav from the street (often served with chilli to spice up the dish), is a must. Vegetarians can indulge in the chickpea variant, which is also readily available and known as Nohutlu Pilav.
Manti, meaning dumplings, is quite reminiscent of pasta from Italian cuisine. The dumpling stuffing is most popularly made of onions, spices and meat, topped with a garlicky yogurt. You can try the east Anatolian version, stuffed with chickpeas.
REGIONAL TURKISH DELICACIES
Most of the dishes mentioned are common for the entire country, with variants from region to region. However, if you are looking for delicacies specific to a region, these are the ones that you absolutely must include in your Turkish food checklist.
Islak burger or wet burger, is a famous street food in Istanbul, and the best ones are served at Taksim Square. These delicious sliders are filled with meat patty and doused with a garlic, tomato sauce. They’re then left to steam in a box before customers come along and grab their fill.
Traditional to the coast and black sea region (Istanbul), the Balik Ekmek or fish sandwich is the most recommended. The whitefish is imported from Scandinavia, and grilled to perfection by the sellers near Eminonu and Karakoy docks. The fish is then packed between two baked buns and served as a quick bite.
While kebabs are universal in Turkey, the Testi Kebab deserves a mention of its own. Specific to Nevsehir, if you plan to visit Cappadocia for the hot air balloons, don’t miss out on this delicacy. They are served in a clay pot, hence also known as pottery kebab, and rice.
There’s always room for dessert, and if there isn’t, you will want to make it for these Turkish desserts. While we’re all aware of the infamous Turkish delight, Lokum and Baklava, there is much more to desserts than just those three.
Dondurma or Turkish ice-cream is famous for its creamy texture and delicious taste. Its stretchy consistency is also what makes it a plaything for the ice-cream sellers who switch the ice-creams in cones, and leave you smiling, and not just because of the taste.
Kunefe or Kanafeh is a Turkish dessert that you will find on the menus of all the restaurants and bakeries. Made of sweet cheese or clotted cream and nuts, the dessert is famous for its sweet yet filling taste which makes it a must have.
While travelling to Turkey, planning for the amount of food to try is as important as planning for the attractions you will see. Don’t forget to try out the Turkish coffee, which many shopkeepers will willingly serve to you (especially when you go sweet shopping). Furthermore, the Turkish tea, which most cafes give free of cost, are perfect for washing down the hearty and delicious meals.
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