A Beginner’s Guide to Turkish Food

While I’m off dancing my brains out at the Feria de Sevilla, the most wonderful time of the (Sevillian) year, here’s something to make your mouth water and to tide you over till Camarón and I return later in the week.

It’s no secret that my stomach has just as much fun traveling as I do. Traditional plates are something I spend my big bucks on, preferring to take public transportation or walk than skip eating something typical. Turkey was a treat for my eyes and ears, as well as my tummy, and we stopped as often to try food as we did to take pictures of the gorgeous, old as dirt city after buying our airline tickets. Sometimes our bellies smiled, sometimes they weren’t so satisfied, but here’s a rundown of Turkish food for beginners.

Kebabs

I couldn’t wait to get what was seemingly Turkey’s national dish in my tummy. Every street had a token kebab stand, meat swirling before our very (large) eyes in front of a heater. We tried to hold out, we really did, but caved the very first day. A friendly man at a kebab shop near a touristy area of the city carve us hunks of seasoned chicken and offered us a good price. While there was no sauce (I’m a condiments type of person, much to all Spaniards’ dismay), the chicken was practically roitesserie and the vegetables crisp. Kebab shops are scattered around the city and are cheap, quick and really really good. #glutton

Price: 1,50 – 3,00€ for chicken, slightly more for beef

Simit

As our hostel owner, nicknamed Beanie, made us coffee one morning, he pulled out a round loaf of bread with seeds and said, “The Breakfast of Turkish champions.” I don’t know what shocked me more – that there was a Turkish cousin to the bagel, or that Beanie actually knew some English.

Street food carts are all over the city, from hole-in-the-wall places in the old town to small glass pastry shops on wheels on the Galata bridge. We had corn on the cob, churro-like pistachio sweets, nuts and simit served up hot and when we needed it, which makes a great break while touring (or waiting in line at the Haya Sofia). Simit was by far my favorite, a poppy-seeded luxury from back home, piping hot and easily eating.  I couldn’t wait to eat the stupid ring of dough.

Price: = 0,50€

Meze

Meze is to Ottoman cuisine what tapas are to Spanish cuisine. Small dishes meant to be shared, meze can be of any scale, from savory to sweet, varied to simple. We tried a spread, which is typical to share before the main course of a meal, while watching Agamemnon’s dancers in his palace that included humus, babaganoush, vegetables and a potato salad, but a quick wikipedia search will show you that the variety depends on location and scale of the dinner.

Price – from 5€ and up

Çorba

My favorite Spanish dish is lentejas, so I squealed with delight when I read in Allie’s guide book that Turks love their lentils, too. I was dying to try çorba, a red lentil soup. At a little backstreet self-service right near our hostel, we found a big vat on a chilly night, and the bowl and bread cost us 0,75€! Stretching back to the Ottoman times, this dish has been well-copied, but we got homemade deliciousness by form of lentils, onions, paprika, potato and vegetable stock.

Price: 0,75€ – 2,00€ per bowl, often with bread.

Sweets

My body in Spain follows a well-worn eating habit, which includes a coffee sometime in the 90 minutes after I have lunch (the exception being Friday nap time). In Turkey, those bitter little coffees were often washed down with sweets, either Turkish Delight of baklava.

I grew up across the street from a Greek family, so the gooey nothin’-but-butter-and-sugah pastries have always been one of my favorites. Every coffee came accompanied by a round of baklava for us seven to split – flaky pastries layered with honey and butter, pralines and pistachio. Being a pistachio fiend, I really loved the ones flavored by the nut (which even took its green coloring!) and the round rounds that resembled tiny nests with candied pistachio eggs inside. We stumbled upon Saray Baklava, just off the beaten track. The owner serves up about a dozen varieties, but weighs the goodies instead of just giving you three for 9,50€. You’ll find it just opposite the entrance to the Basilica Cisterns, in front of a shop called Finito de Córdoba. who would have thought!?

Price: 20 – 60€ / kilo

Having loved the Narnia books as a kid, I couldn’t skip the Ice Queen’s favorite treat – Turkish delight. Kinda nougaty, kinda starchy lokum, as it’s called in Turkish, the varieties are endless. Rose, lemon, mint, pistachio and walnut seemed to be in abundance, and there were stands and stores hocking the sweet around the main tourist drag, Istiklalal. I personally prefered baklava, but picked up a few boxes of Turkish Delight for my boss and hosts in Zaragoza.

Price: 2€ for a 500g box, much more from the shops.

Of course, there’s more – kafta, humus (not so propio, but easy to find), fresh fruit drinks, shepherd’s (spicy) salad, eggplant, rakibut a girl’s only got so much room in her stomach!

Any other memorable food travels? Have you ever done a gastronomic trip?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Nancy Todd says:

    Love all your food pics. Makes me want to get on a plane!

  2. Kirstie says:

    Oh man, we ate super well there. I’m currently working on editing my Turkey photos, and my stomach keeps grumbling as I do so.

  3. Looking forward to my visit there later this year even more now – thanks!

  4. Great post! Now I have to find a recipe for that lentil soup… :)

  5. Rebecca says:

    I loved Turkey! With all the rain lately, now all I want is some çorba.

  6. getsetandgo says:

    Thanks. This is realy interesting and informative in planning for the things to eat on my trip…

  7. Michi says:

    I love my lentejas too!! Mmmmm, I really think I’d adore Turkish food – the Çorba and Meze really caught my eye…

  8. Ah! So jealous! I must get there soon to gorge on anything and everything with pistachios!!!

  9. mmmmmmmm…
    I love how fresh everything looks!

  10. Cassandra says:

    I’m drooling all over my keyboard! The Turkish food I had in London can’t hold a candle to this array, I’m afraid. And I’d never heard of simit but want to try a fried ring ASAP. Thanks for the primer!

  11. James H says:

    I want to go back. Turkey was the highlight of my Eastern European adventure.

  12. andiperullo says:

    Ahhhh now I’m SO hungry!!! :)

  13. andiperullo says:

    And now I’m hungry!!! :)

  14. dmbkel41 says:

    Thanks for sharing your yummy photos! I will be checking back here when I make it to Turkey someday!

  15. Hi everyone, thanks for the feedback! I am certainly no food critic, but I do love to eat!! Here’s the recipe I used recently for çorba. I couldn’t find red lentils, so the taste was a bit dufferent, and I should have puréed the lentils a bit more. Mine turned out looking like crema de lentejas, but it tasted good!!

    http://www.food.com/recipe/turkish-red-lentil-soup-140836

  16. cornflakedreams says:

    great post! leaving for istanbul in two days! can you pay in euros or do you have to stick to the Turkish Lira? so excited to go :)

    xoxo

  17. Love to see people writing about Turkish food and so glad you enjoyed it. Meze and çorba are definite favourites for us – they’re institutions. We discovered lentils in Turkey. Never knew we liked them till we moved here. :)
    Julia
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Izmir: The Side Streets Of Alsancak – Sokakta Hayat VarMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Moving to Spain meant eating legumes (particularly lentejas/lentils) is a weekly, if not biweekly, habit! Turkish food is high on my list, without a doubt. Thanks for stopping by and saludos!

  18. Yum! I shouldn’t have read that while I was so hungry!!!!!
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..How a Rainy Day in Yangon Turned Into My Best Ever Travel MomentMy Profile

  19. Larissa says:

    We live to eat! And we found the food in Istanbul to be delicious and reasonably priced. That includes KOKOREC, which we voted Best Sandwich in the World (see below)! :)
    Larissa recently posted..The 11 best sandwiches in the world, which one costs only 35 cents?My Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I read your post and had hunger pangs, L! I am a huge sandwich kid and the Spanish ones don’t measure up, just bread and one type of cold cut!

  20. Micki says:

    Oh, that’s it. We’re definitely headed to Turkey to check these out. From the look of it, I may never want to leave!
    Micki recently posted..For the Love of Squares, a Walk Around Centro, MadridMy Profile

  21. Oh,. SUPER YUM.
    wandering educators recently posted..An Insider’s Guide to Bermuda: Traditional Codfish BreakfastMy Profile

  22. Gayla says:

    Adding your baklava and Turkish Delight recommendation to our list of places to stop for sweet treats while in Istanbul this coming week! I like TD by itself, but a Turkish friend of mine showed me a great way to eat them that’s even tastier. Take one cube of TD and pull it to stretch it out a bit, then sandwich it between two ‘Finger cookies’ or ‘tea biscuits’ (I buy Eti brand from the Turkish market in my town). So good!! Now I wish I had some Turkish Delight on hand ;-)
    Gayla recently posted..Where to Eat in Amsterdam – near Het ScheepvaartmuseumMy Profile

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  2. [...] outside of Istanbul, I was taken by the warmness of its people, the monstrous monuments and the sumptuous food. I’d love to go back one day and see parts of the interior and [...]

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