Gourmets rank Turkish cuisine, along with French and Chinese, as one of the world’s three classic cuisines. Turkey’s rich and varied cooking derives from its multi-ethnic Ottoman heritage and food is often the highlight of a visit. To whet your appetite, here are some of the best traditional Turkish dishes.
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Another favourite is künefe, a southeastern Turkish treat made from mild goat’s cheese, topped with shredded wheat and soaked in rose syrup. It is served warm after being baked in the oven.
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Tulum peynir is a strong, salty, almost granular goat’s cheese cured in a goatskin. Otlu peynir from the Van area is cured with herbs and eaten at breakfast; cow’s-milk kaşar, especially eski (aged) kaşar from the Kars region, is also highly esteemed.
Iskender kebab can be made from thinly sliced lamb or chicken meat cooked on the grill. The meat should be placed on pita slices drizzled with a spicy tomato sauce and then drizzled with melted sheep's milk butter and yoghurt on top. In eateries, the sauce and butter are usually poured over the kebab while it is being served, as an element of entertainment for the diners.
If you are into spicy Sis kebabs - in the far southeast, (Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep and Antakya), the food becomes much spicier. Şanlıurfa is known for its onion-laced şiş kebabs. Sis Bebab is one of the staples of Turkish cuisine.
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There are many variations of kofte, with different regions and families having their own unique recipes and preparations. Some popular types of kofte include Adana kofte, which is spicier and made with ground lamb, and Izmir kofte, which includes herbs and vegetables such as parsley and grated carrots.
The most complicated dish is tavukgöğsü. This is a cinnamon-topped morsel made from hyper-boiled and strained chicken breast, semolina starch and milk.
Some popular offal dishes are Böbrek (kidney), yürek (heart), ciğer (liver), and koç yumurtası (ram’s egg) or billur (crystal) – the last two euphemisms for testicle.
Mevsim salatası or seasonal salad – perhaps tomato slices, watercress, red cabbage and lettuce hearts, sprinkled with cheese and drenched in dressing – resembles a Western salad and often accompanies a kebab meal.
The most frequently encountered soup is mercimek (lentil soup), The main ingredient is lentils. It can be vegetarian or include meat. Any kind of lentil can be used in the soup, but red or yellow lentils will make it thicker.
Once set, it is cut into bite-sized cubes and coated in icing sugar or a mixture of icing sugar and cornstarch to prevent sticking. Turkish Delight comes in a variety of flavours such as pistachio, hazelnut, and orange, and it is often served as a dessert or a sweet snack with tea or coffee.
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Given the higher cost of coffee, the staple of çayhanes is çay (tea): served black and sweet (never with milk) in small, tulip-shaped glasses. It’s prepared in a double boiler, typically aluminium, known as a çaydanlik or demlik – the tea is steeped in the bottom half, with the resulting brew combined with plain hot water from the top part.
You can ask for açık (mild) or demli (strong) tea – if you say nothing it will probably arrive stewed to the point of undrinkability.
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