If you’re headed to Turkey, you need this guide on what to eat in Turkey. It lists so much yummy Turkish food to be sure you try while there!
Before you continue reading, I should point out one thing – do not read this post if you’re hungry! You’re likely to go raiding the fridge, and I cannot be responsible for additional calories consumed!
However, go for it if you’ve recently eaten and are not too hungry, be aware that you may want to eat something by the end…
If you’re considering heading to Turkey this year, you’re in for a treat. Not only is there plenty to see, do, experience, and enjoy, but your taste buds are in for a treat too. But, what to eat in Turkey is the question…Read on to discover the best food to eat in Turkey based on my own experiences with food in Turkey.
Turkish food is delicious. Turks do not believe in mass-producing food, so everything you buy in bakeries, restaurants, cafes, or, if you’re lucky enough, in the family home is likely to have been made right from scratch, with the freshest produce.
There is no such thing as ‘yuck’ when it comes to eating Turkish food; however, there are a few choices that might turn your stomach if you are a little squeamish – goat intestines or brain soup; anyone?
Nope, I thought not.
Despite those slightly borderline dishes, there are countless other beautiful delicacies to try when visiting Turkey. Whether you’re heading to a holiday resort on the south coast, visiting Istanbul, or going somewhere else entirely, you HAVE to try the food! Not doing this would be a crime (not literally, but it should be).
So, what should you try? Here are the best Turkish foods to add to your holiday menu.
Turkish Appetizers & Snacks
So, what do people in Turkey eat? So much great stuff, but it always starts with meze…
A Turkish meze plate is a perfect way to start a meal. It’s a great way to try a little bit of everything. The best part is that there’s something for everyone. There are typically four to eight different meze on a plate.
Some of the most popular ones are hummus, ezme, tarama salata, dolma, and stuffed grape leaves. There are also usually some bread and olives. The key to enjoying a Turkish meze plate is to take your time and savor each bite. It’s the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and family while enjoying some delicious food.
If you’re walking around Istanbul or any city in Turkey, you’ll see a simit. These are Turkish bagels that have sunflower seeds on top. They’re circular and go wonderfully with a glass of Turkish tea or cay.
If you want a more substantial snack, stuff your simit with some cheese!
Midye are mussels, but midye dolmas are stuffed muscles, usually stuffed with rice or meat. These are another street food snack you’ll see everywhere, and they’re traditionally served with a bit of lemon squeezed over the top.
Turkish Breakfast Dishes
Typically a breakfast dish, but I personally think you can enjoy this at any time of the day; gozleme is another flat bread-type of a dish, but this time it contains all manner of different ingredients. A personal favorite of mine is potato, but you can try cheese, mincemeat, spinach, and cheese; the list goes on.
Try finding gozleme made the traditional way, and avoid the ones you find rolled up in bakeries. You’ll know when it’s traditional because you’ll see the ladies in the restaurants rolling the thin dough and cooking it over a huge, round hot plate.
Menemen is another breakfast dish, but you’ll find people eating this all day long; such is its popularity. Menemen is made with peppers, tomatoes, and eggs and a little spice to add extra flavor. It’s a real treat and super addictive! Again, use the bread to eat it, and be sure to drink a glass or two of Turkish tea (cay) beside it.
Sucuk yumurta is a breakfast dish you’ll often find as part of a traditional Turkish breakfast. You might also find sucuk served alone or in bread (sucuk ekmek). Sucuk is a dry, fermented sausage that is extremely popular and famous across Turkey. You will struggle to find a house that doesn’t have some sucuk in it!
Sucuk is cut into small, thin pieces and fried in this dish. Then, fried eggs are cracked over the top and cooked. You may find the eggs left with the eggs whole or mixed up in a scrambled variety. Either way, it’s delicious when eaten with fresh bread using your hands!
Turkish Meat & Fish Dishes
Kofte is a street food you’ll find everywhere, usually served on bread, but you can also find it in restaurants as part of a full meal. These meatballs are fried just until done, so they’re still juicy in the middle. There is another variation with some cheese in the middle if you want to add a few extra calories!
This isn’t any old burger. No, it’s undoubtedly an acquired taste, but you should try it. In particular, you’ll find an islak burger in Istanbul, and it’s a wet hamburger. Although a little smaller, it’s a regular hamburger, then covered in a tomato/garlic sauce and put in a very hot box of steam until it turns wet or a little sweaty. It sounds kind of messy, and it is, but it is also very tasty!
Hamsi is a type of fish, a black sea anchovy, to be more precise. Several anchovies are slightly dipped in cornflour and then fried in this dish. They’re served in a circle, with fresh lemon squeezed over the top and a salad on the side. Of course, you eat with bread as with most food to try in Turkey. You’ll find hamsi served in countless balik (fish) restaurants and street outlets.
It comes out as ‘fish and bread’ or a fish sandwich when you translate this, but it’s so much more than that!
You’ll find balik ekmek all over the country. Still, it’s typically famous in the Eminonu region of Istanbul. The fish is caught directly from the Bosphorus (usually, but not always) and served straight off the barbecue onto fresh bread.
The other plus point is that this is a very cheap street food which you can grab and eat while still being full at the end.
If you like lamb, you’ll adore hunkar begendi, a lamb stew with bechamel sauce and plenty of aubergines. Leg of lamb is available widely and much cheaper in Turkey than in most countries, and this stew gives you the best taste of this delicious meat. It is often served with rice, and though it is a food from Turkey that is not as well known, it is certainly a hearty and filling meal.
Kelle Paça Çorbası
We mentioned earlier that some dishes in Turkey aren’t for the squeamish, and this is undoubtedly one of them. However, it’s very popular across the country, and you’ll see it everywhere. Perhaps you want to try it?
Corba means soup, and this type of soup consists of trotters and meat from the head of a sheep. I told you it wasn’t for the squeamish! But, it’s said to be highly healthy and ideal for topping up your vitamin levels during the winter.
This is a staple dish in Turkey and one you’ll find in all traditional restaurants and many homes up and down the country. It is a stewed bean dish with a bit of lamb or beef. It’s made with olive oil, white beans, and often with a bit of tomato paste to give it a slightly red color.
Again, you eat with bread, but you should sprinkle a little pul biber (red chili flakes) over the top to give it a little kick.
Guvec is another staple dish in most Turkish households, and it’s a hearty and truly delicious meal to try. This is a stew, typically with lamb, but you’ll find it with beef. The meat is simmered until super-tender with carrots, potatoes, peas, peppers, onions, and mushrooms. The sauce it is surrounded by is often a little tomatoey, spicy, and warming.
Eat it with bread, and if you want to go authentic, avoid the fork and dig in, using the bread as a scooping aid!
I could carry on writing about the best Turkish food all day! This option is a great one for pasta lovers. Manti is often referred to as ‘Turkish ravioli,’ It is small dumpling made of egg pasta containing beef or lamb. They are typically served in a bowl with yogurt on top and a tiny bit of spice to add a kick.
Turkish Meat Kebabs
Also known as chicken shish, this is marinated chunks of chicken threaded onto a skewer and barbecued until succulent and genuinely fantastic.
Usually served on a piece of tortilla wrap (known as lavas) with salad on the side, you’ll be full without realizing it, although you’ll still want to try another piece.
You might confuse cag kebab for doner meat, but it’s different and ten times more delicious. You won’t find cag kebab everywhere, so if you find a restaurant serving it, definitely try it because it’s genuinely delicious.
Cag kebab is basically lamb, and it’s stacked onto a rotating skewer, but instead of a vertically stacked doner, cag kebab is horizontally stacked and cooks over a hot flame as it rolls. Then, the meat is sliced thinly and placed onto metal skewers. Add a few onions if you want to spice things up a bit. You use lavas (wrap) to pull the meat off the skewer and eat with your hands.
If you go to a restaurant and order testi kebab, especially in Istanbul, you can expect to pay a fair amount, but it’s worthwhile if you find a good one. This is a guvec style of stew, but the difference is that it is cooked in a clay pot in the oven, helping to give the meat a genuinely tender and succulent taste.
They will smash the clay pot open when served, and the contents will still be cooking on your plate. Delicious!
A Manisa Kebab is a type of Turkish kebab that originates from the city of Manisa – but you can find these kebabs all over Turkey. It is made with ground lamb or beef and typically includes onions, garlic, tomatoes, and various spices. The kebabs are grilled on skewers and are often served with rice or bread.
Iskender kebab is one of the most famous dishes in Turkey, and it’s loved by many. It’s renowned for the sizzling noise upon serving, and you’ll understand why that happens in a minute!
The kebab is served on a plate, with sliced doner meat (can be beef or lamb), served on pitta bread, with tomato sauce and yogurt. Then, melted butter is poured over the top, causing the sizzling noise as the heat hits the meat.
Tas kebab is an absolute must while eating in Turkey – you can find it in many local restaurants. A meat stew, tas kebab, is tasty and perfect with rice (or pilaf) on the side. The stew contains beef, lamb, potatoes, carrots, and onion. You’ll sometimes find red and green peppers, but the authentic version is simpler.
The best way to eat it is with a thick slice of bread and to use your hands to mop it up! You’ll be pretty full afterward, that’s for sure!
Durum means a rolled-up wrap, and this is where you’ll find the famous donor kebab. Donor chicken or meat is sliced up and served in a wrap, with salad, tomatoes, and a little seasoning, before being wrapped into a roll and eaten as is.
Totally delicious and available everywhere.
Turkish Vegetarian Dishes
This famous street food is one you can find worldwide, for sure. Kumpir is a jacket potato, but here, you can choose from just about anything you want to be pilled on top, usually with a dollop of ketchup and mayonnaise, too, if you wish. The difference in Turkey is the fillings and how it’s served.
Head to Ortakoy in Istanbul for the most famous Kumpir. From olives, sweetcorn, tuna, cheese, peas, and carrots, the list goes on when it comes to toppings, and the more you add, the fuller you’ll be!
If you like aubergine/eggplant, then this is one for you to try. Imam Bayildi is a stuffed eggplant/aubergine with garlic, tomato, and onion. The stuffed aubergine is then cooked in plenty of olive oil, making it soft and easy to eat. You could try lavas (wrap) or bread alongside it.
The name of this one might be confusing to some because we’ve already said that kofte means meatballs. In this case, there are no meatballs. This dish is ground-up bulgar wheat with spices, wrapped in lavas (wrap), salad, pomegranate sauce, and a squeeze of lemon. It sounds interesting, but it tastes delicious! It’s also very low in calories!
Soup, or corba, is famous across Turkey as a food to eat at any time of the day or night. Ezogelin soup is made with red lentils and bulgur, and it’s a delicious starter, or indeed a main meal if you’re not that hungry! Mop it up with fresh bread, and it will probably become one of your new favorites.
Turkish Stuffed Breads & Pies
If you like pizza with a twist, you’ll love lahmacun. It’s cooked in a wood-fired oven until the edges are crispy and super delicious! This flatbread is typically topped with ground lamb, spices, and tomatoes.
Roll it up with salad leaves in the middle, and a squeeze of lemon for a tasty treat you’ll undoubtedly want to repeat.
It’s eaten at lunch, dinner or even as an appetizer.
Another pastry-type dish, borek, comes in all different types, and again the most common are mincemeat, cheese, potato, cheese, and spinach. You’ll see locals eating it with tea, but if you want a sweet treat, try the plain version with sweet pudding sugar sprinkled over the top! You’ll find borek customarily served for breakfast, but it’s an all-day kind of affair.
The most common fast food from Turkey is pide, a portion of easy food to grab on the go, and it’s pretty filling too. This is a flatbread with a topping of your choice, shaped like a teardrop, with the edges curled up just enough to keep the filling inside. However, you’ll also find a closed pide (kapali pide) which is long and usually chopped into pieces.
Kiymali pide is one of the most famous, and this contains minced beef and onion, or you can add cheese and go for kiymali kasarli pide. Delicious! Other popular fillings include sucuk, kusbasili (beef meat chunks and peppers), kasar (cheese), and spinach; you can even find them with egg on!
Okay, so there is some debate as to who invented baklava, and you will find it all over the Middle East and in the Balkans too, but it’s extremely popular and effortless to find in Turkey, so you have to eat at least a piece (or five) while you’re there.
For those who aren’t sure, this is a flaky pastry sweet that comes in all different varieties. The traditional option contains pistachio nuts and is drizzled in honey. Not so great for the waistline but oh-so-wonderful for the taste buds!
Turkish desserts are less about chocolate and jam and more about intricacy, which basically sums up katmer. This rather delicious yet surprisingly light dessert is a must-try—crushed-up pistachio nuts sandwich layers of buttery, flaky pastry with a bit of cream and butter inside.
You’ll find it served alone or with ice cream. In the Gaziantep region of Turkey, katmer is often served as a part of breakfast because pistachios are abundant in this region, and they’re known to increase energy during mid-morning.
Turkish Ice Cream
Dondurma is a type of Turkish ice cream that is made with mastic. Mastic is a resin that comes from the mastic tree, and it gives the ice cream its characteristic chewy texture. Dondurma is usually flavored with vanilla or chocolate, and it is often served with nuts or fruit.
If you’re in Turkey, you have to try it – just be warned, the Turkish ice cream vendors are known to be pranksters. One such Turkish ice cream prank is a tradition in which ice cream sellers make their customers reach for a cone before pulling it away and continuing the trick over and over.
Or, as in my son’s case – they made him open his mouth for the ice cream, but he was left with nothing but a paper towel in his mouth – doh!
Turkish Künefe is a delicious and iconic dessert that hails from the southeastern region of Turkey but has become popular throughout the country and the Middle East. It is a sweet and indulgent treat that is loved by locals and visitors alike.
Künefe consists of several layers of fine shredded phyllo dough, known as “kadayıf,” which is layered with unsalted cheese, usually a type similar to mozzarella or akawie. The dish is then baked until the dough turns golden and crispy, and the cheese melts into a gooey, stretchy, and luscious filling. After baking, the dessert is generously soaked in a sugar-based syrup infused with rose or orange blossom water, imparting a delightful floral aroma.
The combination of the crispy, golden-brown kadayıf with the warm, gooey, and slightly salty melted cheese creates an exquisite contrast of textures and flavors. The cheese provides a rich and savory element, balanced beautifully by the sweetness of the sugar syrup and the floral notes from the rose or orange blossom water. The dish is often topped with crushed pistachios or walnuts, adding a delightful nutty crunch to each bite.
Künefe is typically served warm, straight out of the oven. It is traditionally cut into individual portions and enjoyed with a dollop of clotted cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which further enhances the dessert’s sweet and creamy profile.
One of the unique aspects of serving künefe is the special pan used for preparation and presentation. The dessert is cooked and served in a shallow, round copper dish called a “sac.” The use of the sac not only gives the künefe its distinctive shape but also adds to the overall experience of enjoying the dessert.
Künefe holds cultural significance in Turkish cuisine and is often associated with special occasions and celebrations. It is a popular treat during the holy month of Ramadan and is served at many festive gatherings, weddings, and family reunions. In recent years, it has gained international popularity, becoming a beloved dessert in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants worldwide.
Lokma – Lokmasi
A Lokma is a small, deep-fried pastry that is coated in syrup or honey. It is of Turkish origin, and its name comes from the Turkish word for bite-sized. Lokmas are often served as part of a dessert or as a snack, and they are particularly popular in the month of Ramadan.
Lokmas are made by frying dough in oil and then coating them in syrup or honey. The dough used is usually a type of unleavened bread dough, and it can be either sweet or savory. Sweet lokmas are typically served with cinnamon and cloves, while savory lokmas are usually served with cheese or ground meat.
Lokmas are believed to have originated in Turkey, though it is unclear exactly when or how they first came about. The earliest known mention of lokmas comes from a 13th-century Turkish cookbook, though it is possible that they were being made before this time.
Lokmas will surely bring a little sweetness to your day, especially when you are about to walk over the Galata Bridge in Istanbul! We grabbed some and nibbled on them as we wandered over to Beyoğlu.
If you love churros, you’ll love this! Shaped like a horseshoe, the pastry is deep-fried and dipped in sweet, sticky syrup. It’s messy to eat on the go, but it’s more than worth the effort – and the syrup dripping down your chin!
Lokum (Turkish Delight)
You’ve undoubtedly heard of Turkish Delight or lokum as it’s known locally. Turkish Delight is a delicious treat that originates from Turkey. It is made of gelatin, sugar, and flavorings and is often dusted with powdered sugar. Turkish Delight comes in many different flavors, such as rose, lemon, or pistachio.
This sweet treat has been around for centuries and was even mentioned in the classic book, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” In the story, Turkish Delight is a magical food that has the power to make people forget their troubles. If you’ve never tried Turkish Delight before, you are definitely missing out! This sweet treat is sure to delight your taste buds.
It’s a good idea to head to a store that sells lokum fresh by the weight and not purchase a box of the pre-packed stuff. While the boxes are fine, they’re not as fresh, and the fresher versions are so much tastier! Our faves are the rosewater and the pomegranate versions.
Sambali is one of the lesser-known Turkish desserts, and it’s made of semolina, which gives it a soft and fluffy consistency. Made with milk, molasses, almonds, sugar, and lemon juice, it’s a delicious snack or dessert, and you can usually find it on street carts.
Ayran is a refreshing and delicious yogurt-based drink that originates from Turkey. It’s made by blending yogurt with water and salt and often has a bit of dill added for flavor. Ayran is perfect for quenching thirst on a hot day and goes great with Turkish dishes like kebabs or rice pilaf.
Raki is a delicious Turkish drink that’s perfect for any occasion! It’s made with grapes and aniseed, and it has a unique flavor that’s sure to please everyone. Raki is also very easy to make, so you can enjoy it anytime, anywhere.
Final Word About Turkish Breakfast
We can’t finish up a chat about Turkish food without mentioning breakfast. Known locally as ‘kahvalti,’ breakfast is a feast and a half! Try and make time for a traditional Turkish breakfast, which will surely see you through until dinner!
Eggs, menemen, borek, gozleme, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, different types of bread, meats, and the list goes on. Served with several glasses of tea (cay), breakfast is an event in Turkey, and you’ll find families coming together en masse to enjoy plates and plates of delicious, fresh breakfast food!