Turkey or Turkiye is a country placed at a junction of two continents, Asia and Europe. Since ancient times, because of its unique location, the country has encompassed the elements of both the East and the West, the influence of which can be seen on its culture and lifestyle, including cuisine. Turkish Cuisine is an amalgamation of European, West Asian, Central Asian and Mediterranean Cuisines. An assortment of spices, vegetables, meats and techniques are utilised. With such an assorted gastronomy, whether you are foodie or not, Turkey won’t disappoint your taste palette.
Turkey is known as the place which gave the world one of its favourite street foods, the Doner Kebap. The country can be called as a ‘non-vegetarian’s paradise’ due to a variety of food options available for them.
Coming to the famed Doner Kebap, you’ll find a lot of eateries and carts offering this world famous street snack. Doner is often touted as the Turkish equivalent of the Shawarma, but hold on! It is different in taste, texture and of course, uses a different bread (Lavash or Pita).
Next is Pilav, a dish with a mixture of meat or fish, berries and rice or bulgur (a cereal derived from wheat). It is said that the Indian Pulao has its origins in Turkish kitchens, which has since adapted itself to the eating habits of the Indian Subcontinent.
Even the Kofta, a dish which is a featured item on menus of almost every Indian restaurant around the world, has a Turkish cousin, Kofte. Either boiled eggs, fish, lamb, beef (Inegol Kofte) mixed with a paste of bulgur, or breadcrumbs are given a round, ball-like shape and then fried in oil.
And of course, the Kebabs of Turkey deserve a mention too. Marinated, charcoal grilled and topped with tangy, juicy sauces, they are sure to make your mouth drool!
One famous Kebab recipe worth mentioning is the ‘Testi Kebab’ from the Cappadocia region of Turkey, a tract also famous for its clay pottery. A clay pot is filled with meat, vegetables, garlic and garnished with some butter. The pot is covered in foil and then put in an oven. In the end, the neck of the vessel is broken and voila! The cooked meat and vegetables in a stew like concoction are then ready to be relished.
Sis (pronounced Sheesh) Kebab is as popular in Turkey as it is in India. Different meats are marinated and utilised, but chicken is the star among them all.
And vegetarians, do not fret! There are a lot of dishes for you to savour as well while you enjoy your stay in Turkey….
Meze are appetisers usually served as breakfast in Turkey. Around a set of ten or more items can be served at once in small portions.
One of the regular Meze items is Mercimek Koftesi,a fried, pakora-like snackmade with ground lentils (Moong). Friendly for vegetarians and vegans alike. Usually eaten wrapped in a leaf of lettuce.
For those who love hot, spicy dishes, Ezme is a fiery salad made of a mixture of mashed tomatoes, garlic, onion, herbs and red chillies.
Sakasuka, is a dish with a mix of vegetables sauteed with a dash of olive oil.
Kisir, a bulgur based salad garnished with pomegranate seeds, spring onions, tomatoes and chillies are sure to give your meal a Mediterranean feel.
Turkish Kofte are available in vegetarian options as well, where meat is substituted with bulgur or ground walnuts.
Then there is Dolma, where vegetables like capsicum and brinjals are stuffed with either vegetables or vegetarian Pilav and then cooked. A unique variant of Dolma is prepared by using grape leaves instead of vegetables as a covering.
Turkish Peynir. Sounds similar right? It resembles Indian Paneer,but is actually similar to Feta cheese in terms of taste and texture. Peynir has a slight salty taste as it is aged for months before it is available for consumption.
In addition, there are other Turkish cheeses which easily rival their European counterparts. Tulum is a creamy goat-derived cheese aged in a casing of goatskin, that differs in texture but melts once you place it in your mouth.
And Eski Kashar, which is a hard cheese variety resembling Parmesan cheese.
Turkish vegetable pickles in brine or Tursu are a good accompaniment to any meal, just like our good old Achar.There is an assortment of Tursu vegetable pickles, including carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, okra and so on.
For those who prefer bread over rice, the Turkish have a menu of assorted breads for them.
Lavash is a Turkish cousin of Naan.
Bazlama is a variant of a roti, only a few centimetres thicker.
Gozleme resembles a stuffed vegetable or a meat paratha.
Lahmacun, colloquially called the ‘Turkish Pizza’. This cheese-free ‘pizza’ is actually a roti topped with minced meat (Qeema), vegetables and herbs.
Of all, there’s one bread which is said to fill up the bellies of the Turks in every corner of their country, and that is, the Simit. Simit are large, doughnut-shaped breads, topped with either poppy, sunflower or flax seeds, and are sold almost everywhere, whether it is a large city like Istanbul or a village in the countryside.
Almost everyone will agree that a meal is not over without a dessert. Of all the desserts, the Turkish Baklava has found its place in many fine restaurants around the globe. But, the crisp, fragrant, layered, pistachio-flavoured Baklava is not the only dessert which Turkey offers.
Lokum or Turkish Delight as it is popularly known, is a chewy sugar-based confection which is also popular as a souvenir. Pistachio-flavoured Lokum is a popular choice, however other exotic flavours such as coconut, hazelnut, chocolate are also available at confectionery stores.
Helva, familiar to Indians as Halwa is also a popular dessert relished in Turkey. Helva can be either made from flour or semolina (Rava or Sooji).
Hosaf is a unique dessert made with dry fruits like apricots, raisins and figs, firstboiled in a mixture of sugar and water and then consumed chilled.
And how can one forget the famous Turkish Ice-Cream or Dondurma? It has a reputation for not melting quickly, and has become viral in recent years on social media for the tricky yet entertaining way it is offered by ice-cream vendors.
Accompanying all the food and the desserts, there should also be something to drink. And the Turks do offer beverages in their style.
The Turks love their black tea, called Cay in Turkish (not difficult to pronounce, it’s Chai!). They also consume a lot of coffee, which is made from thinly ground coffee beans, and served unfiltered.
The Turks do have a lot of caffeine, but they also have healthy beverage options, like the Ayran which is a yoghurt-based drink similar to Indian Lassi and,
Shalgam, a juice made of Turkish Black Carrot, a peculiar-looking, yet nutritious vegetable.
A variety of refreshing and unique flavoured Sherbets are also available as cool beverages in Turkey. Rose is the most popular flavour. Other flavours which you can try include pomegranate, tamarind, lemon and hibiscus.
For liquor connoisseurs, foreign brands are available in the country. And the Turkish too offer their own Swadeshi wines!
The Pamukkale Anfora is a red wine with a tinge of fruits such as strawberries and bananas.
And the minty Okuzgozu, another red wine with an aroma of cherries and cranberries.
Liquor is available everywhere in Turkey throughout the year, though it is difficult to procure during the month of Ramadan and other Islamic holy days.
When you are on a trip to Turkey, you can buy spices like saffron as souvenirs from its historic bazaars, like the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul.
Also, look out for different types of Turkish Teas available for purchase, whether it is the regular Cay or unique flavours such as pomegranate, apple and jasmine.
Confectionery such as Lokum/Turkish Delight can be bought and stored in a refrigerator back home, and can be consumed safely for up to a month.
Cheeses like Tulum are relatively lighter on your pockets, and serve as good souvenirs for cooking aficionados.
Regarding liquor, as per the Indian Customs regulations, two litres of alcoholic beverages are permitted in-flight, not subject to any duty, so wine enthusiasts can rejoice!
While visiting any foreign country, it is a must that you feast on their local culinary offerings in order to get a ‘taste’ of their culture. With a range of gastronomic options to choose from, Turkey is indeed a ‘gourmet paradise’. A variety of dishes, desserts and beverages available to indulge in, the country will delight foodies and not-so-foodies alike. So, when are you planning your next trip to Turkey to experience its rich culinary culture?