Turkey Baklava

Guide through the Delights of Turkish Cooking

If there was one country that I never thought of visiting one day, it would have been Turkey. Not because of the distance or the politics, but mainly because getting a visa to visit a foreign country is my phobia (who likes to go through administration ?). Anyways, last year, I had to go there for my studies. Even if my stay in Turkey has been a little bit caught up in the Covid crisis, I could still discover this beautiful country through one thing: food. And believe me: Turkish food could make you want to stay in this country forever!

Turkish Cooking

We tend to see that Turkish food specialities stand in one word : Kebab. Nice try, but you’re wrong. You also have to think of the drinks, the fish, meat and vegetable dishes and, of course, the desserts and pastries. What’s funny, with Turkish food is that even if nowadays, its relationships with neighboring countries are tense, it has similarities with them, like Greece, Iran or Armenia. Turkish food is a whole part of the Ottoman heritage and is in balance between the Asiatic, Oriental and Mediterranean food.

That’s why the food here is so unique. For instance, the basis of Turkish dishes like baklavas or böreks is the puff pastry, a delicacy coming right from Central Asia. If I could present you all of the Turkish dishes I tried, this article would never end. Still, I will show you some of the best (sometimes surprising yet popular) dishes of Turkey !

And Afiyet olsun ! (enjoy your meal!)

Turkish Meals

The Kahvalti : the Turkish breakfast

Turkey breakfast
Credit: Wikipedia

Have you ever felt this sensation of hunger around 10 AM ? Still you had breakfast in the morning but what you only think of from 10AM to lunchtime is food. Well, with the Kahvalti, you won’t be hungry for a long moment. The Turkish breakfast is a real ritual. It’s not composed of only bread and jam: it’s a real meal. Sweet and savory at the same time, you can eat at least ten different dishes in this traditional breakfast.

Most of the time, it is made of cucumbers and tomatoes, cheese called peynir (the real Turkish cheese which looks like mozarella), green and black olives, honey with cream, jams and bread (especially the simit, a rond sesam bread). Then come eggs with sucuk (Turkish salami) or as menemem. The menemem is very commom in breakfast for its nutritional virtues. It’s a sort of omelet with tomato sauce, bell peppers, onions, and sucuk.

The Ishkender Kebap

Turkish Ishkender
Credit: Leblogistanbul.com

In Turkey, the most common kebap is the Döner. The Ishkender kebap is different as the meat is not served on a spit, but put on bread inside your plate. Then, the meat is covered with yogurt, tomato sauce and melted butter. During my stay in Turkey, I made a trip to Ishkenderun and tried this kebap: make sure to get bigger jeans before, because trying it means never stop eating it (as this little wonder represents at least 1000 calories).

The Döner Kebap

Kebap Turkish
Credit: Naïs Boekholt

Here it is, the one and only Döner kebap. Like in every kebap, the meat is from sheep, but with the Döner, it can also be chicken. It is cooked for hours and served on a spit, making the meat tender and tastier (okay, on the picture it is not on a spit, but the serving can depend of the place or restaurant).

Also, almost forgot to tell you, but in Turkey, we do say “kebap” and not “kebab”. In France, the kebab represents a sandwich made of bread, sheep meat, cabbage, tomato and french fries. This sandwich is very popular in the Western world but has nothing in common with a Turkish kebap.

In Turkey, you can eat kebap in almost every restaurant you go. The Döner kebap, which pieces of meat can be as large as a human hand, is most of the time served with Turkish bread (sometimes pide), salad and cooked bulgur.

The Testi Kebap

Turkish Testi Kebab
Credit: Couleursdistanbul

When going in Turkey, you have to go in Cappadocia. This is the only place where you could justify eating thousands of calories without feeling guilty. Indeed, even if the first activity on your to-do list should be go ballooing, you can also do hiking in its so particular desert. With its numerous pink mountains and hidden monastries, you will have done enough walking and climbing to eat 10 kebaps.

And in Cappadocia, you should try the Testi Kebap. It is not a speciality from Cappadocia but I tried mine there. Coming from the Central Anatolian region of Yozgat, the testi kebap is cooked in a clay pot. Then, when the kebap is ready, the waiter brings the pot to you and breaks it in front of you in your plate. The meat has marinated inside the pot for hours. First a funny show, the testi kebap is also very delicious and savory.

The Mihlama

Turkish Cheese
Credit: Turkish Food Chef

I was in the little town of Safranbolu when I tried this plate. It is served as a starter but I still don’t get why, as it can fill you for three meals. The Mihlama was one of the biggest dicoveries of my time in Turkey. It is served for breakfast in the northern Black Sea region and is made of melted cheeses and cornmeal. It is fried in a pan and directly served to you.

I am a huge cheese lover, but even I succedded to get sick of cheese with Mihlama, even if it was super delicious and savory

My tip : order one Mihlama for three persons. It should be just enough.

The Börek

Turkish Borek
Credit: Emar-Nar.com

Oh boy…I think I ate no less than 80 böreks when I was in Turkey. Böreks are salty pastries made of Turkish cheese and spinach. Other versions include meat or potatoes. These pastries can sometimes be glowing because of the oil used to prepare them, but the texture is so unique and the taste so special. This dish is one to remember.

The Pide

Turkish pide
Credit: Naïs Boekholt

This one is for pizza lovers, as pide is the Turkish pizza. It is made of bread dough and garnished with almost everything you can imagine for a pizza (cheese, meat, vegetables…). The pide can be very rich and fill you for the rest of the day. I tried not to eat much of pide when I was in Turkey, but the temptation was hard. Yeah, you got it, this article is filled with food that will take you straight to the diet once back home. But it’s soooo worth it.

Köfte

Turkey Kofte
Credit: Leblogistanbul.com

Köfte can be literally translated as “meatballs”. They are loved by locals and by tourists. This Turkish speciality can also be found in other cultures. Köfte are made of minced lamb or beef meat, mixed with spices and onions. But the recipe can be different depending on the town or region. They can be grilled, boiled or even fried. Personally, I tried all the versions of köfte in Turkey and couldn’t choose which one is the best.

The Dolma

Turkey Dolma
Credit: lepetitjournal.com

Dolmas are stuffed vegetables. It can be eggplants, zucchinis, bell peppers, cabbages and pumpkins stuffed with meat or cooked rice. If its stuffed with meat, the dolma is supposed to be eaten warm and steaming. But when it’s stuffed with rice, it’s better to eat it cold, as an appetizer. In Turkey, a dolma stuffed with no meat is called “yalancı dolma”, meaning “fake dolma”, as Ottomans saw dolmas as a meat dish.

The most famous version of dolma is the one made with vine leaves (and actually, my favorite). They can be stuffed both with meat or rice. I even bought once canned dolmas… Please don’t reproduce my mistakes, especially if you want to keep your love for dolmas.

Turkey Dolma
Credit: Turkish Foodie

The İşkembe

Turkey Iskembe
Credit: Pinterest

Story-Time: This one was my love-hate relationship in Turkey. When in arrived in Cappadocia to do a hike in the desert, my friends and I had lunch before the hike. I had the desire to try food specialties, so I took an İşkembe, one of Turkey’s and Middle East’s most traditional soup. It was presented to me as a great remedy against dry skin, deliciously meaty, with garlic and lemon taste. During our hike in the desert, we had tea with our guide, who explained me that the İşkembe was indeed a popular and delicious…sheep guts soup.

I’m not going to lie to you ; it was the first time I ate sheep’s guts in my life. I stood still for almost five minutes after learning this, which seemed very funny to my friends and our guide.

Slimy yet satisfying.

Mantı

Manti
Credit: Leblogistanbul

Manti are mini-raviolis stuffed with minced meat and onions. It is served is yogurt and melted butter. I fell in love with this plate so much that when I came back from Turkey, I cook this dish almost once a week at home. Even if different version of this plate exist in Middle East, manti are a Turkish speciality.

This plate is fatty…But God it’s so good !

Turkish Drinks

Ayran

Turkey Ayran
Credit: Toutvert

Now that you’ve become an expert like me in Turkish food, you must be aware of the most popular drinks in Turkey. The first one I discovered was the ayran. It is made of yogurt and water and has a light salty taste. I must admit when I tried it for the first time, I pulled a face. But I started to drink ayran more and more, until being unable to stop. Even though I came back a year ago, I still drink ayran for lunch today.

Cay: the Turkish Tea

Turkey Cay
Credit: Routard-Grafvision

Cay means « tea » in Turkish. It is the traditional tea that you can drink anywhere. It comes from the Rize region, close to the Black Sea. Made of black tea, it is infused for 15 minutes in a double teapot (containing the tea and extra water). The tea is not diluted when prepared. It is only on the customer’s demand that it can be diluted with water. Then, it is served in tulip shape glasses.

The cay is the drink of friendship. That’s why, when you go shopping in little shops like in Safranbolu and buy something, the seller can offer you cay as a symbol of your new friendship.

Coffee

Turkey Coffee
Credit: Daily Sabah

Alright, coffee lovers, be ready. I’m not a coffee drinker but when I arrived in Turkey, I was constantly in the mood to try new things. So I tried the traditional Turkish coffee. Big mistake ! Indeed, the Turkish coffee is extremely strong. So strong that when you order one, the waiter will serve it to you with a glass of water. If the coffee is so strong, it is because it is prepared like Ottomans used to do it.

It is prepared in pot called “cezve”, mixed with sugar. It must be cooked three times before being served (this technique makes the coffee stronger and reinforces all its flavors). In the Turkish tradition, when you finish your coffee, you have to put your cup upside down on the saucer. Then, the coffee’s dregs will reveal your future.

Turkish Deserts

Baklava

Hoooo…This is my favorite part when it comes to food…Deserts ! I don’t know for you guys but when I was young, I wasn’t a deserts’ fan…Not until I start to travel. First, Italy started to get me with gelato and cannolis. And then, I was doomed with Turkey. This country turned me into a sweet tooth. And everything started with this !

Turkey Baklava
Credit: Routard @anjelagr

BAKLAVAAAAS !

These pastries are worldwide famous but if you haven’t tried a real Turkish baklava in Turkey, that’s nasty ! Seriously, blaklavas gathered several pastries, but the most famous one is made of puff pastry covered in a special syrup (not honey) and stuffed with nuts and pistachios.

The first baklava I tried in my life was in a fancy restaurant in Ankara. The puff pastry was still warm, like the syrup. And on top of that, the baklava was served with Dondurma, the Turkish ice cream, made of cream and gum Arabic. It gives the ice cream elasticity and a chewy texture.

I’m not a violent person, but this desert is so good that I could kill for it.

Kunefe

Kunefe
Credit: Turkishtime.com

In Syria, they have the kadayif, in Turkey, they have the kunefe. I never knew my dream desert would contain cheese until I try kunefe. This pastry is made of two thin layers of puff pastry, filled with cheese. It is served boiling hot, bathing in syrup and covered with kaymak (thick cream) and pistachios.

This is the most delicious delicacy I ever tried (and the 4 pounds I gained during my time were so worth it, again).

Lokmas

Loukma
Credit: Proder

Another pastry that will take you straight to the gym once back home. It’s really funny because I discovered this little beignet when I was in Creete. The lokma does have a Greek cousin, called loukoumades. Lokma means « a bite » because it’s very small and can be eaten in one bite. This pastry is fried dough drenched with syrup. When you bite it, it’s a little crunchy, and then, all the syrup spreads and the beignet melts in your mouth.

In Creete, loukoumades can be served with Nutella as a topping.

Turkish Delights

Turkey Loukoum
Credit: Toutistanbul

I can’t end this article without talking of Turkish delights (also known as lokum). They are made of starch and sugar, covered in icing sugar and perfumed with rose water. They can also contain nuts, almonds, pistachios or even be perfumed with vanilla, coffee, saffron, chocolate, cinnamon, mint…Yeah, there are as much lokum perfumes in Turkey as there are tea perfumes in India.

Food, the underrated cultural power

Food is sometimes a cultural heritage we almost forget. You can learn the language of the country you stay in or dress like a local (and if you can do this without looking ridiculous, I’ll be very impressed), but without gastronomy, you can’t be a real traveler. Like a friend of mine says : “You are not a true New Yorker if you haven’t eat a New York hotdog”.

When I travel, I keep this motto in mind to discover as much as possible. Would Italy be the same without its gelato, or Scotland without its haggis ? Could you imagine Spain without paella or turrón, or China without Xiao long bao or Peking duck ? Impossible.

We don’t often see it this way but food is also a great way to open your mind to new culture. It’s also the best memories you can bring from your vacation, as you can live it again and again, while trying to recreate a recipe in your kitchen.

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