Prior to the trip I didn’t know much about Turkish food since there aren’t much Turkish restaurants here in Los Angeles. Due to the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in history, there are lots of culinary crossovers with the Balkins, Middle East and the Caucasus so a lot of the dishes and flavors tasted familiar. Basically Turkish food uses a lot of olives and olive oil, tomatos, eggplant, cucumber, cheese, lemons paprika, cumin, garlic..etc etc. Typcial dishes are Kebabs, grill fish and Meze (Mezze).
Turkish Tea and coffee: Turkish drink a lot more tea than coffee surprisingly. I personally prefer the coffee, in fact we got quite addicted to them now. Generally I found Turkish tea to be too bitter and overbrewed for my taste. Also they don’t serve Turkish coffee for breakfast, only tea.
Standard Turkish Breakfast: Most of the hotels we stayed at had complimentary breakfast and they’re pretty much same. Olives, cheese, Tomato, cucumbers, yogurt and a wide range of jam and sweetener (like Honey and molasses). I like to add honey on the cheese and molasses for the yogurt. Hotel Sebnem, the first place we stayed at in Istanbul had the best selections and they gave us a jug of fresh juice every morning.
Sweet: Lokum or known as Turkish delight in the west, was an Ottoman Empire invention from the 15th century. Unlike the rubbery ones you get at markets here, the ones over there are very soft and fresh. Best ones are traditional flavor with pistachios. Our favorite was from this historic shop called Haci Bekir, it’s opened since 1777.
Turkish Ice-cream: it’s called Dondurma in Turkey. It’s originated from a town call Kahramanmaraş which we pass through when we were on our way to Mt Nemrut. They actually had a big restaurant there devoted to eat their ice-cream, with fork and knife! The texture is very different, it’s very stretchy and creamy. It’s very delicious with chopped pistachios and excellent to pair with a cup of Turkish coffee.
Baklava : it seems like many countries claimed the origin of Baklava, and of course the Turks believes it was developed by the Ottoman Empire as well. At this historic sweet shop called Hafiz Mustafa Şekerlemeleri, there are many different types of Baklava to choose from. We randomly picked four and they taste pretty similar, it’s just the texture that’s different.
Meze (Mezze): My favorite part of Turkish cuisine is gotta be the meze, like Tapas in Spain, they’re small plates which go well with alcohol. We love to go have dinner at Meyhane, a wine bar type of restaurant/bar that serves alcohol with meze. The server would bring over a big tray of mezes for you to choose from. There are cold and hot ones and they all supposedly go well with each other. You can eat them with bread or add them to the main course. I’ll write about the outstanding ones later.
Kebabs (grill and roasted meat) are probably what first comes to mind to most people what Turkish food is. They’re slightly different from region to region. Such as the ones we had at Urfa have more chilis. Istanbul and the Aegean region have more seafood on the menu. There are a lot more grill fish places in Istanbul than central/southern Turkey. We did get a bit sick of lamb and missed pork after awhile.
Pottery Stew: a dish we see a lot in Cappadocia (central Turkey). It’s a veggie-based stew cooked in clay pot and you break it at the table when they serve it. It’s a tomato/eggplant/veggie flavor stew, kind of like Ratatouille.
Ottoman cuisine: a type of Turkish cuisine based on dishes developed from the royal kitchen of Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman Empire. Some ottoman cuisine restaurant claimed they use the actual recipes found in the palace. The dish in the picture is hunkar begendi, a lamb stew on top of eggplant puree wiht cheese. The lamb was incredibly tender and flavorful and I love the creamy eggplant puree.
This by no mean covers everything about Turkish cuisine. I’m sure we missed a lot of interesting dishes. Next I’ll blog about specific places that are outstanding and worth the trip for.
Tags: Travel Report. turkish