So you’ve probably had a kebab, baklava and maybe even a Turkish Çay tea but the cuisine of this beautiful and diverse country is much more than a late night donner from your local.
Having recently spent a week in central southern Turkey, I took the opportunity to sample some of my favourites and to try some new things out too. As always I brought plenty of treats home with me aswell.
Turkish breakfast is known as Kahvalti and literally means ‘before coffee’. I always aim to go and have this at least once on any trip there, and I find it is always best enjoyed on a day when dinner is going to be late as these breakfasts are enormous! The one we enjoyed on this occasion was at a beachside restaurant and involved a plate of tomatoes and cucumbers, melon, bread, butter, honey, chocolate spread, sesame spread, olives, börek (filled pastry), jam, lamb sausage, lots of cheeses, peppers, hot fried bread which tasted like a savoury doughnut and oddly enough a plate of chips. I’m tired just reading that back, so trust me when I say we were stuffed and sleepy when we finished all of this food. That night we ate very little.
Now, on arrival at most Turkish restaurants of an evening you will be presented with meze or appetisers to begin with. These could be anything from bread and salad, to börek and dips. I’m a piggy so I love all these nibbles and often eat so much I can’t eat my main meal. A good Turkish puffed bread with Cacik dip (similar to Tzatziki) is usually enough for me and a salad full of pomegranate molasses and sumac (a citrus tasting spice) is to die for. In our family we refer to the puffed bread as ‘pillow bread’ as it well, looks like a pillow. An edible one. That is sometimes covered in cheese. Mmmmmm.
A main course that anyone would enjoy is a Turkish Pide. The basic version is an oval flatbread base with a minced meat topping, cut into slices similar to a pizza. Available with many different toppings I usually have mine with meat and cheese. Kebabs (or kebaps) are obviously a big seller here with the Adana kebab usually being my personal choice. A long minced lamb kebab is presented on a flatbread with rice and vegetables, along with the ubiquitous green chilli that you will see on almost every meat dish served here. I’m a wimp so I leave this alone, although they are not always spicy. So long as I have a çay with lots of sugar I’m usually ok with the spice. Most restaurants also offer various chicken dishes, stews served in earthenware pots (güveç) and English dishes if you’re not very adventurous.
For dessert you may struggle if you don’t like ice cream or pastry. I adore baklava, layer upon layer of filo pastry soaked in honey syrup and covered in nuts. Halva, which is dense and sugary and made from sesame is something I like but many don’t and also Künefe which is a string pastry cheesy sweet concoction that is weird but also amazing. A gözleme is basically a huge pancake or flatbread, traditionally cooked on a griddle. Whilst there are many savoury fillings I love a gözleme just filled with sugar as a naughty naughty treat. In many hotels they have a gözleme hut where you will find Turkish women cooking them at certain times in the day for guests. I’m not a fan of Turkish delight, never have been, so I can’t comment on it, although even though it is sold everywhere I have never actually seen a Turkish person eating it.
I brought a kilo of baklava and a tub of halva back with me from this trip. I’d say I have a sweet tooth, but I love all food, so let’s just say I have a varied tooth? Doesn’t work that does it, ah well.
I have been visiting and eating in Turkey for twenty years, and in that time whilst staying traditional and sticking to their roots the quality has improved massively. I love that whilst they can cater for tourists, you still see the traditional foods, men gathering over their çay to play games of an evening and people selling corn on the streets. I rarely have kebabs at home now, I’d rather save myself for when I get to go abroad again. The baklava you can buy here in England never measures up either, either that or I just haven’t found a good one yet! Please please let me know if you have, though my waistline may not forgive you!