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If you’re visiting Turkey soon and want to learn more about Turkish food, you’ve come to the right place.
Guided by Hazal, a food expert and writer from Turkey, our in-depth guide takes a closer look at the history behind Turkish food and puts the spotlight on 26 delicious traditional Turkish foods.
Whether you want to cook them at home or order them at a Turkish vendor or restaurant, there’s a wide range of foods on this list that even the most casual of foodies will be able to find joy in.
Introduction to Turkish Food
Turkish food and Turkish cuisine are often both rich and savory, a true fusion and refinement of Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Greek, and Eastern European cuisine due to the legacy of the Ottoman Empire. The country’s vast array of specialties has, in turn, influenced the cuisines both in neighboring countries and countries across the globe.
Turkish cuisine includes a mouth-watering combination of indulgent mezes (tapas), fresh vegetables, seasoned meat, and sweet, sticky pastries. It incorporates some of the tastiest foods in the Mediterranean, which is an excellent place to start when building a world-class cuisine!
Few countries can fuse Asian, Middle Eastern, and European cuisine in such a wonderful way, but Turkey does it exceptionally well. We felt it a crime not to take a closer look at Turkish food and make it one of our top travel foods for travelers far and wide.
So, if you’re ready and raring to go, let’s get close and personal with these Turkish cuisine delights you simply must try when you visit the vast and beautiful country of Turkey.
26 Traditional Turkish Foods You Simply Must Try
Turkish Starters or Meze
1. Mücver (Zucchini Fritter)
This popular Turkish food is similar to a vegetable pancake or fritter. It’s made with the most commonly used summer squash in Turkey: zucchini.
It’s an incredibly versatile dish because you can add many different vegetables to the batter, which is made of shredded zucchini.
Vegetables commonly added include shredded potatoes, carrots, and onions. Besides the shredded vegetables, the fritter batter contains flour, oil, eggs, and salt.
The batter is fried on both sides until golden brown. It’s served with crusty bread, a leafy salad, or garlic-infused yogurt. Mücver can also be eaten as a cold snack and is a very filling and popular Turkish food.
2. Mercimek Corbasi (Lentil Soup)
Mercimek Corbasi is a very simple, everyday Turkish food based on red or orange lentils. It’s a delicious lentil soup made by pureeing lentils and spices.
It is often garnished with melted butter, cilantro, and lemon juice, with a side of pickled vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, and olives.
This warming and filling soup is often served with hot pitas on the side, ensuring a warm, melting sensation within you.
This Turkish national savory pastry is flaky and delicious, filled with spinach and cheese or minced beef and other meats.
Borek can be layered like lasagna, served as puffs, or rolled, and created as small individual pastries or as a whole in a pan. It’s a popular Turkish food across the countries of the Balkans.
Turks eat it for breakfast, lunch, as a snack, or for dinner. It’s a hearty delicacy that’s best enjoyed when served warm with Turkish tea.
Read more: Borek Recipe
4. Pide (Turkish Flatbread or Pizza)
One of the most popular Turkish foods, this boat-shaped pastry is made with slightly thick dough and a wide range of fillings.
The most typical fillings include different meats, fresh vegetables, cooked spinach, eggs, spicy Turkish sausage sujuk/sucuk, and cheese. The dough is then baked in a high-heat stove oven.
According to many people, this Turkish food is the closest version of a Turkish pizza you can find. Pide is best enjoyed when served warm. You can find it at many takeaway establishments around the country, and you can eat it as a starter or as a main.
5. Manti (Dumplings)
Manti is the Turkish version of Italian ravioli but with a unique taste and texture. The miniature ravioli are fried or boiled dumplings with lamb or beef filling, seasoned with a wide range of spices. The spiced ground meat is simply delicious.
It’s usually served with garlic yogurt, spicy butter, and spicy tomato sauce, with mint and chili flakes sprinkled on top.
6. Kofte (Meatballs)
This Turkish food and country staple is, at the core, Turkey’s version of meatballs. They are patties or balls made with lightly cooked lamb or beef served and shaped in various ways.
Some prefer it with fresh herbs like mint and parsley in the meat, while others are simply happy with onion and spices.
While you can often find them in casseroles, coated in egg and fried, over salads, or in sandwiches, we suggest you try the original grilled recipe with rice and winter salad on the side. You can often find them wrapped in pita bread with some salad.
There’s even a vegetarian version made with chickpeas and vegetables. Kofte is a Turkish food that can pander to a diverse range of palates and people and is undoubtedly one of the country’s most delicious dishes.
7. Lahmacun (Thin Flatbread Pizza)
Lahmacun is a Turkish take on pizza, and it’s really popular across the country as a type of street food or kebab starter. It consists of a crispy flatbread spread with seasoned minced meat.
The seasonings can be any kind of salad drizzled with lemon juice. It can be pulled apart, folded in half, or wrapped. It’s a Turkish food full of flavors due to the different Mediterranean spices.
The flatbread is always freshly baked. There are also some varieties of Lahmacun that are spiced with the addition of sour pomegranate syrup or ground nuts.
8. Sis Kebabs (Shish Kebabs)
Sis Kebabs are popular not only across Turkey but also throughout the world. This Turkish meat dish consists of skewered pieces of meat cooked over hot charcoal.
It consists of perfectly cooked, marinated skewered lamb or beef cubes, usually served with rice, salad, and thin bread on the side. Or, it can be wrapped up in a thin sheet of flatbread, not hiding away the flavor of the meat.
Sis kebabs are best enjoyed hot, straight from the flames. They are savory, tender, and truly delicious.
Sis Kebabs form one of the cornerstones of Turkish cuisine, and Turkish people have brought this delightful dish to cities and countries all over the world.
Doner is a perfect Turkish food option for those who love meat sandwiches and subs. This classic Turkish food is a pita bread spread, a considerable amount of sliced meat, shavings of beef, chicken, or lamb, fresh vegetables, and spices, folded like a sandwich. Doner is also served as a main dish with rice, chips, and salad on the side.
The meat is full of flavors as it’s cooked on a rotating spit. There are many varieties of Doner around the world, some of the most popular being the Greek gyros, Arab shawarma, and Mexican Al pastor.
Once again, the Doner, like the Sis Kebab, sits high and mighty at the table of world-famous Turkish dishes.
10. Kuzu Tandir (Roasted Lamb)
This traditional Turkish food is a roasted lamb dish that’s similar to the Moroccan Mechoui. The meat is left to cook slowly, but the end result is a delicious and tender lamb that slowly melts in your mouth.
Traditionally, the meat is cooked in an oven made in the ground called tandir, hung over hot coals, and cooked for hours.
Seasonings include salt, pepper, lemon juice, bay leaves, and rosemary sprigs, so the fragrance is out of this world. It’s typically served with mashed potatoes or Turkish rice.
11. İmam Bayıldı (Stuffed Eggplants/Aubergines)
This Turkish delicacy is a colorful and nutritious vegetarian dish that translates into “the Imam fainted.” It consists of braised and simmered aubergines stuffed with bulgur, rice, and different vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions, and garlic, that, once stuffed, are then baked.
There’s also a version of this hearty and versatile dish for meat lovers, which adds beef to the filling.
Rich in taste and texture, it would be a shame not to enjoy it with a side of Turkish yogurt drink, in my humble opinion.
12. Hunkar Begendi (Sultan’s Delight)
This ancient Ottoman royal favorite dish is known as Sultan’s Delight. It is a lamb stew with soft, marinated lamb chunks served on top of pureed aubergine, melted cheese, and butter.
The aubergine and the lamb make a perfect combination of flavors that just work to perfection.
Nowadays, you can find other meats and dishes served with the delicious aubergine puree called Beğendi.
Dolma is a Turkish food that’s commonly served as a main dish. It consists of stuffed vegetables or vine leaves with a mixture of onion and rice.
The vegetables used for the preparation of Dolma are usually peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, and aubergine. But, the more popular version of the dish includes vine leaves instead of vegetables.
Besides being served as a main dish, Dolma is often included in the Turkish meze platters.
The non-vegetarian and more popular version of Dolma incorporates spiced minced meat in the filling. It is typically served with yogurt, oregano, and red pepper powder in oil.
It is believed that this Turkish dish, which is popular in the Balkan countries too, originates from the 17th century. This dish is one of many examples of the historical importance of Turkish cuisine.
14. Kokoreç (Wrapped Lamb or Goat Offal)
Kokoreç is a striking Turkish food commonly sold by street vendors. It is made with a couple of types of goat or lamb organs wrapped in intestines.
It’s known as hangover food in Turkey, so if you have a few too many beers one night, be sure to try it in the morning!
Kokoreç may not be for the squeamish, but Turks have enjoyed its unique and flavorsome taste for centuries.
The organ meat is marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Then, it’s wrapped tightly in the intestines and grilled horizontally on a rotating spit. The meat is cooked until brown and crispy on the outside.
It is usually served with thin flatbread, pickles, or brined hot peppers and is one of the most unique dishes you’ll have the opportunity to try when traveling through the country.
15. Menemen (Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes and Peppers)
Here’s a new way of serving eggs for breakfast – Menemen. This light Turkish breakfast is a cross between a vegetable stew and scrambled eggs.
Peppers, onions (the jury is still out on this ingredient), and tomatoes are cooked down to a broth, and whisked eggs are added. Then, everything is mixed well.
Additional ingredients that enrich the flavor of Menemen are the spicy Turkish sausage sujuk/sucuk or cheese. This Turkish dish goes exceptionally well with hot pita bread, as it’s encouraged to dip the bread in the mixture or spread Menemen on the bread to enjoy.
16. Nohutlu Pilav (Rice Pilaf with Chickpeas)
This Turkish food is just one version of the many Pilav dishes. Its core ingredients are rice with chickpeas and chicken. Nohutlu Pilav may be a simple dish, but it’s very filling and nutritious.
Layers of chickpeas and rice are piled high, topped with roasted chicken, as the juices blend well with the flavors of the rice and chickpeas.
It’s usually sold as street food with pieces of chicken. Nohutlu Pilav can be eaten as a main or side dish.
17. Iskender Kebab
This rich and satisfying Turkish food is particularly popular in the northwestern region of Turkey. It consists of thin slices of grilled lamb, topped with tomato sauce, and served over pita bread. The dish also incorporates melted sheet butter and yogurt.
For extra flavor, melted butter and tomato sauce are poured over the dish. It is a comforting food that’s best enjoyed warm, and it’s most commonly prepared during winter.
18. Kapuska (Cabbage Stew)
Kapuska is a hearty cabbage-based stew. There are many variations of the stew, and the dish is often enriched with additional ingredients such as meat, rice, bulgur, or beans.
Traditionally, the cabbage is stewed with tomatoes, onions, ground black pepper, and olive oil until perfectly tender.
A vegetarian version of Kapuska is made with the same ingredients except the meat. It’s a true comfort Turkish food for winter that keeps locals warm and cozy during the colder months.
19. Alinazik Kebab
This kebab variety is most popular in Gaziantep. Char-grilled aubergines (eggplants) are pureed and mixed with garlic yogurt sauce and topped with sweet lamb chunks that melt in your mouth. The lamb is usually stewed with red pepper paste, onions, tomato paste or tomatoes, and olive oil.
Aubergines in the traditional dish have a smoky flavor achieved from being roasted over a coal fire. Alinazik Kebab pairs well with turnip juice and winter salad on the side and is a must-try eggplant dish.
20. Ramazan Pidesi
Meaning “ramadan pita,” ramazan pidesi is a traditional Turkish bread made from a dough of wheat flour and yeast, typically topped with Nigella sativa and/or sesame seeds. This hugely popular bread is traditionally eaten during Ramadan for the early morning and fast-breaking meals.
Baked in a round, flat shape with a woven pattern, this bread is soft and comforting and much lighter and fluffier than other types of bread.
Circular and doughnut-like in shape, simit is a bread beloved for its sumptuously soft, chewy texture, with a delightful little crunch from the seeds, typically sesame, that coat the dough before baking. Found throughout Turkey, and known as “gevrek”, meaning “crisp,” in Istanbul, simit is also popular in the Balkans and the Middle East.
It is typically eaten for breakfast with tea, jam, cheese, and the yogurt-based beverage Ayran, but can be enjoyed at all times of the day. Keep your eyes peeled for street vendors who sell it stacked on a tray they balance on their heads!
22. Gullac (Rose Pudding)
This soft Turkish national dessert is usually prepared during Ramadan. It’s made with dough, rose water, milk, pomegranate seeds, and nuts.
Gullac has a unique texture and tastes sweet, creamy, and fragrant. Some variations of this dish include various toppings such as dried fruit and nuts.
This interesting Turkish dessert, which draws comparisons to Panna Cotta, was created by mistake.
It is believed that an Ottoman Sultan’s chef was trying to invent a new dessert based on an already popular chicken breast-based dessert (yes, this incredible dessert remains most popular to this day) and caramelized the bottom part of the dessert. The palace loved it, and word of the dish quickly spread.
Today, this caramelized milk pudding, also known as a burned-bottom milk pudding, is one of the most popular desserts in Turkey. As sweet dishes go, this should definitely be added to your must-try list.
Baklava is a rich, syrupy pastry dessert and is arguably the most popular dessert in Turkey. It is a sticky, sweet pastry made of layers of filo separated with oil and melted butter, traditionally filled with chopped nuts. Everything is held together with honey or syrup.
Today, you can find baklava with almost anything inside. The filling can include hazelnuts, pistachios, or cottage cream.
The sweet pastries are sliced into diamonds, squares, or triangles before baking. The cooked baklava is poured with a sweet syrup and allowed to soak in for hours, and sometimes even an entire day.
This beloved Turkish pastry is a rich and filling dessert that those with a sweet tooth should definitely try.
25. Kayısı Tatlısı
This traditional Turkish dessert dish consists of dried apricots filled with cottage cream and sprinkled with nuts.
It is perfectly sticky, syrupy, and sweet, with a satisfying crunch courtesy of the nuts. Firm and fleshy apricots help make the perfect Kayısı Tatlısı. When it comes to the filling, a Turkish cottage cream called kaymak is used.
This Turkish dessert may require time and effort to make, but it’s totally worth the wait. Kunefe or Kanafeh is a sweet and sticky treat that’s also popular in the countries of the Middle East.
The shredded pastry is soaked in traditional syrup and layered with special cheese, nuts, or clotted cream.
Most often, pistachios are scattered on top of the dessert. Different types of pastry can be used in the preparation of this dessert, depending on the region. It’s a Turkish food that dessert lovers simply have to try.
Read more: 23 Best Turkish Desserts You Should Try.
Turkish Food Summary
And there we have it – twenty-four of the most delicious Turkish foods that you simply have to try when you visit Turkey. Traditional Turkish cuisine has so much to offer, from the doner meat and meat dishes to the vegetable dishes and traditional Turkish tea.
Everywhere you look in Turkey, mouthwatering food can be found in abundance. It’s down to you to embrace it, seek it out, and try it!
Oh, and before you go, make sure you’re well-versed in the names and pronunciations so that you can ask to try these delicacies on the street or at a restaurant.
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Contributor: Hazal Erdil is a Turkish translator, writer, and avid foodie. She is deeply passionate about Turkish travel, culture, and cuisine.