When you are traveling to explore the sights, sound, and taste of Turkey, you’ll be amazed at its interesting cuisine, especially with dishes of foreign origin from the Middle East, Western Asia, and the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Leave your zaika to judge as you delve into these 10 must-try Turkish foods.
You may also want to learn these recipes from the locals for your future cravings back at home. What could be better than knowing to prepare them yourself?
1. Hamsili Pilav (Anchovy Pilaf), Black Sea Region
The Black Sea region of Turkey takes pride in its abundance in anchovies between the fall and winter seasons; thus, plays an important role in the economy of the region. Watch out for this small but terrible fish when in season. As per kilo, it can get as cheap as 10 Turkish Lira which is equivalent to less than $3. It is small and inexpensive but so rich in Omega 3 that it is highly recommended for children and pregnant women’s diet in Turkey.
Anchovy pilaf is oven-baked pilaf encased in fresh anchovies. The secret to a tasty, hearty anchovy pilaf is getting the right mix of main spices for the pilaf. Onions, dried mint, fresh dill, spices, raisins, salt and pepper, lemon rinds and juice are enough ingredients. A spoon of pine nuts can also be added for a healthier mix and better presentation. When you don’t have time to prepare the intricate anchovy pilaf, you can enjoy a tasty serving of pan-fried anchovies lightly coated in corn flour with a matching roca, parsley, a slice of fresh lemon, and spices. Eat it like a local with some bread or lavash (an oven-baked flatbread). You can also find anchovy-stuffed bread that you can eat on the go, especially when it’s hamsi season.
2. Manti, Kayseri
Manti is a dumpling with a spiced meat mixture in a dough wrapper and is good either steamed or boiled. Garlic yogurt and olive oil infused with spices such as marinara pepper are then poured over the dumplings and topped off with a piece of parsley. This dish is best served hot in a big bowl to dine on while at the table with family and friends.
3. Cig Kofte, Urfa
Pronounced ‘chi-kyuf-te’, Cig means raw and Kofte that is basically meatballs. Kofte (meatballs) is easily prepared as long as you know the main ingredients (ground beef/lamb, onions, salt, pepper, and spices) and then choose whether you want it fried or grilled.
Cig Kofte (spicy raw Turkish meatballs), on the other hand, is a totally different dish. The main ingredients are ground beef/lamb, fine bulgur, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, onions, garlic cloves, scallion, spring onions, allspice ripe tomatoes, cumin, salt and ground black pepper. As shown in the picture above, it may look like a simple dish to prepare.
Back in the summer of 2017, I finally got a chance to get in the kitchen of an Urfa native in the Mediterranean city of Antalya to learn about the preparation which was, in fact, very tedious. After putting all of the ingredients into a huge round tin pan, they manually kneaded them to get rid of the smell of the meat and for the entire ingredients to be mixed evenly. According to them, people from Urfa came up with this dish a long time ago dating back to the time of Abraham when fire was a struggle to produce, in addition to harsh weather conditions.
The key ingredient is the meat, it must be fresh and of excellent quality. You can add a lot of spicy red pepper flakes if you want it really spicy. It is usually served with lettuce, parsley and a slice of lemon on the side. The more effort you put into the preparation, the tastier the final dish is.
4. Kebab, Adana & Urfa
If meat dishes are your favorite then Adana and Urfa Kebab will surely be on the top of your list. Both the kebabs taste almost the same considering that the same ingredients are used in preparation – ground beef/lamb or a combination of both, onions, garlic and spices. The one distinguishing difference is that Adana Kebab is spicier due to a generous amount of paprika and red pepper flakes added in the mix. Both are served hot with fresh grilled onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and lavash. As for a matching beverage, you may eat it like a local with a glass of ayran (a cold healthy yogurt-based beverage mixed with salt).
5. Yaprak Et Doner, Agri
Yaprak et doner is another Agri dish that will surely pique your zaika. It is made by intricate thin slices of marinated tenderloins layered on top of each other and then lodged into a giant skewer, leaving it to cook by rotating around burning coals.
Just like most meat dishes in Turkey, yaprak et doner is eaten with stone oven-baked flatbread, grilled tomatoes, onions and sweet green peppers. It is best eaten hot with a generous amount of melted butter poured over it.
6. Kelle Paca Corba (Sheep’s Head Soup), everywhere in Turkey
Don’t judge a soup by its name. For foreigners, the name itself may put you off. As an expat myself, I WAS daunted to try it. After my first steaming bowl, it is one of my favorite comfort foods during the cold winter months. It is made with lamb head, thoroughly cleaned and boiled with onions and salt until the meat separates itself from the bone. The meat is then cut into small pieces and added into the thickening mixture of flour, yogurt, egg yolk, salt and cold water, stirring it continuously to gain a smooth mixture. Bring it to a boil again and season according to your taste. Most Turkish restaurants season it with grape vinegar, garlic puree, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, salt and black pepper.
The way I like my kelle paca soup is with dried oregano flakes instead of black pepper and more garlic puree. Considering garlic as an immunity-boosting food, a hot bowl of kelle paca soup garnished with lots of garlic puree and lemon juice can be your best comfort food to combat the flu and colds during the winter.
7. Buryan Kebab, Siirt
Southeastern Turkey is hailed for its rich kitchen, traditions and dynamic culture with the influence from the Middle East and Arabs. Buryan Kebab, for instance, is among the various dishes from the region that originated from the Arabs. It is lamb meat slowly roasted for three hours in a pit with charcoal. The slow roast results in the juicy tenderness of the meat, leaving it a thin layer of crunchy fat.
Some French Polynesian islands also have a similar version of this dish. They slow-cook their goat meat or pork stuffed with lemongrass and spices and then topped with layers of banana leaves in a deep hole in the ground for hours till the meat is tender and fully cooked.
This Turkish version of Texas pit barbecue is more popular during the fasting period called Ramadan/Ramazan, best served with hot, soft and flexible lavash, plus grilled onions, tomatoes, and parsley on the side.
8. Icli Kofte (Kibbeh), Diyarbakir
Icli Kofte is a Turkish stuffed meatball that is ground beef, minced onions, bulgur pilav and a unique blend of spices that is baked into a paddy or most commonly a ball. After being prepared and cooked this dish can be served to eat hot or even at room temp, I’ve even had them cold and they were splendid. This dish is great for a sit-down meal, but also good for when you are on the move because its outer shell holds form making it easy and not messy at all to eat in your hand.
The best thing about this meal, aside from the ability to eat it when on the go, is the portions. One of these uniquely delicious meatballs is more than enough energy and protein to calm a grown man’s hunger woes, and just a few of these would feed a family. Generally, you can get these rather inexpensive, a pair is normally 5 Turkish lira and four for 10, which means you can feed the family without breaking your bank account.
9. Etli Ekmek, Konya
This common dish means meat bread or bread with meat in Turkish. Its origin is traced back to Konya and Sivas, but it is quite commonly found widespread through Turkey’s central regions. This pizza-like flatbread is very appetizing and easy to eat much like a slice of pizza. Because of its simple ingredients list, even the most frightful chef can prepare this meal and feed the masses easily, or just yourself and another, the choice is yours.
10. Kokorec, everywhere in Turkey
Kokorec (pronounced ‘ko-ko-rech’) is a staple for Turkish cuisine and can be found throughout the country. It is lamb intestine wrapped around seasoned offal that is slow-roasted over a flame until finally it is minced on a grill and served to you on a sub roll.
It is delicious, much like a steak and cheese sub in America minus the cheese. Though the kokorec packs enough flavor on its own for this sandwich be eaten by itself, and the Turkish don’t deviate from this formula often.
I got many strange and surprised glances by ongoing kokorec stand patrons when they see me loading my sandwich with things like onions, lettuce, and tomato. What they don’t see is that the condiments enhance the kokorec flavor, not hinder it, but to each their own I suppose.
Since this dish can be found throughout the country, each region’s flavor and uniqueness will vary somewhat, the bread being the major difference maker. In my opinion, the best kokorec is either in Kas or Old Town Antalya, and I literally try the dish everywhere as it’s my favorite.
In both of these cities the meat was perfectly flavored, salted, cooked and loaded onto a buttered sub roll that makes this sandwich so terrific it brings back memories of the first time I had an authentic Geno’s sub on a cold night in Philadelphia, yeah, kokorec is that good. If you like steak and cheese subs the local kokorec chef will be your best friend in Turkey.