Food and Wine in Middle East -Turkish Cuisine
Turkish food combines a culinary tradition that began in the Ottoman era with an exciting fusion of Arabic, Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. In Turkey, a traditional belief is that it is healthier to eat when sitting on the floor, and so meals, especially dinner, are usually served on a large tray, which is then placed on a low table or on the floor. To eat, you sit on cushions and pillows on the floor around the tray. Traditional Turkish restaurants typically have such an area as well as the familiar European-style dining arrangement of tables and chairs.
While popular Turkish specialities can be found throughout the country there are also many regional specialities. Northern Turkey's cuisine along the Black Sea is based on corn and anchovies. The south-east, around Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana is famous for its kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts such as baklava, kadayif and künefe. Western Turkey's acres of olive trees ensure that olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking. Central Anatolia is famous for its specialities such as keskek, manti and gözleme, while the cuisines of the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean regions are rich in vegetables, herbs and fish. Often a dish will include the name of the city or region, suggesting that it is a specialty of that area, or a reference to the technique or ingredients used from that area. Nuts, especially pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts, together with spices, are frequently used in Turkish cuisine. Here are some famous Turkish dishes not to be missed:
Meze and salads
Meze is a selection of food typically served as an appetiser (often with alcoholic drinks) or as a main course that can include olives, marinated vegetables, cheese, stuffed eggs and yoghurt, and is usually served cold.
Cacik - Cucumber with yoghurt, dried mint and olive oil.
Kisir - Prepared with tomato paste, parsley, onion, garlic, sour pomegranate juice and a lot of spices.
Acili ezme - Hot and spicy freshly mashed tomato with onion and green herbs.
A Turkish meal usually starts with a thin soup known as çorba.
Iskembe - A delicious thick soup with mutton tripe.
Bademli tavuk - Chicken soup with almond.
Lamb from milk-fed lambs is especially favoured in Turkey.
Shish kebab - Pieces of fresh lamb or beef threaded on a skewer and grilled with onion and other vegetables.
Doner kebab - Pieces of lamb packed tightly around a revolving spit.
Shashlik - Juicy mutton kebab marinated with honey, olive oil and spicy herbs inside a crispy crust.
Mahmudiye - Chicken meat mixed with honey, apricots, almonds, currants and black pepper.
Kofte - Minced meat with rice, spices and herbs served on salad leaves, with lemon and pepper.
Cerkes tavugu - Freshly pounded chicken and walnuts.
Turkish musakka - Prepared with sautéed and fried eggplants, green peppers, tomatoes, onions and minced meat.
Manti - A spiced mixture of lamb or ground beef in a dough wrapper, served with yoghurt and garlic and spiced with red pepper powder and melted butter.
In Turkish cuisine, fish is usually grilled or fried and served with lemon juice. In Istanbul, grilled fish served in bread with tomatoes, herbs and onion is a popular fast food. Always ask the price of seafood before ordering as fish is usually priced by weight and varies widely according to the time of year and standard of restaurant. Popular fish include: anchovy, sardine, bonito, bream, red mullet, sea bass, swordfish, turbot and white grouper.
Balik dolma - Stuffed fish.
Balik iskender - Fish soup prepared with vegetables, onion and flour.
Dolma - Vine leaves or vegetables stuffed with pine nuts and currants.
Mercimek köfte - Although named köfte, this dish contains no meat. Instead, red lentil is used as the major ingredient together with spring onion and tomato paste.
Mücver - Minced squash/courgette or potatoes, egg, dill and/or cheese and flour either fried or baked in the oven.
Çilbir - Made with eggs, yogurt and oil.
Ispanakli yumurta - Eggs with roasted spinach and onion.
Pilaf(s) and pastas
Iç pilav - Rice with liver slices, currants, peanuts, chestnut, cinnamon and herbs.
Acem pilavi - Rice with lamb, pistachios and flavoured with cinnamon.
Manti - A special Turkish pasta of dough balls containing minced meat served with yoghurt and spices such as oregano, dried mint, sumac and red pepper powder.
Pitta - A round wheat flatbread.
Simit (also known as gevrek) - A ring-shaped bread covered with sesame seeds commonly eaten plain or with cheese, butter or marmelade.
Desserts and pastries
These are often eaten as snacks with Turkish coffee.
Gözleme - A savoury hand-rolled pastry of spinach and fetta cheese.
Sigara boregi - Cheese and spinach-filled deep-fried pastries.
Turkish delight - Originally made from dates, honey, roses and jasmine bound by Arabic gum and designed to sweeten the breath after coffee.
Baklava - A rich and sweet pastry made with layers of dough filled with chopped walnuts or pistachios and sweetened with syrup or honey.
Kadayif - Similar to baklava, using shredded dough/phyllo.
Künefe - Kadayif with a layer of melted cheese served hot with pistachio or walnut.
Muhallebi - A milk pudding, served cold and dusted with pistachio nuts or chocolate.
Sütlaç - Rice pudding cooked in an earthenware cup.
Wine has been produced in Turkey for more than 6,000 years and a range of grape varieties are grown in Turkey from pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon to semillion, chardonnay and riesling. By comparison with other major wine producers, Turkish wine is expensive (thanks to high government taxes) and can often cost more than a fine meal in a good restaurant. Try the Ozel Kav Special Reserve, a full strong bodied red wine aged in oak barrels and made from selected grapes of the Marmara and Aegian regions; the Özel Kav White Special Reserve with a dry, smooth taste; Moskado, a medium dry, fruity white wine; and the Villa Doluca Rosé, a rosé wine made from the Grenache and Karasakiz varieties.
It is customary to tip 10 to 12 per cent in expensive restaurants even if a service charge is included in the bill. In cheaper restaurants, just leave a few coins in the change plate.
Best time to go
Best in summer as it can be very cold and wet in winter. Marmara, the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts have a typical Mediterranean climate with hot summers averaging around 30°C.
Visit Istanbul's famous Kapali Carsi Bazaar for Turkish handicrafts including copper, onyx and tile, inlaid mother-of-pearl articles, leather and suede jackets and bags, jewellery, carpets and kilims. All major cities have bazaars.
Did you know?
Turkey is a secular state and while Islam forbids drinking alcohol, many Turks are European in their lifestyle and enjoy alcoholic beverages with meals: beer, wine, and raki (clear grape brandy flavored with anise and diluted with water) are the favourites. However, during Ramadan it is considered polite for visitors to avoid drinking alcohol in public.
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