Turkey is a rich country, as much by its culture as by its numerous dishes. To make an inventory of all the food that Turkey offers would be …excessive. So, here is an overview of the most popular dishes, and let’s face it: favorites of both “tourists” and locals.
Turks prefer – by far – salty lunches. On the menu you will find:
- sometimes soup
- scrambled eggs (mixed with sausage)
The Turkish lunch, contains two specialties that are particularly recommended, the Böreks and the
Let’s start with the most famous of the two, the
. Made of phyllo dough, filled with spinach and cheese, it can be eaten at breakfast, but also at any time of the day.
The most popular one is of course the spinach one, but you can find various flavours: for example with meat or potatoes. It can be eaten hot or cold. There are many versions of Börek throughout Asia and the Middle East, but there is no real equivalent in North American cuisine.
Now let’s talk about Kaymak ! This is my favorite part of the Turkish lunch. Why? Well, as a good North American, I love sweet things in the morning, which the Kaymak offers me.
It is made of creamy goat’s milk* mixed with honey; it is eaten right out of the bowl, dipping our bread to get the full flavor.
*The traditional method of making it consists of boiling the goat’s milk (or any other animal milk) and then simmering it for two hours over a very low heat. Once the heat source is turned off, the cream that has formed is removed, allowed to cool and ferment slightly for several hours or even days.
The Kaymak contains a high percentage of fat, usually around 60%. It has a thick, creamy consistency (not entirely compact due to the milk protein fibers) and a rich taste.
The Kaymak is easily found in shops in Turkey, but the majority of Turks make it themselves at home. I tried to find some here in Montreal. No way.
I don’t have any suggestion of restaurants to give you for the lunches since in the majority of the hotels in Turkey, the lunch is included (except perhaps in the big chains which usually, do not offer this service).
This way of getting food is ubiquitous in Turkey and especially in Istanbul. Very useful for a small snack or for a meal, because you can find almost everything.
Let’s start with the one you can buy on every street corner in Istanbul – and in every Turkish city – the Simit !
is the Turkish version of the traditional Montreal bagel, but with a more pronounced circumference and a crunchy texture.
From the bread family. It is served plain and topped with sesame seeds. To eat when we are hungry, the Simit becomes the perfect companion. If you prefer a softer Simit If you prefer a softer one, I advise you to make a detour in the bakeries.
Let’s stay in the street food with the
(rice with chickpeas).
This rice is offered in steam carts late in the evening. Very popular with partygoers, after leaving the bars, the
is a simple rice with chickpeas and sometimes chicken. Of course, this dish can also be found in restaurants, as a side dish in almost every dish.
Let’s go now, with the
a sandwich for fish lovers: fried or grilled fish fillet, served on Turkish bread, with various vegetables.
Until recently, this sandwich was found in Eminönü, where it was prepared on the boat. But, the Istanbul authorities, put an end to this practice last November. This sandwich is usually accompanied by a meal drink with the nice name of
Made with pickled vegetables, such as beets, carrots, cabbage, onions, cucumbers, peppers, garlic and finally brine, this drink is said to be very healthy.
PS: Not being a fan of anything that comes out of the water, this meal was suggested by my Turkish friends.
The classics of Turkish cuisine and my addresses
Turkish cuisine is full of different dishes, each with a different taste, but the recipes are simple and can be made at home.
To begin a good Turkish meal, we must start with a classic: a coral lentil soup. A simple soup, made with coral lentils of course, but well seasoned with onion, spices and a touch of paprika. This soup is offered in 90% of Turkish restaurants, so it will be impossible not to have the chance to taste it.
If you are not the soup type, an appetizer that would make you happy is without a doubt, the
This Meze is often made from stuffed vine leaves – Dolma in Turkish means “stuffed” – with rice, parsley, raisins, etc. It is eaten cold, but if meat is added, it is served hot.
Another classic of Turkish cuisine – and known worldwide – is the ” Kebap “.
This grill, cooked on a spit, is offered in different ways. Two versions stand out from the others: the “Döner Kebap and Dürüm Kebap ” and the ” Adana Kebap “.
The "Döner Kebap
The ” Döner Kebap” is presented in a Turkish bread (round shape) and the ” Dürüm Kebap ” is served in a “pita” style bread.
Note that the word ” Dürüm ” refers to bread, so you can find ” Dürüm ” in other meals, such as ” Dürüm kokoreç “.
Kebap is to Turkey what poutine is to Quebec. It’s very rare to find a restaurant that doesn’t offer good kebap, but I’m going to recommend it anyway.
Antepli Hasan Usta Dürüm Evi
Katip Mustafa Çelebi, İpek Sk. No:3, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
In the district, there are
There are many “Kebap” restaurants in the area. Some stand out, including the Antepli Hasan Usta Dürüm Evi. It is at this place, that you will discover one of the best in Beyoğlu and at a more than reasonable price.
Şeyhmuz Kebap Salonu
Mollafenari, Atik Alipaşa Medresesi Sokak 4/A, 34120 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Also, I advise you, a restaurant located in the hyper-touristic district of Sultanahmet. Şeyhmuz Kebap Salonu, is a “Kurdish” restaurant – from the city of Mardin – and is located very close to the Grand Bazaar.
A good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by visiting the Grand Bazaar and tasting some of the best Kebap in the region.
The Adana Kebap
Let’s continue now with the ”
This is another way to enjoy this product. Unlike the one cooked on a large vertical spit, the ”
“is a lamb meat cooked on skewers placed on embers. As its name indicates, this way of doing things comes from the city of Adana.
Hüseyinağa, Kamer Hatun Cd. 26/A, 34435 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
The best place to enjoy Adana Kabap is the
This restaurant became known following the broadcasting of a report by the American chef, Anthony Bourdain, during one of his programs on food around the world. But this restaurant was already a must-see even before Bourdain’s visit. I strongly suggest you try their ”
Double Adana Kebap
“, which in my opinion is the best in Istanbul.
This “Double” lamb skewer version is tasty. This is the place I visit at least three or four times, when I am in Istanbul.
altı dürüm Tır, Orhan Veli sok, Türk Böbrek Vakfı Hizmet Hst., 34180 , Turkey. Bahçelievler.
Another place to enjoy a tasty ” Adana Kebap ” – outside the tourist areas – is at
located in the beautiful district of
It is also open 24 hours a day – which is very interesting – when you have a late night craving.
Bahçelievler is more of a residential area, with pretty little houses with gardens decorated with flowers, as its name suggests.
The Islak Burger
in English… the ”
“, is another must for the Turkish late night.
This burger is made with ground beef, garlic and mint and is cooked in milk. It is served on a hamburger bun topped with tomato sauce.
What makes this hamburger “wet” is that it is placed on a plate located in a glass box, where a vat of boiling water diffuses its steam and thus keeps the burgers … soaked.
At first glance, this burger doesn’t look appetizing, but believe me, there is nothing better to fill you up when you are hungry. Moreover, rumor has it that this burger prevents hangovers the day after. You can tell me.
Katip Mustafa Çelebi, Sıraselviler Cd. 2/2, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
The best “
“can be found at
. As the place is narrow, most of the time we eat, standing, outside the restaurant.
Another must of life in Istanbul is to enjoy a ” Kumpir “. This dish, which is admittedly quite filling, is considered fast food. No two Kumpirs are ever the same, as they are “shaped” to the customer’s specifications.
Let’s discover the “Kumpir”… it’s a huge potato – and I must admit that I wonder where they can find potatoes of this size – cooked in the oven, from which the flesh is removed and mixed with butter and cheese. Then it is put back in the peel and topped with all sorts of things; olives, carrots, cabbage, corn, peas, ketchup, mayonnaise, sour cream, mushrooms. The limit is yours.
Kumpir” can be found in the majority of restaurants in Turkey, but for taste, variety, atmosphere and especially the magnificent view of
the mosque of Ortaköy
it is “in the village in the middle” (
) that you must go!
One takes our “Kumpir” in one of the very many kiosks and one sits near the mosque of Ortaköy, of its true name
Büyük Mecidiye Camii
and we savor this dish by impregnating ourselves with the impregnable sight on the mosque in the neo baroque style.
If you like crowds, you should go on Sundays, it is the day when Turkish families meet. You can get there by bus, via Taksim, or Beşiktaş or on foot (from the Kabataş northern terminus of streetcar line 1) for those who like to walk while strolling.
If you’re the type of person who likes to try almost anything, I suggest this traditional Turkish dish that is off the beaten path.
The Kokoreç is made from guts and offal (mostly from lamb). Kidneys, liver, lungs etc. etc. are skewered, seasoned, rolled up by the intestines and then cooked on a glowing ember. It is served as a sandwich in most restaurants in Turkey.
Sampiyon Kokorec Beyoglu
Sok. NO:1/3, Sahne Sk. 1/3, 34435 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
I suggest you eat one in the restaurant
. This chain of restaurants is very present in Istanbul as well as all over Turkey.
The first time I ate a Kokoreç, I had no idea what it was (and that’s good, because knowing that I probably wouldn’t have tried it). But, now every time I go to Turkey, I set aside a dinner to eat this tasty sandwich.
Pasta lovers are also very spoiled by Turkish cuisine. Indeed, the ” Mantı ” is a very popular and tasty meal.
“Mantı” are ravioli stuffed with lamb, spices and onions, topped with yogurt (Greek style), garlic, chili and a hint of butter. These ravioli are usually handmade.
Sinanpaşa Mh., Sinan Paşa Köprü Sk. Tellioğlu İş Hanı No:8 D:1, 34200 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
This dish can be found in the majority of Turkish restaurants, but you have to go to the
, located in Beşiktaş, to find the best “Mantı”, in Istanbul!
Even though these restaurants are part of a chain, the quality may vary from one location to another. The one in Beşiktaş is worth a visit. Also, for those staying at the AC Hotel by Marriott Istanbul Macka, this small restaurant is located just a few steps away.
The "Lahmacun" and the "Pide
These two dishes are supposed to be Turkish pizzas, but nothing like those found in North America.
“is usually oval in shape and is filled with minced meat (lamb), finely chopped vegetables (onion, tomatoes and peppers) and then herbs like coriander and basil. It is served with a little lemon and lettuce leaves – connoisseurs – squeeze the lemon over the filling and wrap the “Lahmacun” in the lettuce leaf.
This simple meal is served with a good Efes (Turkish beer).
Ortaklar Kebap Lahmacun
Binbirdirek, Peykhane Cd. No:27, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
One of the few restaurants in Sultanahmet that is not a tourist trap and is affordable.
The ” Pide “is shaped like a “Venice Gondola”.
It is also prepared with minced lamb, vegetables and herbs. The difference between these two dishes is basically… the bread! Indeed, the “Lahmacun” is made on a very thin dough while the “Pide” is made on a bread, a little more consistent.
You can get both of these dishes just about anywhere, but this is the place I particularly like.
Meşhur İstanbul Pide
Validei Atik, Tahteravancı Sok. No:16, 34664 Üsküdar/İstanbul, Turkey
This one is located on the “Asian” side of Istanbul.
Another great meal… made of meat. For the
The main ingredient used is sheep’s meat. Traditionally, thyme has been included in sheep’s feed. The meal is served on a pide (Turkish bread) cut into strips, just like the meat. This is placed on the bread and a generous portion of hot butter is poured over the meat before covering it with tomato sauce. To complete this meal, plain yogurt is served on the side of the plate.
To accompany the İskender, I suggest you have an Ayran (Drink made of one third yogurt and two thirds lightly salted water).
Teşvikiye, Tesvikiye mah park palas ap no 67, Şakayık Sk., 34365 Şişli/İstanbul, Turkey
We eat the best Iskender, in the Şişli neighborhood, at Iskender1867istanbul.
The eatery is a twenty-minute walk from the two Marriotts in the neighborhood: AC Hotel by Marriott Istanbul Macka and the Istanbul Marriott Hotel Şişli, otherwise a thirty-minute walk from Taksim Square.
We get to the segment where just writing the names of these desserts, makes me salivate…Not that I didn’t do as much in the other sections, but being a guy with a sweet tooth…eating a Künefe it’s how to say … the cherry on the sundae ? The creaming on the cake?…My ultimate goal!
In short, you can guess that going to Turkey and “not” eating a Künefe is like going to Peru and not visiting Machu Picchu: it is unthinkable! At least for an epicurean like me. (Come on, I confess…I went to Peru and I did not go to Machu Picchu).
But what is a Künefe ? A very sweet dessert made with angel hair, cheese and butter, baked and drizzled with a honey-based syrup and topped with pistachios. It is often served (and recommended) with Turkish ice cream (dövme dondurma ).
This ice cream is very consistent and made of whipped cream, cream, sugar, salep and mastic (natural gum).
Keyfeder Künefe Katmer
Katip Mustafa Çelebi, 12, Çukurlu Çeşme Sk., 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
This dessert is a staple of Turkish gastronomy and the best place to eat one, without a doubt, is the “Keyfeder Künefe Katmer” located in a very small street in the Beyoğlu district.
Best I’ve ever eaten and believe me…I’ve tried many.
You have to experience the ice cream vendors on Istiklal Street at least once.
These vendors are incredibly skilled at handling this ice cream and the experience will be one of your fondest travel memories…especially if one of your children or family members gets “caught up” in the game.
I won’t say any more.
The "Baklava" and its derivatives
Baklava, this dessert known worldwide as coming from Greece, is in fact originating from the Ottoman people.
Never tell a Turk that baklava has a Greek origin, you risk arguing for hours and hours.
This small dessert made of phyllo dough and sugar syrup – no honey in the Turkish version – and covered with pistachios, is very popular and is easily eaten either after a meal or while having a tea.
There are several variations of this dessert in Turkey so the Şöbiyet, Saray Sarma and my favorite the Bülbül Yuvası.
Hoca Paşa, Muradiye Cd. No:51, 34080 Sirkeci – Fatih/Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
I don’t really have a restaurant reference for this dessert, but the ones found in “Hafiz Mustafa” restaurants/shops are very good. You can see them everywhere in Istanbul.
The franchise is located in the Sirkeci district and is very nice and well situated (opposite the streetcar station).
The "Hanım göbeğ"
Funny name for a dessert… the
– literally “woman’s navel” is a small dessert made of cabbage dough that is made into a ball and fried, and then dipped in syrup.
Who doesn’t know the Loukoum ? This “candy” that every informed tourist brings back to his family, his friends, or his colleagues?
Good, economical, easy to transport, what more could you ask for? Made with starch and sugar, it is flavored and sprinkled with icing sugar.
It comes in many flavors and is often topped with pistachios or almonds. It is sold in “bulk” but also in boxes (for travel it is ideal). Easy to find, but you have to check the prices, because the cost can vary from one place to another. You should never pay more than 25 tl / 30 tl for three or four boxes … beyond that, well, you fell into the trap.
My second favorite Turkish dessert is the
. This is a very simple dessert. In fact it is the cousin of our “rice pudding”.
Made of rice cooked in sweet milk, it is then browned in the oven, which gives it a little extra sweetness. Some restaurants will add cinnamon to the cooking milk. It can be found in all restaurants.
In the same category of desserts, there is also the
which is made from rice flour, milk and wheat starch, which gives it a firm texture.
Orange blossom or rose water is often added. There is also an “almond” version under the name keşkül.
The Tavuk göğsü
My next dessert – to try – on a future trip to Turkey will be Tavuk göğsü… but why this one in particular? Simply, because it is made with… chicken! I’m curious.
File to follow !
My two recommendations of restaurants and dishes
Finally, before I leave you, I offer you two recommendations of restaurants and dishes in two different regions of Turkey.
The Cercis "Murat Konağı"
Cercis Murat Konağı
Şar, 1. Cadde No:517, 47100 Artuklu/Mardin, Turkey
The first is a restaurant located in the beautiful city of Mardin – a city located near the Syrian border -,
Cercis “Murat Konağı” is a unique restaurant, which offers a typical cuisine of this region, that is Kurdish.
Well located in the center of the city of Mardin, this restaurant with its simple but tasteful decoration offers excellent meals. The price is ridiculous (70 tl) per person, which comes to about $16, including wine (local). For a six course meal. (Price paid in 2014).
It serves typical Kurdish (but also Turkish and Syrian) dishes. I have to admit that I had let the waiter decide on the entire menu, so each dish that arrived was a surprise to me – so here is that menu.
First service: a salad with the nice name of “Roko Salad”, which consists of a green salad with tomatoes and… strawberries.
Second service: a “İkbeybet”. A wheat ball filled with minced meat and cooked in a broth. And the other piece of the dish is an eggplant stuffed with dried garlic – so I can’t remember the name.
The third service: “Alluciye” and “Incasiye”.
The “Aluciye” is made of lamb cooked with sage, leeks and green onions. The “Incasiye” is also lamb, but this time cooked with plums, tomato sauce, grape molasses and a little spice.
For the fourth course: impossible to describe it all to you but it is a mixture of flavors: from sweet to spicy, passing by the salty and a little sweet at times. All served on ten “spoons”. Talk about tastings!
Fifth service: the main course, a “Dobo”. It is simply lamb, served with rice. It was delicious.
Sixth service: for dessert, I had the “Semolina Halvah – Kurdish version”, with “Turkish” ice cream. The “Semolina Halvah” is made of wheat semolina, honey and butter as well as raisins, dates and other dried fruits.
And of course, to get through all this, we had to finish with a Turkish tea, but also a Kurdish coffee!
The other discovery is rather a dish than a restaurant. This dish is found everywhere in the region of Kapadokya…. it is the “Testi kebab”!
After tasting it, you will find that all other dishes in the world are “bland”. Testi kebab” contains either beef or lamb – or both – tomatoes, a few cloves of garlic, small green peppers, butter, salt, pepper and spices. They are cooked in an earthenware pot, the “testi”, which gives the food an authentic and special taste. You must try this dish, it is a must.
And so ends my overview of Turkish food, discovered during my many trips to this wonderful country.
If you ever want to discover it, without visiting the country, there are many good Turkish restaurants in the Montreal area, so this one I recommend.
Istanbul Gunes Kebab
RP 327, 7600 Viau Boulevard, Montreal, Quebec H1S 2P3, Canada (Place Viau).
Plus they take Amex, including the American Express CobaltTM Card: 5 points per dollar! 🙂