If you’re planning to visit Turkey, you’ve probably already tried Turkish food. Turks are famous for their cuisine, in particular doner, fresh baklava, Turkish delight, and so much more.
Here is our list of some of the most popular foods that you will see locals eating every day in Turkey. Getting acquainted with these will make it easier to order when you’re in a Turkish restaurant.
But the best part about becoming familiar with Turkish cuisine it will give you greater insight into Turkish culture. Obviously learning Turkish is the most important step in becoming acquainted with Turkish culture. However, learning a new language takes years, and you can enjoy Turkish food and hospitality even without speaking Turkish.
Food and beverages are big part of hospitality in Turkey. Turks consume the most tea (çay) of any country, and this humble beverage has come to symbolise social interaction and hospitality in Turkey.
Most famous Turkish foods you need to try
We’ve heard tourists ask for a döner kebab when they order a Turkish döner. But these are separate things in Turkey. Döner is meat cooked on a rotating spit, whereas kebab is cooked on a skewer.
Döner means “rotating” in Turkish. It comes from the word “dönmek” which means “to rotate”. You can generally choose from chicken, beef or lamb when you order döner.
Like we said, kebab (kebap) is meat on a skewer, often ground meat or chicken. It’s served with salad and bread on the side.
Iskender is similar to lamb döner, except it is served on a bed of pita bread and covered in tomato sauce.
Islak means wet, and this street food is what is sounds like, a wet hamburger. It soaked in tomato sauce and then steamed in a box before purchase.
Lahmacun is Turkish pizza, and it’s not like ordinary pizza. It is thin and crispy with spicy ground meat as the main topping. It’s served with salad, herbs and lemon on the side. Locals stuff lahmacun with salad before folding it in half to eat it like a sandwich. Unlike traditional pizza, you won’t find cheese or tomato sauce on lahmacun.
Manti is Turkish pasta that resembles tiny dumplings. It is stuffed with spicy ground lamb or beef and served on a bed of garlicy yogurt or tomato sauce.
Turkey has various stuffed vegetable dishes that go by the name dolma. Our favourite is eggplant stuffed with rice and ground lamb meat. It is a popular mezze and served in kebab houses all throughout Turkey.
Another version of dolma you’ll see everywhere in Turkey is lemon flavoured rice wrapped in vine leaves called Yaprak Sarma, a popular vegetarian dish.
Midye dolma (stuffed mussels)
It’s not only vegetables that make a tasty dolma. Turks also stuff mussels with herbs and spiced rice. These aromatic stuffed mussels are sold as a street snack in Turkish towns along the coast.
Çiğ köfte (raw meatball)
It’s called raw meatball but çiğ köfte contains no meat. The ingredients traditionally include tomatoes, bulgar, bread, tomato paste and a bunch of spices. It’s a Turkish popular appetiser.
This street food is basically a baked potato buried underneath toppings. If you go to a Kumpir place (which you can find in every city in Turkey and not just Istanbul), you can choose from toppings like corn, olives, pickled red cabbage, cheese, beetroot, sausage and sour cream.
A simit is a ring-shaped bread roll covered in sesame seeds. You’ll see simit sellers everywhere in Turkey and we find this crunchy snack surprisingly addictive for a simple bread roll. It’s the ultimate Turkish snack-on-the-go and can be ordered with cheese or Nutella.
Borek is a crispy pastry that comes with a variety of fillings, like spinach, cheese – and Nutella too, of course. It’s made with layers of thin dough and an egg mixture.
Soup, known as çorba in Turkey, is one of the cheapest meals you can get in Turkey, so it’s perfect if you’re traveling on a budget.
The most common soup is mercemek, which is a creamy lentil soup.
We love this Turkish classic made by frying eggs and tomatoes together on a skillet. You’ll find it on every breakfast menu in Turkey.
This unique Turkish food is made from lamb intestines and grilled on a pit.
Balik ekmek is especially popular with tourists in Istanbul. There are lots of restaurants along the water at Eminonu in Istanbul that serve this fish sandwich. It is pretty much just bread and vegetables with a small portion of fish. It’s not overly popular with locals.
This mezze is a signature Mediterranean appetiser made by frying vegetables in sauce. It’s loved in Turkey so much that it even has its own song. It traditionally includes eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes and red and green bell pepper.
Lokum (Turkish delight)
Turkish delight is sold all throughout Turkey (you’ll also see it sold under “lokum” which is the local name for it). Classic lokum is rose flavoured jelly coated in a sugary powder, but there are lots of variations. Our favourite is chocolate and hazelnut lokum that tastes like nougat.
If you visit Turkey during Ramadan, you may notice people giving each other sweet treats after breaking the fast.
Of course, the king of Turkish cuisine is baklava, which dates back to the Byzantine empire (although the recipe used today was refined during the Ottoman Empire). It’s a sweet dessert made from layered phyllo dough, ground pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts and a lemony sugar syrup. Locals vary with how many pieces they can eat. How many pieces can you do?
Pilav stands for a range of Turkish rice dishes. It is basically white rice cooked in chicken stock, sometimes with additions like bulgur (cracked wheat) or brown sehriye (orzo).
Künefe is a warm cheesy dessert, made with a local version of Mozzarella cheese, and soaked in a sugar syrup. It rivals baklava for popularity in Turkey but it’s much faster to make.
Firin Sütlaç (Rice pudding)
Sütlaç is a traditional Turkish dessert. It’s made by baking white rice in sweetened milk, and is normally served cold in a clay pot.
A bomba, also known as Izmir bomba, is not an ordinary chocolate cookie. It is soft, thin dough stuffed with Nutella and is named after the city of Izmir, the place it originated. At times we have speculated on whether the large bombas contain a whole jar of Nutella inside. Enjoy!
Asüre is another popular pudding with a unique story. According to Islam, Noah served this dish after surviving the big flood. It’s made with chickpeas, haricot beans and dried fruits and nuts. Locals typically make it in the first month of the Islamic calendar and gift it to their neighbours.
Ayran is probably Turkey’s most popular drink (after tea, of course) and it’s made from a mixture of yoghurt, water and salt. It’s consumed all year-round but makes for an especially refreshing beverage on a Turkish summer day.
So there you have it! 25 famous foods and beverages that you can’t miss in Turkey. And apart from the fish sandwich (balık ekmek), they are all popular with locals and will open up your dining experience in Turkey. Not only that, it’s a great way to get you started learning about Turkish culture and hospitality.
I’m a teacher and writer living abroad. I love languages, drinking lots of çay (tea) with friends, experiencing different cultures and going on adventures with my family.