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National Food of Turkey: Top 23 Dishes 

Welcome to a culinary tour through the lively flavors of Turkey! If you’ve ever found yourself curious by the tempting aromas moving gently from a busy Turkish street vendor or wondered about the stories behind Turkey’s most beloved dishes, then you’re in for a treat. Join us as we explore the rich textile of Turkish cuisine, investigating its diverse range of flavors, cultural significance, and the culinary traditions that have charmed palates around the world.

In this article, we’ll be your guide through the “Top 23 Dishes” that define Turkey’s gastronomic landscape. From the iconic Döner Kebabı to the hearty Güveç and the tempting delights of Turkish street food, each dish tells a story of tradition, innovation, and the unique blend of influences that characterize Turkish cuisine.

So, without further ado, let’s invest and discover the wonders of Turkey’s culinary treasures!

Top 11 National Foods of Turkey

1. Döner Kebabı

photo by Alex Kehr

Döner kebabs are a perfect experience for visitors to Turkey. Made from delicious lamb or beef, sometimes chicken, the meat is cooked on a vertical grill and thinly sliced. It’s traditionally served with rice, salad, fries, and various sauces that enhance its flavors. Spice blends vary by region, commonly featuring cumin, black pepper, and oregano. Side dishes often include yogurt-based sauces or hot chili paste, making it a beloved street food paired perfectly with a crisp beer.

2. Su Böreği

photo by hey tiffany

Su böreği is a tasty pastry made by layering sheets of a fine dough called yufka with a filling of white cheese, butter, olive oil, and salt. This dish, known as “water borek,” welcomes from the high plateaus of central Anatolia and has variations throughout Turkey and Eastern Europe. Its origins trace back to nomadic herders, and it remains a popular and widely available treat, loved for its rich, buttery flavor and crisp, flaky texture.

3. Piyaz

photo by Miansari66

Piyaz salad, a renowned dish from Antalya, is distinguished by its use of candir beans, a small, delicate type of butter bean. These beans are mixed with tahini thinned with water, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, garlic, parsley, and olive oil. The traditional version includes a roughly chopped soft-boiled egg mixed in just before serving, creating a refreshing and flavorful salad that highlights the unique taste of candir beans.

4. Ezogelin Çorbası

photo by E4024

Ezogelin soup, originating from a small village near Gaziantep, was apparently created by a woman named Ezo to impress her mother-in-law. This hearty soup combines red lentils, tomato paste, fresh tomatoes, and onions, garnished with dried mint and chili flakes. Though its origin story may be a legend, ezogelin soup remains a beloved dish in Turkish cuisine, particularly favored by brides-to-be for its rich, comforting flavors.

5. Mercimek Köfte

photo by E4024

Mercimek köfte, a popular Turkish appetizer, is a vegetarian delight from Diyarbakır, known locally as belluh. Made from red lentils, fine bulgur, onions, scallions, tomato paste, and crushed cilantro, these bite-sized servings are typically enjoyed wrapped in lettuce leaves with a squeeze of lemon juice. This flavorful and nutritious dish is a staple at gatherings, appreciated for its lively taste and easy-to-eat format.

6. İnegöl Köfte

photo by E4024

İnegöl köfte, renowned for its unique flavor, was invented by Mustafa Efendi, an immigrant from Bulgaria to northwest Turkey. Unlike other Turkish meatballs, İnegöl köfte is made solely from ground beef or lamb and breadcrumbs, seasoned simply with onions. These grilled meatballs have become a beloved part of Turkish cuisine, celebrated for their juicy texture and rich, delicious taste.

7. Hamsili Pilav

photo by gülin vardar

Hamsili pilav is a signature dish of Turkey’s Black Sea region, particularly in the city of Rize. This oven-baked rice dish features fresh anchovies layered on top of rice cooked with fried onions, butter, peanuts, Turkish allspice, and raisins, mixed with fresh parsley and dill. The combination of delicious anchovies and the sweet, aromatic rice makes hamsili pilav a unique and cherished dish in Turkish culinary tradition.

8. Perde Pilav

Perde pilav, or curtain rice, from Siirt, is a festive dish typically served at weddings. This rich and flavorful dish features rice cooked with chicken, currants, almonds, pine nuts, and butter, all wrapped in a buttery dough and baked until golden. The shape symbolizes the creation of a new home, with rice representing fertility and currants symbolizing future children, making it a meaningful and delicious part of Turkish wedding feasts.

9. Gözleme

Gözleme is a traditional Turkish pastry known as sac böreği when cooked on a hot convex metal plate called a sac. These flat, savory pockets are filled with ingredients such as salty white cheese, spinach, or minced beef. Despite its rustic origins as village food, making gözleme requires skill to roll out the thin dough without tearing. The name comes from the “eyes” or dark spots that form as the pastry cooks, adding to its unique charm.

10. Lahmacun

photo by Garrett Ziegler

Lahmacun, often called Turkish pizza, consists of a thin round of pita dough topped with a paste of low-fat minced meat, tomato paste, garlic, and spices. This dish, whose name derives from the Arabic words for meat (lahm) and dough (ajin), is typically served with fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. Lahmacun has been a popular food in Turkey, known for its crisp texture and flavorful toppings.

11. Balık Ekmek

photo by E4024

Balık ekmek, a simple yet delicious street food, features grilled fillets of dorado or sea bass served in a baguette with onions, tomatoes, and salad. Often enjoyed with a squeeze of lemon juice, this dish represents the fresh and lively flavors of Turkish coastal cuisine. Its simplicity and deliciousness make balık ekmek a favorite among locals and tourists alike, especially when enjoyed by the water.

6 Traditional Dishes to Eat

12. Güveç

photo by E4024

Güveç is a hearty and flavorful casserole dish commonly served hot and bubbling, often with a layer of melted cheese on top. It can be prepared with various types of meat, such as lamb, chicken, or even seafood, with prawn güveç being particularly popular. This dish is a staple in Turkish cuisine, known for its rich taste and the comforting warmth it provides, making it a perfect choice for a satisfying meal.

13. İmam Bayıldı

photo by Dobrin Isabela

İmam bayıldı, which translates to “the priest fainted,” is a luxurious dish of eggplants stuffed with tomatoes, onions, spices, and pine nuts. The eggplants are sliced lengthways, filled with the tasty mixture, and then poached in the oven until tender. This flavorful and aromatic dish is beloved in Turkish cuisine, apparently named for its taste so lovely that it could make a priest faint from delight.

14. Mantı

photo by E4024

Mantı is a traditional Anatolian dish featuring tiny dumplings filled with minced meat, usually lamb, and served with a thick yogurt sauce. The dish is often topped with chili flakes and dried herbs to enhance its flavors. These delicate, flavor-packed dumplings are a beloved comfort food in Turkey, known for their rich taste and satisfying texture.

15. Menemen

photo by E4024

Menemen is a popular Turkish breakfast dish made by scrambling eggs with slowly-sautéed peppers and tomatoes. Often served with chunks of freshly made bread, this dish is both simple and delicious. Menemen is cherished for its fresh ingredients and the hearty, homey feel it brings to the breakfast table, making it a favorite start to the day in Turkish households.

16. Baklava

photo by Leonid Yaitskiy

Baklava is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo dough filled with chopped nuts, usually pistachios, and sweetened with honey or syrup. This iconic dessert is enjoyed both by tourists and locals and is often served on special occasions. Its rich flavor and delicate, flaky texture make baklava a beloved treat, perfect with a scoop of ice cream or a gift for loved ones.

17. Kuru Fasulye

photo by Miansari66

Kuru fasulye, a staple in Turkish cuisine, is a white bean stew typically cooked in a tomato sauce and sometimes with meat, such as beef. This hearty dish is commonly served with rice and bread and is a frequent feature in home-cooked meals and “ev yemek” restaurants. Known for its comforting and strong flavors, kuru fasulye is a beloved dish across Turkey, particularly in the southeast where it is enhanced with a variety of spices.

Spices: The Heart of Turkish Cooking

photo by Maxpax

Turkish cuisine is renowned worldwide for its rich flavors and aromatic dishes, thanks largely to its use of a range of spices and herbs. The combination of unique ingredients, complex cooking techniques, and essential sauces upgrade Turkish dishes to global fame. Central to this culinary tradition are the spices, which not only deliver delightful aromas and flavors but also offer significant health benefits.

From the fiery kick of red pepper flakes to the earthy depth of cumin, each spice plays a crucial role in defining the character of Turkish food. Among the most popular spices in Turkish cuisine are red pepper flakes, black pepper, thyme, mint, cumin, sumac, bay leaf, cinnamon, rosemary, and cloves.

Thyme, with its sharp aroma, is commonly used in meat dishes and as a herbal tea with antiseptic qualities. Mint adds a refreshing flavor to salads and appetizers, aiding in digestion and respiratory health. Cumin, often used in meatballs and sausages, boasts numerous health benefits, including aiding digestion and boosting immunity. Rosemary, valued for its stress-reducing effects, and cloves, known for their antiseptic qualities, round out this diverse and healthful palette of spices, ensuring that Turkish cuisine remains lively and healthful.

Turkish Family Dining

photo by OakleyOriginals

Everyday meals for a Turkish family are a lively reflection of the country’s rich culinary traditions, featuring a variety of dishes made from lamb, beef, chicken, fish, grains, vegetables, and dairy products. Common meals include flavorful kebabs, aromatic pilafs, diverse mezes (appetizers), and various types of bread like pide and simit.

The use of fresh herbs, spices, and olive oil is common, adding depth and complexity to the flavors. Turkish families often enjoy communal dining, where multiple dishes are served and shared, developing a sense of togetherness and community during mealtime.

Breakfast, or “kahvaltı,” holds a special place in Turkish culture and is typically a hearty and varied affair. It usually includes an assortment of cheeses, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, bread, and sweet spreads such as honey or jam. This meal sets the tone for the day, emphasizing the importance of starting with a nutritious and communal experience. The tradition of sharing a diverse range of foods not only highlights the culinary richness of Turkish cuisine but also reinforces the familial bonds that are central to Turkish life.

Street Food

18. Kestane Kebap

In the fall and winter months, Turkish street vendors offer roasted chestnuts, or kestane kebap, which are perfect for warming up cold hands and satisfying hunger. The aroma of these chestnuts roasting over embers is tempting, drawing people to the vendors’ carts. Typically sold in small paper bags, these chestnuts are available in various portion sizes to suit any appetite. They are best enjoyed warm, straight off the grill, making them a must-try during the colder seasons in Turkey’s busy streets.

19. Mısır

photo by Kayode Balogun

Mısır, the Turkish word for corn, has become a beloved street food, especially popular during the summer harvest season but available year-round. It is sold in two main forms: köz mısır, which is roasted corn on the cob, and süt mısır, which consists of boiled corn kernels seasoned with salt. Recently, a new variation has emerged, offering corn kernels served in cups with various toppings such as ketchup, mayonnaise, and red pepper flakes. Mısır is an ideal snack for strolling through Turkish streets, offering a taste of the local flavors.

20. Dondurma

photo by Marc Schulte

Dondurma, Turkish ice cream, is a tourist favorite known for its dense and chewy texture, achieved by adding mastic resin and salep to the milk and sugar mixture. This refreshing dessert is perfect for hot summer days and is often served between kağıt helva, a wafer-like confection. Vendors selling dondurma, with or without stalls, are a common sight in major Turkish cities, providing a fun and delicious way to cool down while exploring.

21. Simit

photo by Alex Bayev 

Simit is perhaps Turkey’s most popular snack, characterized by its circular shape, molasses dip, and sesame seed crust. This bread is a staple for on-the-go breakfasts and can be enjoyed with cream cheese or chocolate spread. Found in glass-covered carts and balanced atop traveling sellers’ heads, simit is a universal presence across Turkey, and it’s common to share a piece with the ever-present seagulls in cities like Istanbul.

22. Midye Dolma

Midye dolma, a beloved Turkish street food, consists of mussels stuffed with aromatic pilaf, served on a half shell. The rice is cooked with various spices, and the mussels are eaten in one bite after a squeeze of lemon juice. This snack is incredibly moreish, making it easy to lose track of how many they’ve eaten as they enjoy the flavorful combination of seafood and spiced rice.

23. Kumpir

photo by Atilim Gunes Baydin

Kumpir is Turkey’s take on baked potato, featuring a fluffy, creamy interior and a wide range of possible toppings, including peas, carrots, corn, cheese, and various condiments. This versatile street food allows for endless customization, making it a popular choice among locals and tourists alike. While they can find kumpir throughout the country, it is particularly famous in Istanbul’s Ortaköy neighborhood, known for its busy kumpir sellers.

See Also Famous Turkish Painters

Farm-to-Table Movement

photo by Chiot’s Run

The farm-to-table movement in Turkey emphasizes fresh, locally sourced ingredients, ensuring that meals are both delicious and nutritious. Turkish cuisine, renowned for its rich culinary traditions, benefits greatly from this approach. By focusing on seasonal and regional produce, Turkish farmers and chefs can create dishes that reflect the diverse flavors of the country’s various regions. This approach not only supports local agriculture but also enhances the dining experience with ingredients at their peak freshness.

This movement also advances a closer connection between consumers and the origins of their food. By reducing the distance food travels from farm-to-table, the movement promotes sustainability and minimizes environmental impact. In Turkey, the farm-to-table concept is gaining popularity as more people appreciate the benefits of fresh, high-quality ingredients. This trend supports local economies and ensures that traditional Turkish dishes maintain their authentic flavors, further enhancing the country’s culinary heritage.

Dining Etiquette

photo by  ENESFİLM

Dos

1. Wait for Everyone: They always wait for everyone at the table to be ready before starting the meal. No one should start eating until the host or the eldest person begins, showing respect for both the host and elders.

2. Use Their Right Hand: They handle all food with their right hand. The left hand is traditionally considered unclean and should not be used to deliver, serve, or eat food.

3. Washing Hands: They wash their hands before meals. This signifies both physical cleanliness and spiritual preparation for the meal, reinforcing communal bonds.

4. Respect Elders: They allow elders to speak without interruption and avoid disputing their words. This demonstrates a deep respect for their experience and wisdom.

5. Start with Bismillah: They begin the meal with “Bismillahirrahmanirrahim” (In the name of Allah), which expresses gratitude and creates a sense of unity among diners.

6. Host Sits Last: If they are hosting, they sit down at the table last to show hospitality and consideration for their guests.

8. Post-Meal Gratitude: After the meal, they express gratitude by saying “eline sağlık” (health to your hands) to the cook, who will typically respond with “afiyet olsun” (enjoy your meal).

9. Respect Bread: They treat bread with great respect. If it falls, they kiss it and touch it to their forehead to show respect.

10. Share Plates: They participate in sharing plates of food like salads and appetizers to emphasize community and solidarity.

11. Use Proper Utensils: They use the correct utensil for the appropriate dish, and once the meal concludes, they place their fork and knife parallel on the right side of the plate.

Don’ts

1. Don’t Rush: They avoid eating quickly. Turkish meals are meant to be enjoyed slowly with breaks for conversation, smoking, or drinking wine between courses.

2. Don’t Speak with Full Mouth: They refrain from speaking with a full mouth. This rule is crucial for both health and maintaining a pleasant dining atmosphere.

3. Don’t Leave Food Unfinished: They try not to leave food unfinished on their plate. Consuming everything served shows respect and appreciation for the host’s efforts.

4. Don’t Interrupt Elders: They do not interrupt elders while they are speaking or dispute their words during meals. This is considered highly disrespectful.

5. Avoid Loud Conversations: They keep conversations at a moderate volume and avoid loud or disruptive behavior at the table.

6. Don’t Forget Tea or Coffee: After the meal, they do not decline the offering of tea or Turkish coffee, as it is an essential part of Turkish hospitality and a continuation of the social experience.

Global Influence and Popularity

photo by Oben Kural

Turkish cuisine is renowned for its exceptional quality and dedication to fresh ingredients, creating an unparalleled culinary experience. Travelers often find themselves attracted by the range of flavors, from freshly baked bread in the mornings to delicate grilled meats like Iskender kebap. The dedication to using locally sourced, organic produce ensures that every dish bursts with natural flavors and lively textures.

The secret to the remarkable taste of Turkish food lies in its ingredients and traditional preparation methods. Food in Turkey is often sourced directly from small, family-owned farms, ensuring it is free from genetic modifications and harmful pesticides. Simple dishes, such as a cheese sandwich with fresh cucumber or a glass of tea brewed in a traditional caydanlik, reveal the profound impact of using high-quality, natural ingredients.

These elements come together to create a dining experience that feels both genuine and extraordinary, making Turkish cuisine a standout on the global culinary stage.

See Also Famous Buildings in Turkey

Key Takings About National Food of Turkey

1. Top National Food of Turkey: Explore Turkey’s culinary delights through its top dishes, each a proof to tradition and flavor, from the iconic Döner Kebabı to the comforting Ezogelin Çorbası.

2. Traditional Dishes to Eat: Experience Turkey’s culinary heritage with dishes like Güveç and İmam Bayıldı, where centuries-old recipes bring the core of Anatolia to life.

3. Spices: The Heart of Turkish Cooking: Turkish cuisine is a symphony of flavors, with spices like red pepper flakes and cumin adding warmth and vibrancy to every dish.

4. Turkish Family Dining: Celebrate the bonds of kinship with communal dining, where families share stories and enjoy dishes like kebabs and pilafs together.

5. Street Food: Experience the busy streets of Turkey with delicious gözleme and sweet dondurma, where every bite is a culinary adventure.

6. Farm-to-Table Movement: Welcome tradition and sustainability with fresh, locally sourced ingredients that honor Turkey’s rich culinary heritage.

7. Dining Etiquette: From waiting for everyone to be seated before eating to expressing gratitude with “eline sağlık,” Turkish dining etiquette reflects values of hospitality and respect.

8. Global Influence and Popularity: Turkish cuisine charms palates worldwide with its exceptional quality and eternal flavors, inviting diners on a culinary journey that overcomes borders.