Turkey has been on our travel bucket list for a long time now. While we had always wanted to see the historic sites, beaches, and incredible nature of this country, there was one HUGE reason why we had yearned for it all these years… The food in Turkey!! We had got a taste of Turkish food and cuisine around other places in Europe but had never tried the real thing. So after eating everything in sight on our recent trip, we put together a list of dishes from Turkey everyone should try. Here’s what to eat in Turkey on your first visit.
Our Introduction to Turkish Food
Turkish cuisine is delicious, diverse, and made up of many different varieties of ingredients. So there is no way we could have tried everything on our 2 week visit! You will also find that each region of this enormous country has its own specialties.
Keep in mind, we spent our time mostly along the Turquoise Coast and did not venture into the mountains or to major cities like Istanbul. However, we do feel like we got a taste of so many great dishes from Turkey and a good handle on the traditional classics.
Hopefully, first-time travelers are able to use this guide as inspiration for what to order and look for as they visit Turkey. Also, we plan to see other parts of the country very soon to experience more of this great Turkish cuisine.
What to Eat in Turkey on Your First Visit
1. Turkish Breakfast
We might as well start off with the first meal of the day! Yet, breakfast in Turkey is probably a bit wilder than you’re used to. That’s because a Turkish breakfast is made up of dozens of different plates.
We couldn’t believe it when the server brought out an entire cart full of tasty dishes from Turkey. Before we could even blink, our table was filled with eggs, olives, jellies, chocolate, hummus, spreads, meats, cheeses, several kinds of Turkish bread, and pastries.
We were given a pitcher of hot traditional tea on the side which we sipped throughout the meal. Needless to say, we took our time eating this delicious food in Turkey.
Many hotels will include breakfast where you’re served a smaller version of this massive meal. Be sure to go out and try an actual Turkish breakfast at a restaurant during your time in the country.
One of our favorite meals we had in Turkey was the Lahmacun. Also known as “Turkish Pizza,” this dish is both fun and yummy to eat. It all starts with a warm flatbread with minced meat, spices, and herbs baked on top of it. You’re then given lemon and fresh vegetables like lettuce and tomato to put on top.
Now comes the fun part! To be completely honest, we had no idea how to eat these before our first meal. It took a quick youtube video to make sure we didn’t look like idiots eating it out (haha!)
Basically, you take the vegetables and put them on top of the flatbread. Then squeeze your lemon onto it and roll it up like a burrito. From the first juicy bite of the Lahmacun, we were sold. The spiced meat, crunchy flatbread, and lemon mesh perfectly together for an explosion of flavors.
Typically, we had this street food as a snack. Just know you can easily eat Lahmacun as an entire meal. We regularly saw the flatbreads being brought out in a huge stack for groups at local Turkish restaurants.
Now for another type of Turkish pizza. Pide may be the more traditional version of pizza in comparison to Lahmacun, but it’s still nothing like you’d get in Italy.
First of all, this popular street food in Turkey is cooked in a boat shape rather than the circle you may be used to. This allows for a mesh of flavors to seep into each other on top of the flatbread. For the toppings, it’s common to get minced ground beef like on the Lahmacun or a range of other garnishes.
We loved how they included typical Turkish meats and cheeses that we wouldn’t normally get to try on a pizza. Our personal favorite was the Turkish salami and yellow cheese! Also, they make them quite long, so sometimes you can pick more than one style on the same pizza.
You will find places that specialize in Pide but they can also be found at kebab shops and other local restaurants. They are cooked in wood-fired ovens which only added to the allure.
When ordering a large one they may cut it for you prior to serving. If so, make sure to catch a peek of the long pizza boat beforehand.
4. Bean Salad
Bean salad may not be the first thing on your mind when looking for what to eat in Turkey. However, we promise there are very few boring things within Turkish Cuisine! Even a traditional white bean salad has a twist to it that goes perfectly with any main dish.
Referred to as Piyaz in Turkish, we loved a cold bowl of this on a hot summer day. White beans are mixed with onion, parsley, lemon and more goodies to make for a tasty treat.
It went so well with hot meat dishes like meatballs or kebabs. You’ll also find it served as a meze appetizer which we will discuss later.
Gozleme is the Turkish food version of pancakes and it’s totally worth trying. Yet, don’t let the “Turkish Pancakes” moniker fool you. These are nothing like the ones with maple syrup you might have grown up with!
Our first experience with this was the Tuesday Market in Fethiye. If you can believe it, they had an entire section of stalls dedicated just to this Turkish food.
Thin and flaky flatbreads are filled with veggies, cheese, and meats making for a hearty meal. Our favorite part was loading it up with the pickled vegetables, hot peppers, and red cabbage.
Shakshouka is one of the few dishes from Turkey that we’d had before arriving. Obviously, we were excited to try the real deal! Although the dish is said to have originated in Tunisia, you can find it around Turkey, North Africa, and Middle Eastern countries.
Eggs are poached in a tomato sauce with spices, onion, and garlic. This Turkish food comes out steaming in the pan they cooked it in which makes for a unique presentation. Make sure you have some bread on the side to dip with, too.
If you’ve been to Greece before then a few items in Turkish Cuisine might look familiar to you. One of those that fits this very mold is the dolma. Dolmas are vine leaves stuffed with rice and an assortment of different veggies.
Often you will see them made with peppers, zucchini, garlic, or tomatoes in Turkey. In Greece, you may know these as dolmades. Like many culinary treats in the Mediterranean, both countries lay claim to the dish.
Either way, they were said to be invented in this region during the time of Alexander the Great. You know they’ve gotta be good if they’re still being eaten over 2,000 years later!
8. Iskender Kebab
It’s important to know that Turkey is the land of kebabs. With that said, Iskender will be the first of many we mention in our what to eat in turkey guide. Iskender is different than most other kebabs as it doesn’t come in any type of bread or wrap.
Instead, the meat is shaved off the spit and covered in a red tomato sauce and a side of yogurt. While many kebabs are good to eat on the go, Iskender is definitely one to take a seat for.
9. Turkish Ravioli
Speaking of saucy… How about some Turkish Ravioli?? Yes, that’s right. Turkey has its own take on ravioli called Manti and it’s crazy good. The big difference between the Turkish food version and the standard Italian is the sauce.
The pasta is smothered in a yogurt sauce instead of red tomato which gives it a unique taste. The ravioli taste more like boiled dumplings than actual ravioli and is filled with yummy beef and spices. Ideally, you’ll want to be very hungry when you sit down for this part of traditional Turkish cuisine.
10. Water Burek
Burek’s can be found all over Turkey and are usually the star of the local bakery. With Su Boregi, thin sheets of phyllo dough are cooked in simmering water.
Then they’re stuffed with feta and parsley for a crunchy and delicious taste. The water burek is the perfect breakfast treat to have with your coffee or Turkish tea.
Meatballs anyone? By now you can see that the traditional food in Turkey is made up of plenty of meaty dishes. One of the most popular is known as Kofte. However, there many variations of this dish.
First, know that Turkish meatballs are made at both homes and some of the best restaurants around the country. They use an interesting group of spices such as ginger, cumin, and others to blend inside the meat before cooking. The best Kofte we had was lamb, but you can also get them with beef or a mix of both.
Kofte comes with a platter of french fries, lettuce, and tomatoes, or sometimes even in a sandwich. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain. You won’t ever have meatballs like this anywhere else!
12. Adana Kebab
The Adana was the favorite of the kebabs we tried in Turkey. It is named after the city of Adana where it is said to have come from and is known to be the spiciest of the kebabs. For this popular food, ground lamb is heavily seasoned and cooked on a skewer over charcoal.
It is plated over pita bread with rice, onions, roasted tomatoes, and peppers. The Adana became our go-to whenever going to a kebab restaurant as we grew to love the spicier dishes from Turkey.
Although Meze is an appetizer, it’s one of the most important parts of Turkish cuisine. Meze is a selection of small dishes ranging from veggies, pastes, and yogurt to beans and cheeses.
From our experience, you can go up to the counter and pick them from behind a glass or off a menu. Sometimes they even bring the entire tray out for you to get a look. It may sound simple, but you should know that Meze is really a way of life.
It’s a time to hang out and socialize with drinks before having a main course of fish or meat. In a strange way, it almost felt like their version of tapas in Granada or aperitivo in Milan, except with a Turkish food twist.
14. Roasted Lamb Shank
One of the best foods we had during our entire visit to Turkey was the lamb shank. If you’ve been following us for a while, then you know we gravitate toward anything lamb. So when we saw this dish at one of the best grill houses in Bodrum, we had to get it!
The meat was presented on a large cutting board and it was already sliding off the bone from the moment the waiter put it down. As we took our first cut into the lamb, it was easy to see this was going to be a hit. Definitely try this famous dish when searching for what to eat in Turkey.
15. Doner Kebab
After all those kebabs, we’ve arrived at one you might know before visiting Turkey. While walking around some areas of the country it will feel like you see a doner kebab shop on every corner. Yet, they’re done here a little differently than we had seen across Europe.
At most places, you will still get the standard choices of beef or chicken spinning upright on a stand. However, instead of the wrap, we noticed they have a wider selection of ways to eat it.
You can order your döner kebab in a sandwich with thicker bread or opt for a durum which is made in a long thin wrap. What we found weird after trying doner kebabs in countries like Germany, is that they don’t really get too saucy with it.
This is not a complaint, just an observation of the difference. Typically, we’d find spicy and creamy squeeze bottles. In Turkey we were given small cups of spicy peppers to eat with our meal.
The last of our traditional Turkish dishes may only be for the adventurous eater! Still, if you’re up for it we highly recommend trying this delicacy. Kokerec is a unique meal made up of small and large lamb intestines with sweetbreads.
You will notice this famous street food while walking around town as it’s spinning on a spit over a charcoal fire. Usually it’s served on a sandwich with tomatoes, peppers, and other seasonings.
This is a part of Turkish cuisine that you can not prepare yourself as the intestines need to be cleaned by a professional before cooking. For that reason, you may want to look up reviews or ask for some local advice on where to get it for the first time.
What to Drink With Your Food in Turkey
17. Turkish Tea
When we say drinks with your food in Turkey, we mean, before after, and during your meal. On our recent visit, we literally saw people enjoying tea everywhere we looked… So it’s no surprise they consume the most per capita in the world!
The most popular by far is the black tea, which actually has a red hue to it when poured. It’s served in a small glass cup so make sure to grab it by the top to avoid getting burned.
Many times we were given it complimentary after a meal. If not, it shouldn’t cost you more than 10-15 Lira for a cup of tea.
18. Turkish Coffee
Every culture has coffee. So what makes this part of Turkish cuisine so special? Well, for starters Turkish coffee is very strong. It’s served unfiltered which means it is much more caffeinated than you’re probably used to.
The rich and thick flavor may throw you off at first, but it’s actually delightful to sip on. There are also said to be many health benefits to drinking Turkish coffee over others.
Just be careful once you get toward the end of your cup. If you’re not careful you’ll get a harsh taste of grounds from the coffee beans on the bottom.
Once arriving in Turkey you’ll see that it’s very secular compared to other Muslim countries in the world. This means alcohol is widely consumed and this is especially true for their national drink of Raki.
The strong liquor is made with distilled grapes and is often drank during celebrations and special occasions. We found that Raki goes perfectly with Meze before dinner. Locals around us were also drinking it with traditional Turkish food or after their meals.
At restaurants, it’s common to order a full bottle of Raki with a bucket of ice. You then add the raki with ice in a glass cup and mix with water. The mixture makes for a potion-like liquid that has a very wild look to it.
The drink that surprised us the most while looking for what to eat in Turkey was definitely Ayran. At first, we had no idea what people were drinking. It honestly looked like tall glasses of milk were being poured at dinnertime which didn’t make any sense.
Yet, we would quickly find out that this was actually a popular yogurt drink called Ayran! Often compared to the Indian Lassi, this chilled and creamy beverage can be drank with your favorite Turkish dishes.
21. Efes Beer
The most consumed beer in Turkey is Efes and they are perfect on a hot summer day. We preferred the lighter pilsener-style lager but you can also buy the malt version if you prefer.
You should know that the alcoholic beverage is named after the ancient city of Ephesus. We had the pleasure of touring this Unesco World Heritage site on a recent visit, and it was one of the highlights of our time in Turkey.
Bomanti is the oldest beer producer in Turkey and is certainly worth trying as well. Nothing is better than an ice-cold beer while laying on a sun bed in Kas or the paradise of Oludeniz Beach!
What to Eat in Turkey For Dessert
Once you’ve tried so much tasty food in Turkey, it’s onto the desserts! While strolling around after lunch or dinner you should to stop for some traditional Turkish ice cream.
What separates it from other ice creams around the world is its inclusion of mastic (plant resin). This gives it a firmer texture that doesn’t melt as easy, but also locks in the same flavors you’d expect.
Dondurma is sold by street vendors all over Turkey and churned with long paddles throughout the day. We shouldn’t ruin the secret, but the vendors are known to mess with their customers as a joke.
Don’t get upset when they offer the ice cream multiple times only to pull it back from you. It’s all in good fun!
While many countries lay claim to this amazing dish, the most well-known baklava hails from Turkey. We have tasted baklava in other countries but have never seen all the different ways it’s prepared within Turkish cuisine.
This flaky treat is made with skinny phyllo dough, nuts (pistachio or walnuts), butter, and a copious amount of honey. Its crunchy and sweet taste is mind-blowing and will ALWAYS leave you coming back for more.
Another deliciously baked treat is called Kunefe. This can be found at the same bakeries as Baklava or often on the menu at traditional restaurants.
The flaky outside is sprinkled with nuts and soaked in syrup. However, the best part of this sweet pastry is its cheesy inside.
25. Turkish Delights
Also known as Lokum, this lovable candy is a must-try on your Turkish food adventures. These small treats are the perfect companion with Turkish coffee but can be purchased in bulk at the local markets, too.
When you do see them at the market you will be dazzled by the colors and variety of the Turkish delight candy!
Have any questions on what to eat in Turkey or want to share your own favorite Turkish food and drinks? Leave us a comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
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More Turkey Tips
- Kos to Bodrum Ferry: Our Boat From Greece to Turkey & Day Trip Advice
- 10 Best Things to do in Fethiye Turkey on Your First Visit
- Using the Turkish Bus System: How Reliable are the Buses in Turkey?
- Kaputas Beach Guide: How to Visit the Best Beach in Turkey
Turkey Travel Planning
Rental Car: Discover Cars is our company of choice when abroad. It is especially popular to rent a car and explore the famous Turquoise Coast.
To pre-book long distance buses check Omio for the best routes all over the country.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide for fun activities all over Turkey. You can book everything from a Hot Air Balloon ride in Cappadocia to a Turkish Dance show in Istanbul and even take a Full-Day Jeep Safari in Kusadasi to the National Park!
Travel Insurance: Never travel internationally without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.
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