Turkish Food, Cuisine & Drinks

Last Updated on January 27, 2023

Turkey is rightly famed for its cuisine, which is rich and savory, not particularly spicy-hot, with abundant use of vegetables (which makes vegetarians happy.)

If you have food allergies, read this.

Though based on lamb and mutton, Turkish cuisine includes beef and chicken (no pork, of course), as well as all sorts of seafood.

The most common preparations are roasting and grilling, which produce the famous Turkish kebaps, including döner kebap, the national dish, and köfte, the workingman's favorite. But there's much more to Turkish cuisine than grilled meat.

As my friend Chef Eveline Zoutendijk has said, "It's not a complicated cuisine. It can be labor-intensive, but it produces an amazing variety of colors and bold flavors." More...

The ingredients must be the best, most carefully chosen. The preparation works to enhance the beauties and excellence of the food more than the reputation of the cook.

Originality and creativity, so prized among chefs in some other countries, are deemed appropriate in Turkey only after one has mastered the traditional cuisine—and when one has created a traditional masterpiece, there is little need for much in the way of innovation. Innovation cannot substitute for finesse.

Turkish cuisine has been renowned for a long time. In 1854 the Earl of Carlisle (George W F Howard) visited Constantinople (Istanbul) and sampled Turkish food in a simple bazaar cookshop. The understated praise in his travelogue Diary in Turkish and Greek Waters (1854) reads, "We...went for our luncheon to a Turkish, not kibaub, but cook-shop, where different ragouts of meat and vegetables are always ready in large pans. I think the nation has a decided turn for cookery."

The cookshops that delighted Lord Carlisle are far better now. More...

Meat portions are small compared to those in North America (which are unconscionably huge). Actually, vegetables predominate in most meals, though many vegetable recipes use small amounts of meat as a flavoring. If you're not strictly vegetarian or vegan, yet you prefer to eat more vegetables than meat, you'll do very well in Turkey. Here are tips for vegetarians.

Turkish village artisanal cheeses have been discovered by local and visiting gourmets, and are now making their way into shops and onto restaurant menus. More...

Bread is baked fresh early morning for breakfast and lunch, and late afternoon for dinner, and varies from the common sourdough loaf through whole-wheat loaves to rounds of leavened pide (flat bread) to flaps of paper-thin lavaş (lah-VAHSH, unleavened village bread baked on a griddle).

Turkey produces excellent, delicately scented honey of many varieties.

Among the best and easiest places to sample Turkish cooking is in a hazır yemek ("ready-food") restaurantMore...

Snacks, side dishes and street foods include gözleme (fresh-baked flat bread folded over savory ingredients—a sort of Turkish crêpe—and börek, pastry filled with cheese and vegetables or meat. A traditional favorite is the Istanbul fish sandwich.

As for drinks, pure spring water is always available. Drink only bottled water. It is widely available, and will always be offered to you. Some tap water is safe, but it's difficult to be sure.

Turkey is famous for its succulent fruit, and thus for its fruit juices. There's also ayran (yogurt mixed with spring water, lightly salted—tastes like buttermilk), which goes well with kebaps.

Islam forbids drinking alcohol, but many urban Turks are European in their lifestyle and about 15% of the population enjoy alcoholic beverages with meals: beerwine, and rakı(clear grape brandy flavored with anise and diluted with water) are the favorites, although gin, vodka, whiskey and liqueursare also served. More...

Turkish tea is the national stimulant, even at breakfast, and famous Turkish coffee only a distant second.

Among the favored treats is Turkish Delight (lokum).

There are great half-day Turkish cooking classes in Istanbul.

—by Tom Brosnahan

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