What to Eat in Turkey: Turkish Foods You Have to Try!

What to Eat in Turkey: 13 Turkish Foods You Have to Try!

The most famous Turkish dishes might include the likes of doner and shish kebabs, but there’s so much more to traditional food in Turkey than these internationally-known staples.

I’ve gorged on delightfully simple fish sandwiches (balik ekmek) on the banks of the Bosporus, I’ve eaten my way through the vast kavhalti (breakfast) spreads in the city of Van, and I’ve sustained myself on long hikes with nothing but a traditional gözleme (a savory, stuffed pancake). 

From Adana kebabs on the shores of the Mediterranean to cheesy pide in the remote provinces of the east, collectively, I’ve spent several months of my life traveling (and eating) my way around the country. Now, I’m going to show you my favorite Turkish foods so you too can have an amazing time eating your way around this inspiring foodie destination!

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What to Eat in Turkey: 13 Turkish Foods You Have to Try!

1. Pide

Best Foods to Try in Turkey: Pide

One of the most famous foods in Turkey, pide is best described as the Turkish style of pizza, and no matter which town or city you’re in – from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea – you’ll always find a pide shop, with their distinctive wood-fired ovens kept warm all through the day.

Typical pide has a boat-like shape to it, rather than the circular style of pizza you might be accustomed to. The dough is loaded up with vegetables, doner meat, or just a smattering of cheese before being baked until crispy in the oven.

They’re often sliced up into thin, finger-sized portions, which are perfect for an on-the-go snack or as part of a larger shared meal. 


2. Köfte

Traditional Foods to Try in Turkey: Köfte

Who doesn’t love meatballs? Well in Turkey, you can never go wrong with a big serving of köfte, the Turkish style of meatball beloved by meat eaters across the country. 

The Turkish köfte consists of a heap of either beef or lamb rolled up into a ball with a savory mix of garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and parsley (plus egg and breadcrumbs to hold the spherical shape together).  

The traditional köfte mix also includes a very specific Turkish meatball spice, which includes the likes of cumin, thyme, salt, and pepper. The meatballs are often skewered and cooked over hot coals, then served with rice, grilled vegetables, bread, and a dollop of yogurt. If you’re looking to try as many famous Turkish dishes as possible, add köfte to your list.


3. Adana Kebab

Unique Foods to Try in Turkey: Adana Kebab

If you’re a meat lover, then one of the best Turkish foods to try is the Adana kebab. This classic kebab dish is thought to originate from southeastern Turkey (where you’ll find its namesake city, Adana), but it’s now found all over the country. 

Chefs will first prepare the minced meat from fresh lamb, grinding spices and red peppers into the mixture. Once set, the minced meat is skewered and roasted over hot coals before being served with grilled vegetables, rice, and bread. 


4. Manti

Turkish Foods to Try List: Manti

One of my favorite Turkish foods is manti, a delightful dumpling dish that’s stuffed with exciting fillings. Manti is often described as ravioli, but far from being like the Italian pasta dish, this is a widespread style of dumpling that’s found all across Central Asia, Turkey, and the Balkans.

Manti are little parcels of joy, often stuffed with lamb or beef, but increasingly, you’ll also find veggie versions featuring cheese, potatoes, or mushrooms. Turkish manti is generally boiled, and the dish will be served with a dollop of yogurt and a little spice. 


5. Gözleme 

Local Foods to Try in Turkey: Gözleme 

When I was hiking the Lycian Way – a long-distance trail stretching along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, between Fethiye and Antalya – I couldn’t get enough gözleme. Best described as a savory pancake, you’ll see chefs in small villages and towns across Turkey preparing gözleme on large iron griddles. 

The dough is simple (often just flour and a little salt), and the large surface area of the griddle ensures that gözleme is thin and flat. Pre-cooked toppings, including potatoes and mixtures of minced beef and onion, are typically rolled up in the middle, while melted cheese was my favorite addition to this Turkish classic. 


6. İskender Kebab

Unique Foods to Try in Turkey: İskender Kebab

Another one of the best Turkish foods, the İskender kebab is a meaty, saucy dish consisting of slices of doner meat slathered in a tomato sauce, mixed with yogurt and butter, and served on pita bread.  

You’ll often hear that the İskender kebab is named after Alexander the Great (İskender is the Turkish version of the name Alexander), and for this reason, I’ve heard it called the “King of Kebabs” on countless occasions.

The reality is that the İskender kebab was created in the city of Bursa, sometime in the 19th century, by a man named İskender, who was certainly great at cooking kebabs. 


7. Balik Ekmek 

Must Try Foods in Turkey: Balik Ekmek

If you’re visiting Istanbul, then one of my favorite Turkish street foods is balik ekmek, a fish sandwich that’s ideally prepared with mackerel.

You’ll find the best balik ekmek (which literally means “fish bread” in English) for sale along the banks of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn, where you’ll see fishermen dangling long rods over Galata Bridge or off of the piers. 

The fishermen provide fresh mackerel to the cooks at sandwich shops and stalls in Istanbul – many of which you’ll find under Galata Bridge or among the floating restaurants on the waterside – who grill the fish and prepare a delectable sandwich garnished simply with lettuce, onions, and lemon juice. 


8. Kahvalti

What to Eat in Turkey: Kahvalti

One of the most famous Turkish dishes is kahvalti, which I like to call the “Full Turkish Breakfast.” This is the famed breakfast spread, which, in Turkish, more accurately translates into English as “Before Coffee.” 

Kahvalti is extensive and consists of a multitude of small plates, types of breads, jams, and cheeses, all served across a large table spread. You’ll often find sliced cucumber and tomato, alongside yogurt, olives, and a variety of eggs (either fried or boiled or served as dishes like menemen). 

Of course, kahvalti is always served with copious quantities of cay (tea), and once eaten, only then can you then enjoy your Turkish coffee. The best (or biggest) kahvalti is served in the eastern city of Kars, which is particularly renowned for its breakfast spreads. If you can’t make it that far east, then Van Kahvalti Evi is my go-to breakfast place in Istanbul!


9. Menemen

Turkish Foods to Eat: Menemen

One of the top breakfast dishes in Turkey (if you love eggs!) is menemen. Simply put, this is Turkey’s version of scrambled eggs, but it’s really much more than that.

Recipes vary, but you’ll typically find menemen prepared with diced tomatoes, peppers, and (debatably) onions. This is a one-pan dish, and the eggs are beaten before they’re cooked with a mix of veggies and spices.


10. Lahmacun 

Best Foods to Try in Turkey: Lahmacun

Like pide, lahmacun is often described as a Turkish take on pizza, but really, it’s best described as a flatbread packed with toppings. Generally spherical in shape, lahmacun comes in many different varieties, with minced meat being the most popular topping.

The minced meat can be mixed with diced vegetables, including tomato and onion, as well as herbs like garlic or parsley. It’s spread over the dough and then baked in a wood-fired oven. Unlike pizza, lahmacun isn’t typically prepared with cheese. It can be served flat or rolled up if you’re looking for an easy Turkish takeaway. 


11. Kumpir

Traditional Foods to Try in Turkey: Kumpir

Kumpir has to be one of my favorite Turkish street foods. This is an extreme version of the humble baked potato, and the first time you see the sheer quantity of toppings on offer, your belly will be awed!

Head to a kumpir eatery – there are several on İstiklal Avenue in Istanbul, for example, that you can’t miss – and you’ll see the servers behind the counter fluffing up the inside of the baked potato with butter and cheese before piling toppings sky high.

The best kumpir shops have row upon row of different toppings for you to choose from, ranging from sweetcorn and mushrooms to coleslaw and jalapeños. You simply select the toppings you want (you typically pay for two, three, or four toppings), and they’ll be added to the fluffed-up, buttery baked potato.


12. Baklava

Unique Foods to Try in Turkey: Baklava

If you’re a dessert lover wondering what to eat in Turkey, look no further than baklava. This is one of the most famous foods in Turkey, and for many travelers with a sweet tooth – myself included – it needs very little introduction. 

Baklava has a long history stretching back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. It’s known to have been a popular sweet dish among the sultans, who had it prepared in the kitchens of their lavish palaces, including Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. 

The dish is suitably fit for a sultan, given it consists of delicate layers of filo pastry, filled and topped with more layers of walnuts or pistachios. It’s cooked in butter and then doused in a sweet syrup or honey before being served. 


13. Lokum

Turkish Foods to Try List: Lokum

Another sweet that’s incredibly popular in Turkey is lokum, which is better known around the rest of the world as Turkish Delight. 

Lokum is prepared using a sugary, starchy gel that’s boiled with gelatin and rosewater, as well as other flavorings like fruits, cinnamon, or nuts (for a more savory taste). Once the jelly has set, it’s then dusted with sugar powder and sliced up into bite-sized chunks. 

I especially love wandering into a “lokum” shop at the end of a long day of sightseeing (particularly in Istanbul!) when you seriously appreciate that sugar rush after a few hours on your feet!

There you have it! 13 delicious Turkish foods you have to try. What are your favorite Turkish foods?


Author

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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