Turkey has amazing food and boasts many specialties. There’s kebaps, koftë, pide, simit, baklava, and of course all the yummy items you can get as meze before a meal. While you can get a fantastic upscale modern meal in Istanbul, the traditional delicacies and snack food are affordable and amazing.
Let’s start with one of the most ubiquitous items: the simit. These can be found all over the streets of Istanbul, sold from wooden carts at all hours of the day. It’s kind of like a bagel, but larger and flatter. But it’s still fluffy on the inside and with a generous coating of sesame seeds there is plenty of flavor. It makes the perfect snack on the go.
Another snack found all over Istanbul: roasted chestnuts. We didn’t sample any, but they smelled delicious.
When we got off in the town of Rumeli Kavağı after our cruise up the Bosphorous we were a little hungry. We popped into a little bakery that had lots of goodies. We got some kind of almond sweet cake number that did the trick.
On our first night in Turkey we were too tired to go very far for dinner so the guy at our hotel took us to a typical pide restaurant. Pide is Turkey’s version of pizza, although it’s pretty different. It consists of a thick dough made into an oval-ish shape and then topped with your choice of various meats or cheese, sometimes left open and sometimes covered with another layer of dough. I opted for a cheese one while Manor sampled a spicy beef number.
If you’re in Istanbul, a must-eat is some fried fish on Galata Bridge. You get to see all the fisherman hauling in their catches, and then you get to eat it! The most popular way is in a sandwich with some veggies. And, it’s only 5 liras!
Knafeh, or künefe in Turkish, is a delicious Middle Eastern dessert made from shredded pastry dough that is then layered with soft, creamy cheese, and then doused in a sugar syrup and topped with crushed pistachios. Yes, it is delicious. But half the fun was watching the chef make the tasty treats, it’s a fascinating process.
Walking through the spice bazaar, there were many tasty items to smell and eat. We sampled this yummy string cheese and if we had some kind of refrigerator I would have bought some. Of course Manor could not resist buying some halva, which was fantastic–Manor has fully converted me to a halva lover, as long as it’s the fresh kind. Packaged halva like Joya that you can get in the U.S. gives halva a bad name!
Of course we had to have a good sampling of baklava. The most highly recommended shop, called Güllüoğlu, actually has a location in New York that I’ve been to, but I’d like to think the ones we bought in Turkey tasted better. Also, they don’t carry my favorite baklava flavor in New York: chocolate! Yup, chocolate baklava, one of the best things ever. We got a nice variety of flavors from Güllüoğlu, including pistachio and walnut in addition to the chocolate. This box of treats took us through Ephesus and Pamukkale and were still just as good.
One of my favorite meze, or appetizers, in Turkey are sigara boregi, these phyllo dough rolls filled with feta cheese and a little parsley that are fried to perfection. They make the perfect snack!
The classic hot drink in Turkey (besides Turkish coffee, of course) is apple tea. If you go into any shop they will sit you down, bring you a glas of apple tea, and try to sell you any number of rugs or other items. It’s actually not tea, it’s more like a hot apple cider and perfect for those days when it’s a bit chilly outside. In Turkey tea is served in these curved glasses that are easy to hold from the top without burning yourself.
The national cold (non-alcoholic–the alcoholic drink is of course raki) drink is sour cherry juice. Tons of cherries grow in Turkey and we actually stayed in a village near Ephesus called Kirazli Koy, which literally means cherry village, as it is surrounded by cherry trees. We stayed at a guesthouse and our hosts served us this amazingly fresh cherry juice. It was a bit tart and super delicious.
We were also served another traditional Turkish delicacy in Kirazli: kaymak, or Turkey’s version of clotted cream. I am not exaggerating when I say this may be one of the best things I have ever eaten. Usually served with honey and best spread on some crusty bread, this stuff is incredible. It’s light and fluffy but dense and creamy at the same time. I’m only sorry we didn’t discover it sooner as I surely would’ve eaten it every morning. This article does kaymak justice, as well as mentioning a few places in Istanbul to get some.
Another classic Turkish dish, especially in the area around Izmir and Ephesus, is gözleme. It’s kind of the Turkish version of a pancake, but it’s more like a crepe. Super thin dough is wrapped around any number of fillings, but cheese is my favorite. It’s another one of those things that’s super cheap and you get a lot of it.
We also sampled some Ayran, a classic Turkish yogurt drink. It’s not sweetened, and in fact contains salt, although not too much. I still couldn’t drink very much of it, but Manor managed to finish it.
On our drive back to Ephesus from Pamukkale, we had to stop at the site of this food truck. Yes, even the Turkish countryside has food trucks! The proprietor was serving up kokareç, a spicy lamb sandwich that Manor couldn’t say no to. And he was glad he didn’t!