Cuisine Spotlight: Turkish Food
For many Brits, Turkish cuisine is epitomised by the kebab, a staple snack for many after an alcohol-fuelled night out. But delve deeper into Turkish culinary customs and you’ll in fact find a cuisine rich in variation that’s been developed over the centuries and reflects Turkey’s fascinating history. So, continuing with our cuisine spotlight series, we thought we’d look beyond the kebab to find out what Turkish cuisine is all about.
Development of Turkish Cuisine
Thanks to Turkey being situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkish cuisine uniquely embodies both middle eastern and European influences. It’s a cuisine that’s been honed over hundreds of years with Turkey’s tumultuous history playing a part in how the cuisine has developed. The country has, over the centuries, been ruled variously by Persians, Greeks and Romans who have all come to influence the cuisine in one way or another. However, the Ottoman Empire which spanned from 1301 – 1922 and which at its peak included Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Hungary and a number of other countries, was probably the greatest influence on the development of Turkish food. The Turkish city of Istanbul was the centre of the Ottoman Empire and so a refined cuisine was developed in the imperial court in the city which brought together elements of all the cuisines that were part of the empire, and it is this that still very much defines what Turkish cuisine is today.
Turkey’s geography has also influenced the development of its cuisine and enabled it be completely self-sustaining meaning it’s not reliant on food imports from anywhere else. Turkey is a huge country with a varied seasonal climate. The north of the country is cool which allows for tea plantations, whilst the scorching southern part of the country allows for the growing of exotic fruits and planting of hot pepper. It’s also flanked by two oceans, the Black Sea to the North and Mediterranean and Aegean Sea to the south, meaning that fresh seafood is in abundance.
In Turkish cuisine, the focus is on fresh food. Bread is always freshly baked and seasonal fruit and vegetables make up a large part of the diet. Nuts and olives also are common snacks. Simplicity is a key feature of Turkish cooking with the fresh ingredients not being excessively presented or covered in complicated sauces or marinades. Dill, mint, parsley, cinnamon, lemon and garlic are all common seasonings whilst yogurt is frequently added as a side.
Common Turkish Dishes
For breakfast, cheese, fresh tomatoes, olives and bread are typically eaten. A dish called menemen, a fancy type of scrambled eggs cooked with tomato, green pepper and onion is widely eaten.
One of the most notable features of Turkish cuisine is meze, a selection of snacks that are usually served as appetizers, although they can also be eaten as the main meal. They include beyaz peynir (white cheese), acili ezme (hot pepper paste with walnuts), patlican salatasi (cold aubergine salad), kalamar (calamari), cacik (yoghurt with cucumber, dried mint and olive oil) and dolma (vine leaves or vegetables stuffed with rice).
Lunch often consists of a rice or bulgar wheat pilaf dish or lamb or chicken baked with peppers and eggplant or fresh fish. Soups such as mericmek (lentil soup) and tarhana corbasi (mashed wheat soup) are also a regular feature of the Turkish daily diet.
Kofte (meatballs) are another popular dish, as are Manti, a type of delicious dumpling, often served with yoghurt. The dough is filled with grounded beef or lamb as well as onion, salt and pepper.
Pastry figures a lot in Turkish cuisine. Börek is a hugely popular snack that consists of layers of phyllo dough (yufka) usually filled with cheese or spinach though there are regional variations all over Turkey which include those filled with mince meat or sweet fillings.
Gözleme is a pastry that originates in rural areas; the pastry is folded around a variety of fillings and then cooked on a large griddle. Lahmacun is a type of thin flatbread covered with spiced minced meat, tomato, pepper onion and garlic. Pide is another common dough specialty. It can be consumed plain or with minced meat, cheese, spinach, braised meat or eggs.
And then there’s kebabs…
Turkey’s most famous culinary export is probably the kebab, though the infamous (and often sub-par) version that is often sold on high streets throughout Britain is a far cry from the simple fresh delicacy that is prevalent throughout Turkey.
In Britain, the doner kebab is probably the most popular type of kebab. ‘Doner’ means ‘to turn’ in Turkish and refers to the vertical spit that the meat is placed on before being grilled.
Other types of kebab include shish kebabs; a dish consisting of meat that is threaded on a skewer and grilled, often with alongside chunks of vegetables. Adana kebabs are minced meat kebabs that are skewered and grilled over charcoal. In Turkey, kebabs are served with crunchy bread and fresh salad.
Dessert and Drinks
Dessert is often fresh fruit or pastries made with filo dough. Dried glazed apricots filled with buffalo milk cheese and garnished with pistachio nuts are a favourite treat as well as baklava of course, a rich sweet pastry made with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. Coffee is also served with the dessert course. Coffee and tea are a big part of Turkish life with tea houses being popular in the villages and coffee houses to be found throughout the cities.
Raki, an unsweetened anise-flavoured aperitif is the national drink of Turkey and often consumed along with meze.
How to Find Turkish Food on hungryhouse…
Turkish takeaway is well-served on hungryhouse. For some superb grilled kebabs in Manchester, order from Alif Grill, one of our top takeaways. Those near Paddington in London should sample the offerings from the excellent Turkish restaurant, Lahore Grill. For a great selection of mezes and homemade baklava in West London, try Lala Brasserie . If you’re in Essex, then why not tryout some of the many Turkish dishes from 104 Turkish BBQ.
We’d love to hear more about your thoughts on Turkish cuisine. So tell us your favourite Turkish dish or Turkish restaurant (it doesn’t have to be on hungryhouse) in the comments section below this blog post, and we’ll select one person who answers to win a £25 hungryhouse voucher.
by Jessie Brown