Staples and Specialities
Turkey is one of the few countries that can feed itself from its own produce and have leftovers. This is not hard to believe as there is food being grown, sold and eaten wherever you look. Famous favourites are ubiquitous doner kebab, but regional specialties abound
Turkish kahvalti (breakfast) consists of fresh-from-the-oven white ekmek (bread), jam or honey, black olives, slices of cucumber and juicy tomatoes, a hard-boiled egg, a block of white cheese and innumerable dainty glasses of sweetened black çay (tea). Locals eat like this daily, with sometimes a second helping late morning if they have had an early start. Expect this feast at every hotel.
There's not always a lot to choose between what is on offer for lunch and dinner, but both meals frequently start with çorba (soup). The most common soups are ezo gelin (red lentil and rice) and domates (tomato), but you may also meet balık çorbası (fish soup), sebze çorbası (vegetable soup) and yayla çorbası (yogurt soup with mint). Workers who don't have time for a leisurely breakfast at home will often pop into a cheap restaurant for a mercimek çorbası (lentil soup) on the way to work.
A night fuelled by raki and Turkish mezes in a meyhane (tavern) often ends up being a visitor's most cherished memory of Turkey. Locals usually savour a procession of mezes throughout the night. The waiter brings out a tray of cold mezes for you to point and choose- select your hot mezes from the menu.
In the most restaurants, mezes are usually followed by meat. Beef is the most commonly used meat, through lamp and mutton follow closely behind. Meat is prepared in three main ways: as kofte (meatballs); yahni (stewed or casseroled meat) and most commonly as kebeps. You will find sis kebaps (marinated cubes of meat on skewers( everywhere. The different meals are distinguished by the spices, accompanying vegetables and occasionally the sauce (usually tomato but sometimes yogurt-based). Meat dishes are often named after their places of origin. Guess where Tokat kebap come from?
Turks love vegetables, eating them fresh in summer and pickling them for winter. Patlican (eggplant / aubergine) is the darling, cooked in every conceivable manner- Turkish cookbooks list up to 200 recipes for it! Turks also love dolma (stuffed vegetables): they stuff rice, currants, all-spice, cinnamon and pine nuts into peppers, tomatoes, cabbage and grape leaves (the tastiest). With the addition of lamb mince, dolma is served piping hot. Dishes based on cabbage or cheese are staples of the Black Sea region's unique cuisine.
if you consider mains to be merely an obligation before the most important course, desert, you will be delighted to hear that sweets are an indispensable part of the Turkish meal and culture. Turkish sweets are a mix of super-sweet pastries, syrupy cakes, helva (a sweet made from sesame seeds) and milk- based, dried-fruit and pulse puddings. Consider yourself warned.
CHEESE, GLORIOUS CHEESE
Be the envy of every mouse with a taste-test tour of Turkey's cheeses. Do as the locals do and try cheeses before you buy. Serve them at room temperature and buy from reputable looking market stores ( brucellosis can be a problem with unpasteurized cheeses so it pays to be a little careful). One of the best places to buy cheese is in the spice bazaar in Istanbul.
There are three main storage methods for cheese; teneke, cheese squares in metal drums; tulum, pressed cheese in bags or, less commonly these days,in hairy goat skins; and cheese pressed into wheels. Keçi (goat's) cheese is popular in the west of the country and koyun (ewe's) cheese out east (the animals are suited to the climatic conditions of each region). Inek (cow's) cheese is becoming increasingly popular too. You'll find a combination of these depending on the season, but early spring cheeses are at their milky-rich best.
The most common Turkish cheeses are beyaz peynir, a salty white feta you will find on every breakfast table, and kasar peynir, a yellowy cheese like a Cheddar. Our favourites of the many other cheeses worth seeking out are listed below.
Van otlu peynir - chewy ewe's cheese laced with freshy picked mountain herbs.
Erzincan peynir - for novelty value try this dry, crumbly ewe's cheese cured in a tulum (goatskin bag). Some say it tastes like a goat's backside!
Nigde peynir- hard to find but well worth the search, this is one of Turkey's finest. Can be found as a blue cheese, too.
Muhlama - a large dish overflowing with molten cheese, best sampled in the tiny villages of the Kackar Mountains.