Disclaimer: The food you are about to experience may result in bouts of ecstatic rapture, food coma, incessant sighs of delight, and strong obsessive feelings about the superiority, glory, and variety of Turkish cuisine, and in very severe cases, repeated visits to Istanbul to get a fix of these local delights.
Drinks: Türk kahvesi (Turkish Coffee) No visit to Istanbul is complete without a Turkish coffee, simmered slowly on a stove over very low heat, and traditionally served from a copper cup-like ladle into espresso-sized glasses or metal cups. Talk about the metaphorical “cup of mud” - this stuff could power rockets. It’s delicious, strong, and leaves a sediment at the bottom of the cup – so be sure to stop drinking before you hit the grounds.
Sahlep - Try this creamy, luscious, and aromatic warm drink with a bit of nutty, earthy baklava. There are many versions, some with aromatic infusions or nutty flavors, and all are delicious.
Savory: Balık Ekmek - Sold just about everywhere from street stands, the balık ekmek ("fish bread") is a staple here. It usually consists of mackerel filet quickly grilled, salted and sprinkled with red pepper, served with onion, lettuce, and a wedge of lemon for squeezing over the top. It’s not fancy, but it’s simple, fresh, delicious, and totally satisfying.
Serme Kahvaltı - The mother of all breakfasts – it means “the breakfast spread”. It usually includes a mouthwatering selection of the following, along with baskets of freshly baked bread and Turkish tea: peynir - cheese, several different types; aymac ve bal - clotted cream served in a dish of honey; tereyağı - butter; zeytin - an assortment of olives; murtuga - bread coated in egg and flour and fried in oil; kavut - ground wheat, black pepper and sugar simmered together in butter; pekmez - fruit molasses; tahin - tahini; reçel - jam; haşlanmış yumurta - boiled eggs; domates, salatalık - tomatoes, cucumber.
Fasulye - This Anatolian-style baked bean dish is another classic. Large white beans served in a soupy tomato base with onions and chilli pepper. On the side you’ll enjoy a rice pilaf and bread to soak up the sauce, along with pickles and raw onions to cut the heaviness. It’s Turkish comfort food at its best.
Lahmacun - A hugely popular and very typical example of how Turkish cuisine is masterful at creating dishes that are simultaneously delicious, quick, and simple. A thin dough topped with a mix of wonderfully spiced minced meat and finely diced peppers, blasted for a minute in a scorching pizza-type oven, dressed with fresh parsley, drizzled with lemon, rolled up and devoured.
Durum - Flavorful, spiced, and juicy lamb skewers cooked over coals. Cooks hold flat-bread around the skewers for a few seconds to toast and simultaneously absorb the meaty juices, then fill it with the meat, red onions, tomatoes, parsley, and sumac and roll it up. It’s a sort of Turkish burrito, and a dish that you absolutely must try.
Sweets: Künefe - Turks love pairing salty and sweet, and this is the ultimate combo. Creamy white cheese (beyaz peynir) served with sweet ripe melon and eaten with honey or jam on bread.
Bal - Turkey produces some incredible honey and there are a number of stores specializing this single ambrosia. You’ll find gargantuan slabs of honeycomb sitting in pools of golden nectar, of all different grades and various provenances. Try the special Karakovan honey from the Kaçkar mountains, or honey with propolis. The next superfood, propolis is thought to be a natural antibiotic.
Lokum - It sounds simple, but oh so delightful. It’s become known globally as Turkish delight, because that’s exactly what it is. A variety of sweet gels, often flavored with rosewater, bergamot, or citrus flavors, and accompanied by various nuts or dates. Classic. What are you waiting for? Turkish cuisine is one of the world’s great discoveries. Plan your trip to Istanbul today and be sure to enjoy as many of these dishes as you can!