A Turkish “ready food” (hazır yemek) restaurant is one with a variety of dishes prepared in advance of mealtime and kept warm in steam tables. It’s the Turkish version of a self-service cafeteria, and it’s a culinary wonder.
Point to what you want and the chef serves you immediately. Fast, easy, delicious, and inexpensive.
The steam tables laden with artfully-decorated dishes are usually in the restaurant’s front windows to lure passers-by—which they do quite effectively.
Enter, take a tray, select the dishes you like, pay at the cash register, then dine at your leisure. If there are no tables free on the ground floor, look for a stairway: many hazir yemekrestaurants have dining rooms one flight up—and sometimes two and three flights up, and even on the roof in the form of an open-air terrace (in good weather).
If you’d rather not carry your dishes up, a waiter will be happy to carry them for you.
Prices for the dishes are posted, but you probably won’t know the names of the dishes so you’ll have to ask, or just trust to the honesty of the cashier (this is usually fine).
Alcoholic beverages are usually not served in these places: rather, soft drinks, juices, waters, and the refreshing, healthful yogurt-and-water drink called ayran (ah-yee-RAHN).
Hazır yemek restaurants may open early in the morning with limited breakfast offerings such as lentil soup (mercimek çorbası) and/or su böreği, a lasagna-like börek pastry made with chopped parsley and white sheep’s-milk cheese. Or, they may not open until mid-morning. They often stay open late into the evening.
Every bus station in Turkey has at least one, and usually several, hazır yemek restaurants in or near it—the perfect places to grab a quick meal while traveling.