Turkey is a country known for many things, but one of its defining characteristics is that it popularly has one of the best cuisines in the world.
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From Turkish coffee to traditional Turkish tea served with Turkish delight, traditional Turkish food (and the Turkish dessert) are amazing.
One of the main reasons for this, is that Turkey is perfectly situated in the midst of many different cultures, turning it into a multicultural place, with a mixture of influences that merge together.
Turkish cuisine, therefore, is influenced by Mediterranean cuisine, Middle East cuisine, Central Asian cuisine, Eastern European cuisine, and more!
It’s why you are guaranteed to find a Turkish dish you enjoy, no matter your preferences.
If you’re planning a trip to Turkey, or you simply want to get to know Turkish food so you can try some out yourself, then we recommend starting out with the most popular and well-known dishes.
There are plenty to choose from, but as an introduction, we’ve compiled a list with the top 12 best Turkish dishes!
Let’s jump right into them:
1. Çiğ Köfte
Traditionally speaking, Çiğ Köfte was a meat dish made out of raw mince and plenty of spices.
The mince was shaped into long rolls, rubbed against the side of a special Turkish plate designed to make them, while the spices were added.
It was most often made for special occasions, and was served with rice and salad.
However, nowadays, Çiğ Köfte is almost always a vegan dish! This is because raw mince is now banned from shops and restaurants, and can therefore not be served.
(You might be able to get the traditional raw meat version if you go to a small town or someone invites you over to their home for food!)
Instead, the raw mince is now substituted by a paste of onions, tomato, and red pepper. It is still shaped into distinctive rolls with a special plate, and it is served with rice and lettuce leaves.
It makes for a light appetizer that can be found in many restaurants, served before the big meal.
Dolma directly translates into “filling”, and that is what this dish is all about. The dish can be made with either pepper, zucchini, vine leaves, cabbage leaves, or chard leaves.
Whichever you end up using, the dish consists of stuffing the leaves with a mixture of ground beef and rice, along with plenty of spices for flavoring.
Then it’s rolled up, and cooked in diluted tomato paste.
There is also a vegetarian version, in which the leaves are stuffed with vegetable mixtures and pastes, instead of with meat.
The beauty of this dish is that you can make it to preference, as you can switch up the filling as desired.
The only important bit is that you are filling the leaves with something, and making it tasty.
It is then often served with yogurt, which is a signature addition to almost any Turkish dish!
If you like anchovies, then you are 100% going to love the Turkish Hamsi dish because that is essentially what hamsi is...it’s anchovies!
Turkey has a huge coastline, so it is no wonder that fishing is one of the biggest industries they have there, adding plenty of seafood to their cuisine.
Hamsi is usually caught fresh from the Black Sea, and although it is then most often fried, it can also be poached or baked.
It is coated in a tiny bit of flour, and then cooked whole, usually in a wheel formation which has helped make it stand out.
It is most commonly served with a green salad and is usually accompanied by side dishes of different types. It’s delicious, healthy, and can be seasoned in different ways for extra flavor, depending on your preference!
4. İmam bayıldı
İmam bayıldı is another highly popular dish in Turkey, and it is basically just eggplant.
(Eggplant is used quite a lot in Turkish cuisine, so it is no wonder this dish is so traditional there!)
The eggplant is cut in half, along its length, with multiple smaller slits being cut into it. Then, it is fried in a lot of olive oil.
(We could say that the biggest Mediterranean influence on Turkey is the huge amount of olive oil used.)
The eggplant absorbs all of the olive oil, and then the slits are filled with extra ingredients, usually tomato or onion sauce, with plenty of herbs and seasoning.
Then, it is baked in the oven and served with some bread and yogurt.
A super delicious dish with all the earthy flavors of Turkey, with it being surprisingly filling too!
There’s a saying that states that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and if that’s true, then Turkey is doing an amazing job at getting the day started.
One of their traditional breakfasts is an array of delicious dishes, with a mix that offers something for everyone.
It is a breakfast that you will commonly have at all Turkish hotels and accommodations, and it is not something to miss out on!
Amongst the many dishes, you will find selections of salads, vegetables, and fruits. You will also find olives of different types, and cheese served in many different ways, paired with crispy bread.
It is also common to find a deep-fried section, with cured meats and dough pastries that are filled with all sorts of conserves and sauces.
And of course, a Turkish breakfast must be accompanied by a good amount of tea, which also has many varieties.
Truth is, Turkish breakfast is a mixture of everything imaginable, and different places will have different selections, so you will never get bored of trying it out!
Okay, so you know the eggplant dish we already talked about? The İmam bayıldı? Well, karnıyarık is basically the same exact dish...but it’s the meaty version of it!
It’s quite common for Turkish dishes to have both a vegetarian version and a meaty version, but with the eggplant dish, it’s so popular that the meat version has become its own thing entirely.
Once again, the eggplant is sliced in half with many slits along the sides.
It is fried in a big amount of olive oil so that it absorbs the earthy flavor, and then it is filled with a combination of vegetables, sauces, and meat! Ground beef and lamb are the two most popular options for the stuffing in this case.
Then it is baked in the oven and served with some bread and yogurt.
It might not look tidy on the plate, but it’s delicious and filling, and a perfect example of what Turkish cuisine looks like!
Okay, so most people associate kebabs with Turkey, as they have become incredibly popular worldwide.
Only in Turkey, kebab is most often written with a p!
The thing about kebabs is that there are many variations, giving you plenty of types to choose from.
However, what remains more or less the same no matter the type of kebab, is that they are made from meat that has been either thinly sliced, cubed, or minced, and then plated or wrapped to be served with salad or vegetables.
Traditionally, the meat used in kebabs will be either chicken, lamb, or beef, and quite often you can choose to have a combination of all three within the dish.
One of the most popular types of kebab (which we have shown in the photo) is the Adana kebab, made with spiced minced beef that is squished onto skewers and cooked over a fire.
Shish kebab, another popular option, is cubed pieces of meat, on a skewer, grilled until they are perfectly crispy and delicious.
And the most popularly known type of kebab, outside of Turkey, is the Doner kebab, made with meat that is sliced from a rotating stack, and then served by wrapping it in bread with salad and sauce.
What can’t be denied, is that there’s a type of kebab for everyone, and the variety always keeps this dish interesting.
Plus, it’s incredibly filling and it’s the perfect meal to keep you going if you’re touring around Turkey on a visit!
Köfte is such a popular dish in Turkey, that there are special köfte restaurants where they serve...yup, köfte!
They might serve other things, but most commonly, they will only serve different types of köfte, so don’t go in expecting anything other than what the name indicates!
Köfte is quite similar to meatballs, but with a Turkish twist. They are made with spice minced beef, which is then shaped into little rolls and fried.
It can be served with a huge variety of different sides, and that is where the different options come in.
It is also most popularly served with some hot red pepper sauce, and all in all, it’s an incredibly tasty dish that will leave you warning for more!
Upon a first glance, Manti kind of looks like Italian ravioli, but don’t be fooled by its appearance! It is not pasta at all, instead, it is made with dough.
The dough is shaped into little parcels, and they are then filled with a mixture of meat, although they can alternatively be filled with a mixture of vegetables for the vegetarian option.
The parcels of dough are then served in tomato sauce, melted butter with chili pepper, and garlic yogurt.
To some, it might sound like an odd mixture of ingredients, but it is absolutely delicious and one of the most popular dishes in Turkish restaurants.
It can also be bought ready-made at shops, so you simply warm it up at home and serve it.
It is a highly traditional dish that has been made for generations, and to many Turkish people, it tastes like their childhood.
Meze is another traditional Turkish meal that is defined by showcasing a selection of many different small dishes. (Kind of like the Turkish version of Spanish tapas!)
Traditionally speaking, the meze is a meal designed to be accompanied by raki, a special Turkish drink. However, you can also have it while drinking something else, don’t worry!
All of the dishes are easy to make, and the selection can vary according to preference.
The idea of it is to have a spread of dishes on the table, so that a group of friends can eat and hang out together, for hours.
Some of the most common dishes are salad mixtures, vegetable mixtures, and seafood-based dishes.
You might think it’s a bit odd to have sugar as a dish, but here’s the thing, Turkey loves sugar.
They have a very big sweet tooth, and they have come up with plenty of dishes that are sugar-based and delicious!
Turkish delights, for example, are known worldwide, and the name tells you exactly where they are from!
Plus, Turkey has some of the best ice creams in the world, which pairs excellently with the hot weather during the summer months.
Turkey has a huge selection of sweets, desserts, and sweet pastries.
They like to pair their sugar with bread and nuts, along with spices and different types of cheese.
There are food establishments fully dedicated to giving you a taste of all the best desserts, and these are a must. If you see a pastry shop or a sweet shop, you are bound to find some delicacies within.
Some of the most traditional are different types of bread, soaked in syrup or baked with nuts and sugar.
And they will usually be served with extra sugar sprinkled on top, or with a coating of caramelized sugar or honey. Sweet to the core!
With Turkey being majorly known for its kebabs, which are full of different types of meats, and for its seafood, you might worry that there are no signature dishes apt for vegans.
But you couldn’t be more wrong! As we’ve been saying, Turkey has a vast amount of variety in its cuisine, and there is something for everyone!
Zeytinyağlılar can be found all over Turkey, in almost any restaurant and stall.
They are vegetable dishes that are cooked in a big amount of olive oil and then served cold. In fact, the name translates as “those with olive oil”, and that pretty much describes what these dishes are!
They are incredibly simple and easy to make, as they are just vegetables, cooked and seasoned, then served as a sort of salad dish.
But the best thing about zeytinyağlılar is that they offer a lot of variety, as they can feature any type of vegetable and any sort of combination of vegetables that you desire.
They are also commonly served with rice mixed into them so that they are more filling and function as a proper main meal.