Turkey is in a unique geographical position, straddling both Europe and Asia, and thus the national cuisine combines both European and Asian influences. In fact, Turkish cuisine owes much of its heritage to the cuisine of the vast Ottoman Empire, which encompassed not only what is today modern Turkey, but also territories in the Middle East, North Africa and southern Europe. As a result of this Ottoman heritage, Turkish cuisine combines influences from Arab and Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as Armenian cuisine, Greek cuisine, and Persian cuisine, with traditional Turkic elements from Central Asia such as yogurt.
In would incorrect however to assume that Turkish cuisine was homogeneous throughout the entire country. This is very far from the case – there are specific dishes and flavors unique to each region of Turkey:
– Olive trees are grown in the densely populated region of Marmara (the area around the Bosphorus, Dardanelles and the Sea of Marmara), as well as near to the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, and these regions are known for their Mediterranean style cuisines.
– Northern Turkey, near the Black Sea coast, is known for anchovies and corn.
– Central Anatolia is famous for its pastry dishes: gözleme, keskek and manti.
– Southeastern Turkey is well-known for mezes, kebabs and desserts such as baklava, kadayif and künefe.
Here are some popular Turkish dishes:
– Tarhana – A dried food based on a fermented mixture of cracked wheat, yogurt and vegetables – its dryness and acidity means that it preserves well for a long time. Tarhana is eaten in the form of a soup.
– Domates – Tomato soup.
– Iskembe çorbasi – Tripe (edible offal from the stomaches of cattle) soup. Often served season with lemon juice or vinegar.
– Cacik – The Turkish version of Tzatziki – Yogurt with cucumber, mint and olive oil, served cold and eaten as a side dish.
– Hummus – A dip made from ground chickpeas with sesame tahini (ground sesame seeds), lemon juice and garlic.
– Lahmacun – Sometimes known as “Turkish pizza”, lahmacun is a round flat piece of dough, topped with ground (minced) beef or lamb, and served rolled up with vegetables (most commonly onions, peppers or tomatoes) or pickles.
– Gözleme – A savory pastry made by thinly rolling dough and repeatedly folding. It is then filled and browned in a pan. There are many different variations, each with their own names, including Etli (meat filling), Ispanakli (spinach), Karisik (mixed filling), Katmer (plain), Kiymali (ground lamb), Mantarli (mushrooms), Patatesli (mashed potatoes) and Peynirli (filled with feta cheese).
– Börek – Dough stuffed with cheese, meat or vegetables.
– Manti – A Turkish pasta made from dough balls filled with ground (minced) meat. It is served with yogurt, flavored with herbs and spices, and warmed in olive oil or butter.
– Keskek – A stew made from meat with wheat or barley.
– Kuskus – The Turkish version of Couscous.
– Dolma – Stuffed vegetables. There are two main variants: a meat (“kiyma”) mixture containing ground (minced) meat, onions, rice and spices, which is served warm, and vegetables mixtures, which are served at room temperature.
– Imam bayildi – Eggplant (aubergine) stuffed with onions, tomatoes and garlic, then simmered in olive oil, served cold.
– Karniyarik – Very similar to Imam bayildi, but also containing ground (minced) meat, and served hot.
– Patlican salatasi – Literally translated from Turkish, the name means “eggplant salad”. There are quite a few variations of this dish, the eggplant (aubergine) may be baked or broiled (grilled) over a open flame before peeling so it has a smokey flavor, and then mixed with yogurt, olive oil and garlic, or with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, and served at room temperature.
– Patlican begendi – A hot eggplant (aubergine) dish, also containing meat, cheese, milk and flour.
– Menemen – Eggs with green peppers, onions and tomatoes.
– Adana kebap – A long grilled kebab made from minced lamb, originally from the city of Adana, where it is known as “kiyma kebabi”.
– Döner kebap – Literally translated from Turkish, döner kebap means “turning roast”. It is meat (lamb or mutton, beef, or chicken) cooked on a rotating spit. The meat is usually served in a pide (Turkish pita bread). Versions with salad and sauce added were invented by the Turkish community resident in Germany, in a (extremely successful) attempt to broaden the dish’s appeal – döner kebap has become a popular fast food throughout the world.
– Bursa kebab – Originally invented by Iskender Iskenderoglu, and known as “Iskender kebap” (which is a trademark), this dish is a variant of döner kebap. Grilled lamb slices are based with tomato sauce and laid over pide (pita) bread, and covered with melted butter and yogurt.
– Shish kebab – Grilled chicken or lamb, marinated and cooked on a skewer over an open fire. Lamb from milk-fed lambs is particularly favored.
– Arnavut cigeri – Fried liver.
– Köfte – Meatballs made from ground (minced) meat with bread and egg. There are many variants such as “kadinbudu köfte” which contains rice, and “Çig köfte” which contains raw ground (minced) meat.
– Mahmudiye – Chicken with almonds, apricots, black pepper, currants and honey.
– Sujuk – A sausage made from ground (minced) beef with spices, and allowed to dry for several weeks. It must be cooked before eating, and is a popular at breakfast and in fast foods.
– Baklava – A sweet pastry dessert made with phyllo dough, filled with chopped walnuts or pistachios, and sweetened with syrup or honey.
– Kadaif – A dessert made from shredded dough or phyllo pastry. There are quite a few variants of this dish, including “künefe” which contains melted cheese and is served hot with pistachios and walnuts.
– Helva – A sweet made from tahin (sesame seed paste), flour or semolina.
– Lokum – Turkish delight.