The best of Turkish cuisine

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 20.08.2021

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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Appetizers (meze)

Turkey is justly famous for its meze, which in many ways is the heart of Turkish cuisine. The best and most common include: patlıcan salatası (aubergine mash), piyaz (white haricot vinaigrette), semizotu (purslane weed, usually in yoghurt), mücver (courgette croquettes), sigara böreği (tightly rolled cheese pastries), imam bayıldı (cold baked aubergine with onion and tomato) and dolma (any stuffed vegetable, but typically peppers or tomatoes).

Differen appetizer and anti pasti, meze, tapas © Shutterstock

Turkish meze © Shutterstock

Baklava - the undisputed favourite in Turkish cuisine

There are a variety of different baklava-related desserts, all permutations of a sugar, flour, nut and butter mix. The best is antep fıstıklı sarması (pistachio-filled baklava). Cevizli (walnut-filled baklava) is usually a little cheaper, but still worth trying.

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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Among all Turkish cuisine, baklava is a must-try dish © joannawnuk/Shutterstock

Pita bread (ekmek)

The standard Turkish loaf, sold from glass-fronted cabinets outside grocery stores across the city, is good if an hour or two old, but soon goes spongy and stale. Flat, semi-leavened pide bread is served with soup, at kebapcıs and during Ramadan. Unleavened durum, like a tortilla, is the wrap of choice in cheap döner joints. Mısır ekmeği (corn bread) is a Black Sea staple and sometimes makes an appearance.

Istanbul fish sandwich. Burger with fried fish. Turkish tea with Balik Ekmek © Shutterstock

Burger with fried fish - Balik Ekmek © Shutterstock

Cheese (peynir)

There’s far more to Turkish cheese than beyaz peynir (like Greek feta), a ubiquitous element of the standard Turkish breakfast. Dil peynir (“tongue” cheese), a hard, salty cheese that breaks up into mozzarella-like filaments, and the plaited oğru peynir, can both be grilled or fried like Cypriot halloúmi.

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.

Mihalic peyniri / Turkish Cheese © Shutterstock

Mihalic peyniri/Turkish Cheese © Shutterstock

Fish (balık)

Budget mainstays include sardalya (sardines – grilled fresh), hamsi (anchovies – usually fried) and istavrit (horse mackerel). Mercan (red bream), lüfer (bluefish), kılıç (swordfish) and orfoz (giant grouper) are highly prized and expensive. Çipura (gilt-head bream) and levrek (sea bass) are usually farmed and consequently good value – if less tasty. But whatever its price, fish is generally simply prepared and grilled.


Fish market, Istanbul, Turkey © Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

Iskender Kebab

Iskender Kebab is named after its inventor, Iskander Efendi, who lived in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. It is one of the most popular dishes in traditional Turkish cuisine.

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.

 Turkish iskender kebab © Shutterstock

Turkish iskender kebab © Shutterstock

Sis Kebab

Kebab (kebap in Turkish) has figured prominently in Turkish cuisine for over 10 centuries, and its meaning has enlarged to include meats that have been boiled, baked or stewed. Meat is usually cooked with vegetables – for example with şiş kebabs, pieces of green pepper, tomato and onion add flavour to the morsels of meat.

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.

cevapcici, grilled balkan sausages with potato fries, red onion rings, ajvar and fresh lettuce leaves © Shutterstock

Kebab platter, Turkey © Shutterstock


Another famous meat dish in Turkish cuisine is Karniyarik. It consists of aubergine stuffed with sautéed chopped onions, garlic, tomatoes and minced meat seasoned with ground black pepper. Optionally, green peppers and parsley can be added to this dish. If you're looking for vegetarian options, the traditional Turkish dish İmam bayıldı is very similar to Karniyarik but does not include meat in its composition.

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Turkish Traditional Aubergine Eggplant Meal - Karniyarik (Riven Belly) with rice pilav © Shutterstock

Turkish Traditional Aubergine Eggplant Meal - Karniyarik (Riven Belly) with rice pilav © Shutterstock

Cig Kofte (meatballs)

Turkish kofte, also known as köfte, is a popular and traditional meatball dish in Turkish cuisine. Kofte is made by mixing ground beef or lamb with onions, herbs, spices, and breadcrumbs, then shaping the mixture into balls or patties. The mixture is then grilled, baked, or fried until cooked through and browned on the outside.

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.


Cig kofte turkish food © Shutterstock

Milk-based puddings (muhallebi)

Süpangile (“süp” for short, a corruption of soupe d’Anglais) is an incredibly dense, rich chocolate pudding with a sponge or a biscuit embedded inside. Or try other deserts such as keşkül (vanilla and nut-crumble custard) and sütlaç (rice pudding).

The most complicated dish is tavukgöğsü. This is a cinnamon-topped morsel made from hyper-boiled and strained chicken breast, semolina starch and milk.

Turkish Dessert Muhallebi © Shutterstock

Turkish Dessert Muhallebi © Shutterstock

Offal (çöp)

Offal, or "sakatat" in Turkish, is a type of cuisine that is commonly consumed in Turkey. It refers to the internal organs and entrails of animals such as liver, kidney, heart, and stomach, and it is considered a delicacy in Turkish culture. Turkish offal dishes can be prepared in many ways, such as grilled, fried, or stewed, and are often seasoned with spices and herbs.

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.


Kokorec © Dudits/Shutterstock

Salad (salata)

Çoban (shepherd’s) salatası is the generic term for the widespread cucumber, tomato, onion, pepper and parsley salad. Beware, the peppers are sometimes very spicy. Yeşil (green) salad is only seasonally available.

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.

potato salad filled with greens on a tray, pouring black pepper from a small plate onto the salad. Turkish cuisine © Shutterstock

Turkish potato salad © Shutterstock

Lentil Soup

The staple of lunch-time lokantas (from the Italian locanda) is sulu yemek (literally, “liquid food”), vegetable- and meat-based stews, or hazır yemek (ready food), including more involved oven casseroles. Even simpler are the çorbacıs (soup kitchens), open long hours while purveying a range of soups.

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.

Lentil soup served with lemon and turkish pita © Shutterstock

Lentil soup served with lemon and turkish pita © Shutterstock

Steamtray dishes (hazır or sulu yemek)

Dishes such as kuru fasulye (bean soup – rather like baked beans in tomato sauce), taze fasulye (French beans), sebze turlu (vegetable stew) and nohut (chickpeas) are usually found in lokantas (and the home). Meaty favourites include sebzeli köfte (meatballs stewed with vegetables) and various types of chicken stew.

Turkish foods dried bean (kuru fasulye) © Shutterstock

Turkish foods dried bean (kuru fasulye) © Shutterstock

Turkish Delight (lokum)

Turkish Delight, or "lokum" in Turkish, is a popular confectionery that originated in Turkey. It is made from a mixture of sugar, cornstarch, water, and flavourings such as rosewater or lemon juice. The mixture is boiled until it thickens and then poured into trays to set.

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.

Traditional oriental sweet pastry cookies, nuts, dried fruits, pastilles, marmalade, Turkish desert with sugar, honey and pistachio, in display at a street food market, lokum © Shutterstock

Turkish lokum © Shutterstock

Turkish Rice (Pilav)

Pilav is a traditional Turkish meal of rice cooked in broth with spices and other ingredients such as a variety of vegetables and meat. Pilav is cooked using a special technique that prevents the grains of rice from sticking to one another. Over the years this method has spread around the world and given us dishes like Spanish Paella, South Asian pilau or biryani.


Turkish pilav © Shutterstock

Islak Burgers

Islak burger cannot be called traditional Turkish food in the full sense of expression, as it can only be tasted in the Turkish capital, Istanbul. "Wet burger" is a favourite Istanbul street food: a meat patty (usually beef) on a soft bun is drizzled with garlic spicy tomato sauce and left to simmer in a steaming box before being served to diners.

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Delicious Turkish islak hamburger or wet burger on wooden table © Shutterstock

Turkish islak hamburger or wet burger on wooden table © Shutterstock

Traditional Turkish tea & coffee

Turkish coffee is prepared by combining finely ground, roasted robusta beans with water and sugar in a long-handled, tapering small pot (cezve). (You’ll be asked if you want your coffee plain – sade; medium sweet – şekerli; or cloying – çok şekerli). The brew is allowed to rise twice without actually boiling, the esteemed resultant froth decanted first into little cups, then the liquid, and the sediment (never drunk) last.

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.


Turkish coffee © Shutterstock

Want to know more about Turkey? Read our guide to the facts about Turkey you never knew. And our guide to the best things to do in Turkey might help you to plan your future holiday.

Visiting Turkey is a truly unforgettable experience. For more inspirational travel tips check our Rough Guide books. If you travel further in Turkey, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Turkey. For inspiration use the itineraries and our local travel experts. A bit more hands-on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Turkey without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 20.08.2021

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