Love at first sight. It makes the heart race with excitement, the mind filled with curiosity and the body eager to get closer to explore more. Such exquisiteness not only captivates the eyes but the soul as its beauty is more than just skin-deep, and this is what travellers feel when they laid eyes on the vastness of Turkey. It is no secret that Turkey’s marvellous monuments are a definite sight for sore eyes. Its inimitable architectural designs and enthralling historical tales behind it often leaves wanderers wanting more than they could have.
However, what defines Turkey and draws travellers to discover more than meets the eye does not only stop at the must-see landmarks or stories. Regardless of the nation or even country, food is occasionally seen as an identifier representing the richness of traditions, deeply instilled throughout the generations of that particular city or region. It is the memorable feeling of love at first bite, that unforgettable taste as one sinks their teeth into unfamiliar exotic dishes, spices, delicacies. With every bite taken of these exotic Turkish cuisines, it rewards the tongue with curiosity of time-honed flavours and some of the tastiest food deliciousness – tantalising taste buds with every bite taken.
No matter the distance or dialect, what bonds the Turks and invigorates their days is the yummy food indulged. Similarly, what captivates the heart of those visiting from near and far is the inquisitiveness to indulge in the tasty treats of Turkey. Geographically blessed to be a transcontinental country, Turkey’s exceptional dishes are those served from empires ago and perfected today, making Turkey one of the must-explore places for a gastronomic trip.
As the current pandemic situation has left some feeling doubtful about traveling to another country, worry not as Turkey is determined to ease the mind of all near and far with their Healthy Tourism Certification programme by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Republic of Turkey. Such ongoing safe tourism initiative ensures visitors the peace of mind be it in the transportation, accommodation or restaurants during their visit.
From dusk to dawn, here are some recommended must-try delicacies by Turkish Embassy Tourism & Information Office (TETIO) for a gastronomic tour of Turkey.
Juicy, tasty, and enjoyable. When it comes to meat such as lamb, the quality of meat served in Turkey is truly one of a kind. Considered a must-have in Turkey, Kebab (or Kebap in Turkish) is a simple dish that is both flavoursome and hearty when consumed. While most foodies would already be familiar and have tried numerous versions of it, what most may not be aware of is that Kebab is not the name of a meal but a way of cooking. This popularly known modern Turkish cuisine actually means “charcoal-grilled” and is typically served with additional dishes such as roasted chestnuts.
Much like the different empires that once ruled and shaped the landscape of Turkey to be very diverse while complementing one another today, the same can be said for the Kebabs. The better-known meat dishes of a kebab come in a wide range of styles depending on the region of origin. While exploring the streets of Turkey, travellers are encouraged to let their palates explore the different styles of kebabs. Feel your taste buds tingling with spice when eating the spicy Adana kebab and enjoy the combination of the Antep where the meat is sandwiched between thick juicy eggplant slices. For those feeling bold, take on the eminent Iskender kebab – razor-thin slices of lamb paired with yoghurt, tomato sauce and butter, a unique invention by Iskender Efendi of Bursa in 1867.
Another form of kebab that is commonly seen across Turkey is skewered kebab. While embracing traditional taste, the technique of making the kebab has evolved. Today, diners and tourists can choose more than just beef or lamb but also fish and poultry grilled over charcoal served on metal or wooden skewers.
2. Turkish Delight
Be dazzled by the colourful sights splashed across the streets of Turkey while creating sweet memories. What can be sweeter than the sweet escapades explored not only with our eyes but with our tongues especially with lokum or, as better known across the world, Turkish Delight. Originating from the Arabic word “morsels”, Turkish Delight are confections that come in a variety of mouth-watering flavours, shapes and even colours which are generously dusted with icing sugar or even coconut.
Much like the monuments in Turkey, these delectable sweets have been around for many centuries. However, it wasn’t until the mid-19 century when it became popular especially among the Ottoman Sultans. This was mainly thanks to confectioner Haci Bekir who incorporated corn starch (which was invented around that time) into his list of ingredients, making his treats immensely popular throughout the city. Such cleverness was acknowledged by the ruler then, Sultan Mahmud II who appointed him as chief confectioner of the palace! For those exploring Istanbul can consider making a pitstop or two to the many shops available to try these tasty treats which were once craved by the Ottomans themselves!
As the saying goes, “all things get better in time”. With just a simple combination of water, corn starch and sugar, today the streets of Turkey are filled with many stores showcasing Turkey’s finest dessert. For the foodies, be sure to pick up these picturesque boxes of treats to be your tummy’s companion throughout your exploration of Turkey!
The best way to kickstart a fun-filled day of exciting ventures is not only having a good night’s sleep but to have the right breakfast! After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day as it fuels the stomach and puts the mind in the best mood for anything, and Simit will be the best choice for breakfast when in Turkey.
Shaped like a bagel and sometimes referred to as a Turkish Bagel, Simit is a circular bread commonly enjoyed with a cup of tea or Ayran (a salty yogurt drink). Take in the morning view while devouring Simit paired with some fresh fruits. For those who prefer a more savoury breakfast, this palatable treat can also be consumed with a combination of cheese, pastırma (salt cured beef), and fresh vegetables.
Having held a special place in the Turks’ hearts, it is believed that this bountiful breakfast has been around since the 1500s. Originating from the Arabic word Samid which means white bread or fine flour, Simit is typically shaped and dipped into fruit molasses with water before being baked and topped with a generous coating of toasted sesame seeds. Presently, there are various sorts of simit served and not all are coated with sesame seeds such as the Kel Simit (bald simit) from Kastamonu and simits sold around the Black Sea province. Well recognised for its baldness, this simit appears shiny on the surface and is usually soaked in a hearty broth mixed with shredded meat and melted butter that is poured at the top for a local dish tirit.
Usually eaten as a form of a ‘relaxing’ breakfast, Simit can also be the perfect breakfast for those on-the-go. While cruising down the streets of Turkey, one can often see this pastry sold by street vendors who can be seen pushing trolleys filled with simits or carrying a tray piled with these divine, crunchy crusted bread on their heads.
4. Turkish Kahve
When in Turkey, do as the Turks do – and in Turkey, Turkish Kahve (coffee) is a must! There is an old saying in Turkey, that “a cup of coffee will be remembered for 40 years”. This odd little proverb says much about the important role coffee plays in Turkish social life which carries a deeper meaning. The saying is a reminder that if any two people enjoyed a cup of Turkish coffee together, even if they go forty years or so without seeing one another again, the memory of that happy occasion will still be as pleasant as ever – constituting the strong symbol of their special connection.
Having arrived at the Ottoman land nearly five centuries ago, Turkish coffee was (and still is) an integral role in Turkey as it revolves around the social relations (both political and non-political) and traditions of the Turks such as pre-nuptial ceremonies and fortune telling.
The love for coffee is deeply ingrained in Turkey that there are even terms such as “kahvaltı”, which translates directly as the meal before the first cup of coffee for the day in Turkish. The coffee culture has grown to be so popular that it is said most European countries developed their coffee brewing methods from observing the coffee-drinking habits of the Turks. The versatility of a cup of coffee deepens as the coffee culture also played a vital part in the development of handicrafts, decorated coffee cups, coffee pots, and coffee trays that are sought after as souvenirs. Because of the rich cultural background, this Turkish culture incited the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to include the Turkish Coffee Culture and Tradition in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.
But what really makes Turkish coffee stand out from the others? Though the beans that are used do contribute a small part of its unique factor, it is mostly the method applied in making the coffee. The grounds of the coffee are finely crushed and left in the coffee when served. It is then boiled (with sugar already inside) in a special pot called a Cezve until it froths – often done multiple times.
To date, there are various types of coffee from different parts of Turkey for all coffee enthusiasts to enjoy. For those who prefer a more bitter coffee, Mirra coffee would be the best suit as it is roasted twice. For those seeking for a more unique cup of coffee (difficult to find outside of Turkey), Menengiç Turkish coffee is a must-try! A coffee native to the Southeastern part of Turkey and made from the beans of a Pistacia terebinthus tree, the coffee features no caffeine and a fruitier flavour compared to normal coffee.
Regardless of the style of coffee preferred, for all who step foot into Turkey, experiencing such phenomenal coffee is a must to elevate one’s adventure in Turkey!
5. Maras Dondurma
After a day of exploring Turkey on foot, a quick break is much needed especially with a sweet treat. Yet another must-try for foodie hunters in Turkey, Maras Dondurma is a Turkish mastic ice cream that defies the law of ice cream. While this Turkish ice cream may look like any regular ice cream, what sets it apart from the rest is its incomparable texture that is unlike any other ice cream in the world.
Imagine roaming around Turkey with a delicious cone of ice cream that does not melt easily – a dream come true for many, especially on a sunny day! This is because this unique ice cream is made from salep, a flour originating from orchid tubers allowing it to be as stretchy as rubber but with the capability to thaw at a slower pace while imparting a soft yet chewy and consistent taste when consuming this inimitable ice cream.
Often sold by vendors in a truck, what adds on to the distinctiveness of the treat is none other than its only-in-Turkey performance by the ice cream sellers that are all dressed up in costumes from the early Ottoman days. A true Turkey experience is not complete until one has been entertained by the playful antics of the vendors flipping the cones upside down as its customers try to get a hold of the perfect summer treat.
The popularity of Dondurma is proven not only by the many videos circulating on the net with the amusing performance by the vendors, but the fact that it can be found just about everywhere in Turkey. However, for those eager to try it straight from its origins are recommended to head to Maras – a city in Southern Turkey.
6. Turkish Tea
If coffee may not be your cup of tea, Turkish Tea just might be! As important as Turkish coffee is towards the culture of Turkey, Turkish tea too is equally vital.
Known to be a proof of Turkish Hospitality, Turkish tea is often enjoyed in every social context. Prepared in two pots which are steeped for a long period of time, the steeped tea is set on top of a (larger) pot of boiling water. The vapours help boost the steeping process of the tea. Tea lovers are encouraged to enjoy sipping a cup of tea when offered while creating new bonds of friendship as it is said that tea offering is considered to be a sign of friendship and hospitality – a gesture that reflects the culture embodied among the Turks.
When sipping on the cup of tea, one might notice several attributes which separates Turkish Tea from other countries. The first very obvious factor would be the unique little tulip-shaped glass which the tea is served in. Fitting perfectly in between the fingers, such shape is not for aesthetic purpose but for the second obvious factor: to ensure the taste of the tea compliments one’s palate. Meant to be consumed as hot as possible, the flavour of the tea is quite strong which is why it is recommended to be served in those glasses.
Much like the variety of food that can be found in Turkey, there are many types of tea for tea-drinkers to choose from. However, for those that prefer black tea, the eastern Black Sea coast of Turkey is renowned for its high-quality black tea thanks to its mild climate with high precipitation and fertile soil.
Another sweet treat for those with a sweet tooth embarking to dessert paradise is Baklava! Known to be a traditional, authentic and extremely delicious fare made with filo pastry filled with rich flavours, this decadent dessert is always at the top of the must-try dessert list thanks to its delicious taste and delicate form.
Although it may sound like a simple dessert, preparing a baklava is no easy feat. This much beloved dessert is prepared with 40 layers of thinly sliced rolled dough filled with chopped nuts evenly spread on each layer. The spread is then stacked on top of one another and later cooked in sugar syrup (consisting of mixed sugar and water) and doused regularly so that the treat will not go dry.
As a result, one can taste the sweetness melting into the mouth while chewing on the well-crushed nuts. Typically in Turkey, Fıstıklı Baklava (a pistachio-filled baklava) is popularly served but one can also find different types of baklava. Those who prefer a lighter and moister baklava can opt for the Sütlü Nuriye. Not only is this baklava the lightest and wettest among the other baklavas, it is also drenched in milk as opposed to sugar syrup – leaving the tongue a milky radiance. Foodies who would still want a taste of this sweet-smelling goodness but prefer a less sweet option can opt for the Ceviz Baklava. Stuffed with walnuts, this baklava is more bitter in flavour and acts as a perfect counterbalance to the sweeter baklavas.
It is no secret that baklava is a prevalent treat easily found throughout Turkey. However, the most mouth-watering of them all (that is also recognised as a miraculous culinary culture registered under UNESCO) can be found in the city of Gaziantep – located at the western part of Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Region. Those that are curious about the perfect skills required in making baklava, it is recommended to visit the capital of baklava and witness the baklava gurus in action!
The best companion to explore Turkey especially during the summer heat is none other than Ayran! While it may look like yogurt, this cup of frothy treat definitely does not taste like the average sour yogurt. In fact, this yogurt-based drink is a mixture of diluted yogurt with water and salt creating a sweet-salty flavour, a combination that is loved by all in Turkey including tourists.
Being one of the fundamental drinks of the Turkish culture, Ayran derived from the verb ‘yogurtmak’ which means to blend, signifying the method of how this refreshing drink is made. Not only is this healthy drink filled with probiotics that is high in calcium and protein, it also helps with sunburn and indigestion.
Devised millenniums ago, the Goturks (developers of this drink) first diluted water into bitter yogurt in attempt to improve the flavour. Today, such creation is ubiquitous in Turkey and can be found all around especially during the summer where it is common to see this cold drink served with fresh mint – enhancing the refreshing taste to it. Commonly found throughout the entire Turkey region, what makes this drink different from the rest is the variation in its thickness. A thicker variation can be found at the south part of the country, but the most preferred is in Susurluk, near Balikesir as the Ayran there is bubblier.
These are just the few suggested savouries and sweetness by Turkish Tourism, as there are plenty more pleasant morsels to explore for a wholesome gastronomic journey. Should one be uncertain of where to kick-start their food adventure, why not leave it to the fate of your horoscope with Turkey’s “Travel Horoscope” app. With a click of a button, start your gastronomic journey by allowing the app to choose your first destination based on your horoscope.
While the borders may not be open for many countries just yet, Turkey has already been enacting safety measures for all who are eager to chomp on the savoury, sweet and smoky treats of Turkey. Rest assured, with the Healthy Tourism Certification programme initiated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Republic of Turkey, one can ease their minds from worries when dining in their favourite restaurant or even when wandering around the streets looking for that next feast.