Turkish Cuisine

Turkish cuisine is one of the world’s top cuisines, joining the ranks of French, Chinese, Italian, and the like. Like the country’s cultural mosaic, the food of Turkey is very colorful and contains countless different influences and tastes. The cuisine of Turkey has continued to evolve over centuries, deriving influence from its rich history of lands that hosted first the Byzantine, and then the Ottoman Empires.

Turkish home-made dishes

Specific tastes in different regions of Turkey contribute to the complexity of the country’s cuisine. The availability of different Turkish food in some regions also helped to shape the foods common to that particular area. The Eastern Black Sea region, for example, is not appropriate for wheat production due to heavy rainfall; therefore the residents developed dishes that rely mostly on corn and cornflour. Likewise, the Southeastern Anatolian region is famous for kebabs as a result of its abundant livestock. The Aegean region, known for its olive production, is famous for its delicious olive oil vegetable dishes and herbs; while pastries are the monopoly of Thrace.

Istanbul has always attracted a large number of migrants from other parts of Turkey, relocating to the city in search of work. Because of this, Istanbul has become the cultural heart of Turkey, sharing the most delicious Turkish foods from each region in its unique cuisine.

Lane inside istanbul spice bazaar, people walking past shops lining either side and traditional arched ceiling
Istanbul Spice Market

Table of Contents

Meals and food customs in Turkey

The Ottomans Turks had two meals a day. The first meal, which they ate between morning and noon was more like brunch. They would have the second meal of the day anytime between late afternoon and evening; this meal consisted of meat dishes served with vegetable and legume accompaniments such stuffed eggplant or bulgur pilaf with vegetables. 

In Turkey, nowadays most families enjoy 3 meals a day.

Weekday breakfasts are basic and quick but weekend breakfasts where the family comes together are large and consist of many different foods.

Lunches in Turkey are usually made of seasonal dishes, soup, salad, etc. Dishes that require time and effort to prepare are not common at this meal. Meat-based dishes, as well as desserts, aren’t served at lunches.

Dinners are usually a more elaborate and richer one because it’s the only time when family members have been working in fields or at another job all day come home together.

In Turkey, there is another unofficial meal called “yatsilik” which is eaten after dinner around 9 or 10 pm. Nuts, dried, and fresh fruits are usually served with black Turkish tea. Some of the most common foods served for yatsilik are seasonal fresh fruits, dried plums, figs, dried fruit pulps (grape, apricot or mulberry), and nuts like pistachios, almonds, roasted chickpeas, roasted pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, walnuts, and hazelnuts.

Turkish breakfast

Breakfasts in Turkish cuisine

Breakfast is a significant event for many cultures around the world but in Turkey, it’s more like an elaborate ceremony than just another meal of the day.

Weekday breakfast in Turkey is a light, quick, yet filling meal. It has all the energy you need to get through your day without getting too hungry. The Turkish breakfasts are very diverse and offer many vegetarian/vegan options for those looking for something other than animal protein while also providing good suggestions if someone prefers meat in their diet.

Traditional Turkish breakfasts are large and plentiful, consisting of several small dishes including cheese, olives, tomatoes, butter, jams and spreads, loaves of fresh bread, and, of course, an abundant flow of black tea. The breakfast in rural areas and of the poor is, however, most commonly, soup.

Cheese is one of the most important foods of breakfast in Turkey. The cheese varieties vary depending on the region and may include beyaz peynir (white cheese), bergama tulum from Aegean Coast, deri tulum, otlu peynir from Eastern Turkey, comlek peyniri from central Anatolia and tel peynir and abaza peyniri from Black sea coast. Vegetables and potatoes are also fried up using olive oil, hazelnut oil, or sunflower oil.

Mixed olives, string cheese, white cheese and cured meat laying on top of paper
Simple Turkish breakfast

Eggs are a staple in most Turkish breakfasts, they can be boiled, fried, or made into menemen with peppers and tomatoes.

The traditional Turkish breakfast is a family-oriented affair, with many different dishes that are all served at the same time. The meal can last for hours with family and friendly conversations.

Turkish people have started to get their family-oriented weekend breakfasts at restaurants in recent years, but the truth is there isn’t much difference between a traditional breakfast made and served at home or one you can find at a breakfast saloon or a restaurant. If you would like to experience a traditional Turkish breakfast but have no invitation for a homemade one, read our blog post about the best breakfast restaurants in Istanbul serving traditional breakfast.

Turkish village lunch table

Dinners in Turkish cuisine

A typical Turkish homemade dinner starts with a warm soup, followed by a dish made of vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, spinach to name a few), meat or legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils) boiled in a pot and typically served with starchy foods like bread, Turkish rice pilaf, pasta or bulgur. As a refreshment, green salads or cacik is served alongside the main meal.

Further reading: Best and most popular foods of Turkish cuisine

Homemade food in Turkish cuisine

The Turkish people are more likely to eat at home rather than eating out, which is a relatively new concept introduced by modern life. In an effort to save time, many couples have started cooking at home less and eating out more.

In Turkey, it used to be that women were at home while men worked in order to prepare food for their families. But with more dual-income households and a higher standard of living in urban areas, there have been fewer opportunities for family meals together around a table or over an open fire – so it’s common now for Turkish people to eat out or take away more often instead of cooking homemade dishes like they would’ve before the 1980s when this tradition started fading away as well.

Large pot of cooked leeks dish amongst other Turkish dishes at Çiya restaurant, istanbul food walk
Home-made Turkish foods are often made with vegetables

Key ingredients of Turkish cuisine

Vegetables: okra, pea, green peppers, tomato, mallow, artichoke, carrot, cucumber, chicory, spinach, zucchini, cauliflower, celery, asparagus, cabbage, mushrooms, parsley, lettuce, potatoes, beets, eggplant, leek, arugula, garlic, purslane, onion, radish

Legumes: broad beans, beans, chickpeas, lentils

Meats: lamb, beef, chicken, fish

Spices: rosemary, red pepper, nigella seeds, thyme, cumin, mint, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, sumac, black pepper, clove, poppy seeds, saffron, sesame seeds

Nuts: pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts

Grains: rice, bulgur

Oils: Sunflower oil, olive oil, hazelnut oil

Different types of red pepper in Turkey

Fruits in Turkish cuisine

The vibrant and colorful landscape of Turkey means that fruits are numerous, plentiful, and cheap. Either fresh or dried, oranges, mandarins, plums, apricots, pomegranates, pears, apples, grapes, and figs are the most popular fruits used in Turkish cuisine. Fresh fruits are usually eaten after dinner as a dessert but there are also some Turkish dishes that make use of seasonal fruits.

The sweet-salty flavor of these dishes, which are usually flavored with sour fruits such as plum and quince, has its roots going back to the Ottoman era. Here are some of the best-known fruity Turkish dishes:

Ayva Dolması: Stuffed quince dish. Quince is usually stuffed with the same filling as dolma dish.

Çağla Aşı: Unripe fresh almond dish. A celebration dish that is made with lamb, fresh almond fruit ( not the seeds), yogurt, and garlic.

Yeni Dünya Kebabı: Loquat fruits stuffed with lamb meat.

Fresh fruits ready to be juiced

Bread in Turkish cuisine

Bread is another indispensable part of every Turkish meal. This has been true for thousands of years, and it remains the most important component to every meal: breakfast or dinner – without bread your Turkish meal will lack that something special. It is eaten, whether it is particularly suited to the meal, or not.

Turkey has the highest bread consumption per person in the world. Bread consumption a year is 199.6 kg (440 lb) per person. Turkish people eat more than three times their own body weight in bread annually.

Local bakery, somun bread is lined at top two rows

Some of the most common breads in Turkey are:

Bazlama Ekmek: Bazlama is a type of leavened bread with a circular and regular shape.

Yufka Ekmek: The phyllo bread, which is eaten in Anatolia for more than a thousand years, is generally made from wheat flour, water, and salt. If dried, this type of round bread can last a long time (6-12 months). Fresh yufka is often used as the main ingredient in products such as pancakes and börek.

Misir Ekmegi: Corn bread, which is high in nutrients, is one of the types of bread that is found in the Eastern Black Sea Region.

Pide: Pide bread or pita bread is a type of flat bread that is common in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Lavas: Lavas bread is made of water, flour, and salt. It is a thicker bread than yufka but thinner than pide. It is used to make wraps.

Somun Ekmek: Loaf bread, which is one of the most consumed types of bread in Anatolian cuisine, can be found almost anywhere. It’s been a staple for centuries and has the appearance of fluffy and golden yellow color.

Cooking bazlama

Traditional Turkish dishes and food

Turkish cuisine has a wide variety of foods, including cereals, pastries, vegetables, and self-growing herbs mixed with meat. There are also many soups and other traditional Turkish foods that incorporate butter, sunflower oil, and olive oil as an ingredient. Turkish cuisine has also its own unique types of healthy food, such as grape molasses, yogurt, bulgur, etc.

Pouring melted butter from pan over portion of iskender kebab at istanbul restaurant during food tour
Pouring melted butter on Iskender kebab

Soups in Turkish cuisine

Turkey has a rich and diverse soup menu that is second to none in the world and can be one of the very few countries in the world where you can get soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You are going to need more than 200 bowls of soup if you ever want to experience all the different soups in Turkey.

A Turkish meal usually starts with a soup (çorba). The most common types of soups are made with lentils, yogurt, chicken, and wheat. You can read more about soups in Turkish cuisine in this detailed blog post.

Some of the most popular soups in Turkish cuisine:

High Plateau Soup (Yayla Çorbası)

Cold Ayranaşı Soup (Soğuk Ayranaşı Çorbası)

Tripe Soup (İşkembe Çorbası)

Tomato Soup (Domates Çorbası)

Chicken and Vermicelli Soup (Şehriyeli Tavuklu Çorbası)

Tarhana Soup (Tarhana Çorbası)

Lentil Soup (Mercimek Çorbası)

Cheek and Shank Soup (Kellepaca Çorbası)

Tripe soup

Rice, grain, and pilafs in Turkish cuisine

Rice is used extensively in Turkish cuisine. It is featured in many of the stuffed meat and vegetable dishes as well as being served as pilaf, and Turkish people have very high standards for its preparation. A great-tasting pilav is proof of a Turkish housewife’s good cooking skills.

Pilafs in Turkey are usually cooked plain only with butter but there are also those exotic rice dishes flavored with spice, nuts, and fruits—others made with meat, fish, and vegetables, are known as sultan pilavı. Pilafs are usually served as an accompaniment to the main course of meat or fish, but some more substantial pilafs, like yufkalı pilav and safranlı midyeli pilav can be served with a salad to make a full meal, iç pilavı, with currants, pine nuts, and calves liver, is served all over Turkey, especially on special occasions. Acılı Bulgur Pilavı is actually made with bulgur, or cracked wheat, which has a nutty flavor. Rice with chickpeas is a popular and nutritious type of rice dish in Turkey. In the summer, some pilafs are served cold with plain yogurt.

The preparation of pilaf is as much an art today in Turkey as it was in the sultan’s kitchen in Ottoman times.

Rice pilaf wrapped with anchovies

Vegetable dishes in Turkish Cuisine

Turkey is no stranger to vegetable-based and vegetarian cuisine. The country’s cooking culture often uses vegetables and wild-grown greens, cooked as vegetarian dishes or with meat for the protein hit that can stretch precious supplies of food items like beans and rice.

Aegean and Mediterranean regions are well known for their warm and sunny climate which allows growing vegetables year-round. Some of the most common vegetables grown and eaten in Turkey are zucchinis, eggplants, cauliflower, bell pepper, green beans, spinach, artichokes, carrots, and celery.

Fresh vegetables are cooked in many ways, but they mostly fall into one of these categories: meatless vegetable dishes (including vegetables with olive oil), boiled, fried, and roasted veggies. Fried vegetables are usually served with garlic yogurt sauce.

Stuffed artichoke heart

A typical vegetable dish is prepared with a base of olive oil, chopped onions, pepper paste or tomato paste (concentrated tomato sauce), and fresh tomatoes. Usually, the vegetables and hot water is added to this base and prepared as a pot dish. Minced meat can be added to most vegetable dishes except the ones cooked with olive oil. Olive oil dishes are also eaten cold and having meat in them is not a great idea.

Further reading: Olive oil and olive oil dishes in Turkish cuisine.

Pickles are another popular way for Turkish people to enjoy their vegetables. Pickles are made from all kinds of vegetables, including carrots and cucumbers.

Some of the most popular vegetable dishes in Turkey are:

Karniyarik: Large eggplant stuffed with ground beef, chopped-up onions, garlic, tomatoes, and green peppers and cooked in oven.

Kizartma: Deep-fried vegetables (usually eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, green peppers) served with yogurt sauce.

Mücver: Graded vegetable (the most popular one is zucchini) mixed with egg and flour and deep-fried.

Lahana sarmasi: Rolled white cabbage, stuffing is usually with onions and rice and may have minced beef if preferred with meat.

Kapuska: Thin sliced white cabbage cooked with onions and tomato sauce. Can be cooked with minced beef or lamb.

Ispanak yemegi: Onions, spinach, and rice cooked with tomato sauce (tomato paste). Usually eaten with garlic yogurt.

Türlü: A vegetable dish made with eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, and onion.

Zeytinyağlı biber dolması: Stuffed bell peppers.

Kabak oturtma: Zucchini roasted with beef or lamb mince.

Wine leaves filled with rice

Meat dishes in Turkish cuisine

From the delicious chicken dishes to beef and lamb, Turkish cuisine is definitely a carnivore’s paradise. The meat cooking methods are also varied – from roasted meats cooked in spiced sauces or stews with vegetables to skewered kebabs grilled over slow-burning coals. The kebabs and meatballs are two other very popular ways of preparing meats in Turkey.

Almost every city in Turkey has its own style of kofte and kebab which consists of spiced chicken, lamb, or beef.

Cooking lamb meat with bulgur, (cracked wheat) and legumes is also a common way of preparing main meals in Turkey. If the dish has lentils, beans, or chickpeas, as the dish is already very nutritious and can be made quickly, a small amount of meat is used just to give the dish a meat flavor.

Lamb was the most popular meat in Ottoman cuisine. The beef was only used to make sausages and dried meat (pastirma). In today’s Turkish cuisine, besides lamb, beef and chicken meat are also used in abundance. Especially chicken meat has become the most popular meat in Turkey in recent years due to its cheap price compared to red meat. In 2020, chicken consumption in Turkey was more than beef meat and lamb combined.

Mixed kebab plate of shish kebab, grilled lamb cutlets, roasted vegetables and garlic under flat bread
Mixed kebab served with lavas bread, pide bread and grilled vegetables

Kebabs in Turkish cuisine

In Turkey, kebab is cooked at home as well as in restaurants. It is either cooked on skewers over an open flame but it may also be prepared in pots drily without any water. The pot style kebabs are a more common type of kebabs cooked at home as it’s an easier way to prepare kebabs. Skewered kebabs often dined at restaurants, but they are also the quintessential dish for any family picnic where a mangal (barbeque) is ready with charcoal open flame.

Kofte made with ground beef or lamb, grilled meats, skewered meats, and grilled tomato, peppers, and eggplant are also cooked for family picnics.

Further reading about Turkish kebabs: Types of Turkish Kebab – A Kebab Discovery in Turkey

Locally caught fishes on Mediterranean coast of Turkey

Fish and seafood in Turkish cuisine

In Turkey, fresh fish is plentiful everywhere. However, it’s a specialty of coastal areas where local people will tell you when and where the catch was made to assure its freshness. The high price of seafood and fish in Turkey makes it an infrequent dish (compared to red meat dishes), and the average person eats four times less than a European counterpart.

Fish are grilled, fried, or cooked slowly by the buğulama (poaching) method but some of the most delicious fish dishes are also the most simple, such as cornflour-coated, deep-fried fresh anchovies.

One of the many reasons why fresh anchovies are such a popular fish in Turkey is because it’s so versatile. There are so many different ways to cook it and at the right time of year, its prices go down which makes it affordable for everyone. Some other reasonably priced and popular fishes that can be found in Turkey are bonito, farmed sea bass, mackerel, sardines, and farmed sea bream.

Deep-fried anchovies

While quite delicious, the high prices of red mullet, ocean salmon, swordfish, turbot, and bluefish turn these fishes more like a delicacy or a treat.

Bugs, clams, crabs, oysters, lobsters, octopuses, and scallops are almost never cooked and eaten at home and usually found on the menus of fancy restaurants.

While prawns, squid, and calamari are more common, they are still not often cooked at homes and usually eaten as an appetizer in fish restaurants. In contrast, in Turkey, one of the most loved and popular street food is mussels that can be found all across the country either deep-fried mussels or rice stuffed mussels.

Entrail dishes (offal) in Turkish cuisine

Offal (or, entrails) dishes have great importance in Turkish cuisine, mostly because the offal parts of the animals are cheaper and more nutritious than the other cuts of meat. Almost all markets have a ratio of one entrails seller to every three butchers, and some regular butchers also sell entrails.

Most entrail dishes are grilled and flavored with thyme. The list of well-known Turkish foods that are made with entrails is long and includes fried brains, brain salad (a kind of mezze), grilled liver slices, fried livers (Arnavut cigeri, a favorite kind of mezze), liver stew with thyme, tripe soup (iskembe corbasi), tripe with chickpeas, tripe au gratin, grilled spleen (especially useful as a treatment for anemia), grilled kidneys, grilled ram testicles, grilled sheep intestines (kokorec), sheep head (kelle) and trotter soups.

Tripe restaurants, commonly referred to as ‘the last stop of drunks’, are open 24-hours a day. Generally, the dishes are served with bread and plenty of chili and garlic and are enjoyed as a hearty meal.

Turkish street food

When Turks are not eating in their own homes, they like food that is satisfyingly filling, but which is cooked quickly. There are many favorite ‘fast foods’ of the Turks, including those listed below:

Doner

Doner is an old Turkish favorite that has also become a famous dish in a lot of Western countries. A compressed lamb and beef combination is grilled slowly as it spins on a vertical rotisserie by an open flame. As it rotates, the cone of doner meat is roasted by the flame and then slowly carved down in very thin slices with a very long knife. The meat is then served on bread or lavas wrap (durum) with your choice of tasty tomatoes, onions, lettuce, yogurt, and potatoes.

Further reading: Best doner kebab restaurants in Istanbul.

Gozleme

Known as the Turkish pancake, gozleme is a simple traditional Turkish food, however, it is often listed among the specialties at certain small eating spots. A very thin sheet of dough, similar to a crepe, is baked on a curved sheet of metal and then filled with cheese, potato, spinach, or ground meat, and is always served fresh.

 

Pide

Most commonly referred to as a Turkish ‘pizza’ because this fast food is made with thick dough and topped with a selection of meats, vegetables, and cheeses. Made fresh to order in a wood-fired oven, pide is usually long and oval-shaped as and cut into many slices to enjoy.

Lahmacun

This delicious Turkish version of pizza is made from a thin layer of pastry on which minced meat is spread with tomato, onion, salt, and parsley, and spiced with red pepper to your liking. Generally, Turks fill the center with tomatoes, lettuce, and onions and a sprinkle of lemon juice, and roll to eat.

Simit

One of the simple pleasures of Turkish cuisine is a ring-shaped bread covered by sesame seeds. Simit can be found easily everywhere in Turkey, and most commonly sold on the streets, displayed in small covered carts or small stands, and sometimes simply carried by a walking vendor with simit piled high on his head. The simit looks like a plain bread roll but is a favorite breakfast accompaniment, or snack on the streets of Istanbul, usually enjoyed with some cheese and ayran.

Simit

Kokorec

One of the favorite fast foods of Turks, this dish made from sheep intestines is flavored with herbs and served in bread tomatoes, onions and parsley. Despite how it sounds, it’s actually delicious and you can find the best kokorec in Kadikoy, Ortakoy and Balik Pazari districts of Istanbul.

Kumpir

This Turkish food is simply made from large baked potatoes which are then cut in half and filled with your choice of a variety of fillings, including cheese, olives, salads, pickles, peas, mushrooms, sausages, and corn.

Kofte ekmek

One of the best street foods you will find, usually sold from minivans. The bread is filled with kofte (meatballs) and onion, hot spices, tomato, salad, and parsley.

Cig kofte

This fantastically simple and healthy food is enjoyed in the streets all over Istanbul. Meaning ‘raw meatballs’ the most common varieties now are made without meat and are a raw bulgur meatball ‘cooked’ in spices. Cig kofte is generally served wrapped in a lettuce leaf and sprinkled with fresh lemon juice.

Cig kofte - raw meatballs

Meze and salads in Turkish cuisine

Vegetables are a very important part of the Turkish diet, and fresh salads are an essential part of most meals. They are served with the main course. Most salads are simply made with leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, and whatever other vegetables are in season.

Salads made with beans, grains, and vegetables are frequently a part of a winter meze. Edible wild greens such as dandelions are often cooked and served cold with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil or lemon juice.

Further reading: Olive oil in Turkish cuisine.

Today, meze culture is very common in Turkish taverns and restaurants. Hot and cold Turkish mezes ordered to the table in small plates and are shared by everyone at the table. Turkish meze can be served with any kind of beverage. Turkish wines and Turkish raki, make great accompaniments to appetizer mezes.

Wild herbs with yogurt sauce, pickles, ezine cheese, melon, vegetable dishes with olive oil, stuffed grape leaves, haydari, lakerda, arugula salad, tomato and onion salad, roasted eggplant salad, marinated fish, octopus salad, shrimp cuts, sautéed wild herbs, pilaki, fava , olives, şakşuka, celery salad, artichokes with olive oil, ezme salad are the best examples of mezes in Turkey.

Turkish people give careful consideration to the acid, fat, and salt ratio of the different mezes when ordering many of them together. Some of these mezes mentioned above are dipping mezes and usually served with toasted bread.

Green salad with yogurt drink

Turkish desserts

Baklava and kadayif, those sweet, nutty, flaky pastries, are the most familiar Turkish desserts to the rest of the world. The most famous baklava is from the southeastern Turkish cities of Gaziantep and Urfa. They prepare it with painstaking care from rolling the thinnest possible sheets of fresh filo dough to selecting and grinding the nuts. Baklava, until the 1990s, was a celebration dessert in Turkey only served during the religious holidays of Ramadan and Sacrifice feast.

There are also uni-foods in Turkish kitchen such as katmer that can be eaten as a breakfast meal or a dessert after dinner.

Delicious milky puddings often complete Turkish meals, and shops all around Turkey display puddings decorated with fruits and crushed nuts like ground pistachios. Puddings are infused with rose water, vanilla, or mastic, a fragrant pine resin. Milky desserts are cooked in Turkish homes more than syrupy desserts as it is easier to make them.

With all the fruit that is grown during the long sunny months in Turkey, it is not surprising that figs, melons, and sultana grapes as well as citrus fruits have been a part of the cuisine since antiquity. Simple spiced fruit compotes are a typical ending to a large meal, and many homes have large jars of preserved fruits in their larders.

Asure is a Turkish dessert that has the most diverse variety of all desserts because it uses nearly every type of grain, nut, and fruit in Turkey.

There are 3 main types of Turkish desserts:

Syrupy desserts: Syrupy desserts are desserts made with dough and usually by pouring sugar syrup on them. Baklava, tulumba, kadayif, sekerpare, lokum (Turkish delight), revani, irmik tatlisi, tas kadayif, lokma, and burma are some of the popular syrupy deserts.

Milky desserts: Milk desserts, which are lighter compared to syrupy desserts, are both easy to eat and easy to digest. Keskul, sakizli muhallebi, sutlac, tavukgogsu, kazandibi, dondurma (Turkish ice cream), and gullac are some of the popular milk based desserts in Turkey.

Fruit desserts: hosaf, komposto, kabak tatlisi, ayva tatlisi, pestil are among the popular fruit-based Turkish sweets.

Fruit desserts top row, cakes middle row and milky desserts bottom row

Turkish beverages

It is common to think that as the majority of Turks are Islamic, alcoholic beverages wouldn’t be common. However, they’re just about equally available in Turkey as anywhere in Europe. Rakı and beer make up a large portion of alcohol consumption in Turkey. The country has long been producing great wines in a number of regions and wine production in Turkey also goes back thousands of years ago.

In Turkey, there are two dominant types of non-alcoholic drinks: black tea and Turkish coffee. Turkish people also love to drink herbal tea as well, especially on cold winter days. Mint, sage, ginger, tyme, chamomile, rosehip teas are some of the popular ones.

Fresh rosehips, mostly made into a tea

Turkish tea

Turks love tea, and most Turks drink many cups a day. Turkish tea is always offered first to visitors and guests to all homes and businesses. Turks prepare tea by brewing it in a teapot (not with ‘tea bags’), preferably porcelain, over a kettle, and a perfectly brewed Turkish tea should be a deep red color. Although tea can be found served in porcelain cups at the major hotels and cafes, Turks prefer to have their tea served in glass cups. Although instant coffee (which Turks call ‘Nescafe’) is quite common, nothing can take the place of a good cup of tea.

Tea gardens (cay bahcesi) abound in Istanbul. These open-air gardens, usually located in areas with stunning panoramic views, also serve fruit juice, colas, and some Turkish food like sandwiches and ‘tost’ (grilled sandwiches). More traditional tea gardens serve their tea with a semaver (a metal teapot), and in some tea gardens, you’ll even find nargile (water pipe) for smoking an array of fruit-flavored tobacco. The tea gardens of Moda and Emirgan are popular choices among café-goers.

Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee is served in small porcelain cups (resembling espresso cups) and always with a glass of water. It is not usually consumed with breakfast; but, more commonly, it is enjoyed after meals with something sweet, usually Turkish delight or chocolate.

Turkish coffee is traditionally prepared in a small copper pot called a cezve, and is made by boiling an extremely finely ground coffee together with water and sugar. The coffee is served according to your taste – sade (without sugar) or sekerli (sweet). While drinking you should sip the coffee lightly, to leave the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup.

Afterward, you can perhaps find someone who can read your future from the coffee grounds, which is still very popular in Turkey among both the older and younger residents.

Turkish coffee

Ayran

This delicious drink made from yogurt diluted with water and then salted and served cold is very much enjoyed by Turks and is the perfect accompaniment to most meals, especially kebab or spicy Turkish foods.

Sahlep

This hot drink usually enjoyed on cold winter days is made from the dried powdered roots of a mountain orchid. Sahlep powder is mixed with milk and sugar and boiled. The roots are rich in starch and the mixture thickens naturally, resembling a cream-like texture. It is generally served plain and sprinkled with cinnamon, but you can also find it as a milk replacement for lattes and other coffees during winter.

Turnip juice

A sour, sometimes hot, crimson-colored drink prepared by boiling turnips and carrots in water, and adding vinegar. Originating in Southern Anatolia, it can relieve an upset stomach, helps the body to cope with the heat, and is also one of the more preferred accompaniments of some spicy Turkish food like kebab, cigkofte, and raki.

Boza

This thick, slightly sour drink is made from crushed millet and water, which has been left to ferment. Boza is most commonly enjoyed in winter, and Boza houses serve glasses of the drink decorated with cinnamon or chickpeas.

Boza, fermented millet drink

Raki

This is probably the most well-known of all Turkey’s alcoholic drinks – and certainly one of the most enjoyed food accompaniments among Turks. This aniseed-flavored drink contains high degree of alcohol and should not be consumed quickly. Rather, most people enjoy the colorless raki mixed with water, which turns it into a cloudy-white drink. Raki is widely said to aid digestion and is known as a kind of aperitif.

Words to know at the Turkish table

Before eating the food in Turkey it is common for the chef and others at the table to wish each other ‘afiyet olsun’, which is essentially the same as saying bon appetite.

As a complement to the chef, the diners at the table will also say ‘elinize saglik’, which literally means ‘health to your hands’ but is interpreted as a sign of endearment or ‘very delicious, well done’.

Finally, before drinking, everyone will shout ‘serefe’, meaning cheers!