Until my trip this year, my experiences of Turkish food were pretty much limited to kebab places of varying quality – from decent to the 3am on-the-way-home-kebab – and to Turkish delight, so I was really excited to see what Turkey had in store for us. There were plenty of kebabs, although not of the rolled variety, and also lots of yummy Turkish delight! But we also got to sample a range of other dishes, along with one of my best fine-dining experiences to date.
While in Turkey I got to grips with the different kinds of kebab – turns out the version that I’m most familiar with from New Zealand and England is the doner kebab, but there are other varieties that are both tastier and better for you! Above is a sis kebab, my first meal in Turkey, from a little place next to the Grand Bazaar. Sis kebab is made with meat, in this case minced meat, threaded onto a skewer and grilled. It was served with bulgur wheat in a tomato paste, and with a whole chilli, salad and yufka (flatbread). Simple but yum!
Sis kebab with turkish pied in tomato sauce – so good!
In Cappadocia I tried Testi Kebab – a mixture of delicious meat and vegetables cooked in a clay jug over fire. Testi is actually Turkish for jug! The jug is sealed with dough, which is knocked off, along with the top of the jug, to serve the kebab. The meat was beautifully tender and so tasty!
Gözleme and Menemen
Near Ephesus we had gözleme – paper-thin bread filled with various toppings, folded and baked over a fire. The finished product was light, simply flavoured and so tasty – the girls had spinach and feta and I had mince and mushrooms.
At the same time I tried menemen, a dish I loved for the ease of recreating it at home as well as the delicious taste. Sautéed onion and green peppers, tomatoes, spices, and eggs are scrambled together in individual metal dishes. This is apparently also known as the bachelors’ dish as it’s so easy to prepare!
As alluded to above, in Istanbul I had one of my best fine dining experiences to date at Mikla Restaurant – if you go to Istanbul I can’t recommend it highly enough, from the amazing views to the incredible food! I had octopus and huge prawns and both were so delicious. I’m a massive seafood fan and will always try it if I’m somewhere near the coast – this meal is going to be particularly hard to beat.
Another educational experience was learning about apple tea, which I’d always thought of as quite Turkish. Turns out that herbal teas are viewed more as medicinal than proper drinks, and apple tea in particular is a very touristy drink. Nevertheless, it was tasty! True Turkish tea is black tea, served without milk, which I also really liked.
And then there’s raki. Raki is the national alcoholic drink of Turkey, an aniseed-flavoured liquid that is initially clear, cloudy when mixed with water, and delivers one hell of a kick! There are a number of traditional customs associated with a night of drinking raki, from the youngest person at the table being the designated pourer, to the eldest being the one that dictates when everyone stops drinking – or falls over! We only tried it a couple of times and it certainly wasn’t for everyone, but I like liquorice flavours so it went down pretty nicely with me.
And so to the last, and probably the best – the many many sweet treats we tried in Turkey! Most will be familiar with Turkish delight or lokum, at least in its plainer form. These are the basic starch and sugar gel, commonly flavoured with rosewater, orange or lemon, and dusted with icing sugar. However, while we were in Turkey we tried a lot of different varieties – purely in the interests of research, of course – and I discovered my favourite type. This was a pomegranate turkish delight, filled with pistachios, and rolled in marshmallow… my mouth is watering just thinking about it!
My favourite type in the front and also back centre… yum!
Another favourite treat was baklava, which you might think of as a Greek dessert, but is actually common throughout the region covered by the former Ottoman Empire, as well as in Central and South-West Asia. Layers of sweet filo pastry, filled with chopped nuts and honey, it melts in your mouth… mmm.
There was a lot of dried fruit, including figs, dates, and citrus. I was surprised to see both natural and sweetened kiwifruit in the Spice Bazaar, but one of my readers informed me they are actually grown in Turkey, by the Black Sea. So nice to have a taste of home!
As a caffeine addict, I loved the Turkish coffee we tried all around the country. Served black, it is usually made by boiling coffee grounds with sugar in a small pot, and then served without straining into a small cup, with the grounds settling before being drunk. It did usually result in a bit of coffee sludge at the bottom, but was also very strong and delicious – just the way I like it!
Have you tried Turkish cuisine? Do you like it?