Our Top Turkish Dishes, the Best of the Turkish Cuisine

Some of Turkish finest dishes displayed in Istanbul.

by Erlend Geerts

in Practical Information, Restaurants

You can find a great variety of mouth watering dishes in Turkish cuisine which is mostly the heritage of Ottoman cuisine. It is the mixture and refinement of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. Therefore it is impossible to fit Turkish cuisine into a short list.

Yet with this article you can get a gist of a whole big world of Turkish tastes. Following you will read about some of the most common and most favorite Turkish dishes people cook and eat both at home and in restaurants.

Vegetable or Zeytin Yağlı Dishes

Turks have a big diversity of vegetables and of course this reflects on the dishes. One very important detail about vegetable dishes is whether they have meat in them or not. If a dish is cooked without any kind of meat then it is called zeytin yağlı — meaning cooked with olive oil. These kind of vegetable dishes are mostly served cold. Here are three good examples of zeytin yağlı dishes:

Wrapped vine leaves (yaprak sarma) in Istanbul, Turkey.

Wrapped vine leaves (yaprak sarma).

  • Yaprak Sarma — Wrapped vine leaves with a filling of rice, onion and spices like mint, currant, pepper and cinnamon.
  • Dolma — Vegetables either fresh or dried eggplants, peppers, tomatoes or zucchinis are stuffed with a mixture of rice and onion with various spices.
  • Taze Fasulye — Green beans cooked with tomato and/or tomato paste and of course onion.

Since Turks love meat very much, almost all the zeytin yağlı dishes are cooked with meat, too. But that’s not it. There are many other delicious meat dishes to discover.

Turkish Dishes with Meat

  • Karnıyarık — Fried eggplants with a minced meat, onion, parsley, garlic and tomato filling. This dish is a must. To make sure that what you get is a good one, check the eggplants. The dark color of the peel should not smudge on the peeled parts and the meat should not look too dark or dry.
  • Lahmacun, a pizza like dish in Istanbul, Turkey.

    Lahmacun, a pizza like dish

  • Lahmacun — A pizza like dish with a topping of finely minced meat and onions with spices on flaky thin dough. It is served with tomatoes, lettuce, parsley or rocket and most people prefer to squeeze lemon on it and roll to eat easier like tacos. It originates from the early Syrian cuisine of the Levant and the name comes from Arabic “dough with meat”. It has been a popular fast food like dish in Turkey.
  • Kurufasulye — Beans, Turks just love it. It can be cooked with or without meat or even with dried spiced thin slices of beef called pastırma. Served with sade pilav (plain rice) and turşu (pickles and sauerkraut). The restaurants across Süleymaniye Mosque are the masters of this dish.

Best Known Dishes and Masterpieces of the Turkish Cuisine

  • KebapsKebap is the common name for a dish where meat is coated around a skewer and grilled over a charcoal fire. Originally the meat consisted of lamb or beef, but nowadays you can also chose chicken. What Kebap To Eat While Visiting Istanbul is a full page dedicated to this mouth watering dish.
  • Döner –In essence it is a dish of beaten pieces of meat seasoned with suet, local herbs and spices, skewered on a spit and grilled vertically. Check out this page if you want to know your döner kebap history and selected dishes.
  • Köfte — It is commonly referred to as meatballs, but they come in all shapes. The köfte basics are ground meat (usually lamb or mutton) mixed with crumbled bread, minced onions and spices. The most common dish is Izgara Köfte, where the meat mixture is grilled and served with grilled green peppers, chopped parsley, crumbled dried red peppers and rice or bread on the side.
  • Mantı – You could think of mantı as some kind of dumplings. This excellent Turkish dish contains two main ingredients: the dough and the filling, which consists of grounded beef or lamb, onion, salt and pepper. Find out why good handmade mantı is so much more than just Turkish ravioli with yoghurt.

Popular Turkish Side Dishes

Cacık, a refreshing cucumber dish in Istanbul, Turkey.

Cacık, a refreshing cucumber dish

  • Pilav — There is a great variety of pilaf in the Turkish cuisine, yet the easiest one to make is the most favorite and available one: sade pilav. It is plain rice cooked in water with butter/vegetable oil and noodle like small pasta pieces – şehriye. Varieties are rice cooked with eggplants, chickpeas, meat or liver slices; and of course spices like cinnamon, pepper, thyme, cumin and even almonds.
  • Bulgur Pilavı – this side dish looks like rice but is actually wheat. The most common type is cooked with roasted onions, green peppers, tomato paste and mint. One of my favorites.
  • Fried vegetables — Fried eggplants, green peppers, and zucchini with tomato sauce or yogurt are one of the best treats. According to your liking garlic is always welcomed with the sauce or the yogurt.
  • Mücver — The main ingredients of this popular Turkish dish are shredded zucchini, eggs and flour. A very common cooking preference adds white cheese, green onions and mint. It is lightly fried in vegetable or olive oil, and served hot as a side dish.
  • Cacık — A very refreshing mixture of grinded or shredded cucumbers with diluted yogurt, garlic and mint. On a hot summers day some serve it with some ice cubes in it, to make it even more refreshing.

Most restaurants on Istiklal Caddesi serving hot food display the available dishes. So if your stomach gets upset easily, take a peek at the food and try to stay clear of the too oily or spicy looking ones.

Afiyet Olsun!

Photo Sources [1] [2] [3] [4]

What's Next

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Roland DSilva May 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Dear Erlend,
I came across this site when surfing around looking for information on Istanbul. Excellent content, concise, useful and well – written !! Bravo – and thanks !

I hope TripAdvisor and the rest of bunch link to your site.

Cheers, Roland

Reply

Erlend Geerts May 29, 2012 at 8:43 am

Thanks a lot Roland. It’s comments like yours that make it all worthwhile.

Much appreciated!
Erlend.

Reply

Ehsan August 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Thankx Erlend,for putting that much information about turkish food…my girl friend is turkish and i am very excited to know about tukish thing…this is one of them…thankx again!

Reply

Irfan Ghori September 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Hi Erlend,

Thanks for the in depth info about the turkish food as well as other also other info about turkey, indeed it was very helpful. I am currently in turkey and referred your site before taking my journey.

Thanks a lot and keep up the good work…..:)

Irfan

Reply

Erlend Geerts September 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Thanks a lot Irfan for your kind words and referral.

Much appreciated,
Erlend

Reply

Sophia November 17, 2012 at 6:27 am

Excellent content and you’ve thought of all the questions to answerinfo.. I can’t wait to get to Istanbul.. thanks for all the info

Reply

Erlend Geerts November 17, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Thanks a lot Sophia. That makes it all worthwhile!

Reply

dua December 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm

thanxx Erlend for putting such important info about turkish i m very confused that i have to go turkey but i not now any thing about turkey but when i saw this side i m excited .thaxxx once again………
may God bless u!!!!!!!

DUA

Reply

Erlend Geerts December 25, 2012 at 12:22 am

Thanks Dua, glad I could make your visit to Istanbul easier.

Erlend

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eunice January 29, 2013 at 1:08 pm

wow i love this,i like cooking and my boyfriend is from Turkey now i can choose what to make for him when he comes on holiday in Kenya.thank you and keep us more updated about your cultures

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MP July 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm

So, a vegetarian going to a restaurant should ask for ‘ zeytin yagli ‘ ? How else can one make out which dishes dont contain a small amount of meat/fish?

Reply

Erlend Geerts July 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm

MP,

You are right. Another way is to ask for etsiz (which means without meat) or vejeteryan (vegetarian).

Erlend

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Amanda Walsh September 27, 2013 at 4:29 am

Thank you for all the wonderful information, Erlend! I’m soaking it all up before heading to Turkey next week; I’m really excited!

Perhaps you can offer a little culinary guidance for my husband and I. We are both unable to eat dairy (from any animal) and gluten. I’ve seen so many glorious pictures of the food in Turkey, but sadly a lot of it seems to revolve around wheat. Any suggestions about dishes to look try or restaurants to look for that would fit our needs?

I hate always feeling like I’m asking for special treatment because of my allergies – I’m hoping to arrive with a little bit of knowhow! =)

Thanks so much!
Amanda

Reply

Erlend Geerts September 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Hi Amanda,

Well, you should be OK with all the cold starters (mezes) with olive oil (zeytinyağlı) as well as fresh fish and salads. No shortage of those here.

Kind regards,
Erlend

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Jess Brown October 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Great article! Thanks for the information, especially about zeytin yağlı. I’m visiting Turkey very soon and, as a vegetarian, will most likely be eating a lot of it!

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Lynn November 12, 2013 at 10:32 am

Please could you help me? I have recently returned from Istanbul. I enjoyed a delicious dish of lamb, cooked in a pomegranite sauce with apricots and figs. It was delicious but I didn’t write down the name and can’t find a recipe.
Many thanks
Lynn

Reply

Erlend Geerts November 13, 2013 at 7:46 am

Hi Lynn,

I can’t think of a typical Turkish dish with those ingredients. But maybe ask the guys of Istanbul Eats (istanbuleats.com). They specialize in Turkish food and restaurants.

Kind regards,
Erlend

Reply

tirtha July 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Hi Erlend,
I’ll be visiting Istanbul in early August from India via England. In all respects you’ve made our lives so much simpler for the 7 days we’ll stay at Istanbul and Cappadocia. Really useful, insightful pieces.
Thank you very much.

Tirtha

Reply

Erlend Geerts July 23, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Hi Tirtha,

I’m so glad I could help. Thanks for sharing.

Have a nice holiday,
Erlend

Reply

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