We Ate Turkey

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

It all starts with bread.

Then…more bread.

Then finally (after one more slice of bread), the main dishes come out and the real fun begins. One thing that we didn’t expect from Turkey was to enjoy the food so much!

Turkey has so many different dishes it was impossible to try them all. No matter what your food preference is, you will not go hungry in this country.

here is a selection of the dishes we loved…

Simit – The Turkish pretzel. It’s a baked dough ring covered in sesame seeds. You can find them at anytime or anywhere and are a perfect snack. You could almost say it’s the national food of Turkey.


Börek comes in many shapes and varieties. But it is essentially two things that we all love: pastry and cheese. Sometimes they will try to sneak some spinach in there to make it healthier, but you can totally pick that out in protest if you choose.

Döner – Turkey’s cheapest and best fast food. The chicken or lamb is slow roasted on a huge skewer and then thinly sliced off to be served on bread or rolled up in a wrap. It is topped with tomatoes, lettuce, a special tomato sauce (and, if you wish, ketchup and mayo).

Iskender Kebab

İskender Kebap   It took us until our second visit to discover this, and it quickly was elevated to one of our favourite dishes. Take delicious, savoury döner meat, top it with burnt butter and tomato sauce, and smother it all over chunks of fresh bread. A dollop of yogurt on the side adds some refreshing twist on the flavour.

Yaprak Sarma

Sarma – One of our favorite snacks or pre-meal appetizers. They can be found throughout the Mediterranean countries, and Turkey’s form of the dish is delicious. Grape leaves are stuffed with a rice, garlic and olive oil mixture and then topped off with lemon juice. We often found ourselves reaching for second (and third!) helpings.


Gözleme – A hand made pastry stuffed with either spinach, cheese or potato. It is very similar to the savory Greek pastry Spanakopita.


Köfte – These little meatballs can be found in a multitude of different dishes – we preferred them just plain grilled or in a spicy tomato sauce. We even tried cooking them on our own.

Mercimek Koftesi – This dish is considered a delicacy in Turkey and we were fortunate enough to try it on a picnic with friends.  They are lentil and bulgur wheat balls, rolled up in lettuce and topped with lemon juice.  A great vegetarian dish and a recipe for this can be found here.

Mezes – These are the Spanish tapas of Turkey. Small specialty dishes that generally serve as either a snack with drinks or the appetizer before the main meal.


Mantı – One of our favorites. Small pasta ravioli like shells filled with meat and topped with yogurt, garlic and a chili oil. It is normally garnished with mint, and normally inhaled within a few minutes. It is THAT good.


Şiş – You can’t go wrong with grilled meat on a stick. Found on probably every menu in Turkey, chicken, beef or lamb is generally served with a side of rice and a salad.

Balik Ekmek Fish Sandwich

Balik Ekmek – A staple along the coasts, fish sandwiches are typically cheap and always fresh.

Patlican Musakka – Roasted eggplants, minced meat, peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste, onions and an array of Turkish spices all mixed together and slow cooked for a mouth watering meal.  Of course it can be topped off with some yogurt.


Testi Kebab – A specialty from the Cappadocia region, this lamb and vegetable dish is cooked in a sealed ceramic pot for over an hour and when it is removed from the oven, the top of the ceramic pot is cracked with a back of a knife and removed.

Saç Tava – minced meat, vegetables and spices are cooked in a traditional large convex shaped pan.  This dish came garnished with french fries which is a modification to the original recipe.

Kokoreç – Turkey’s answer for the late night hot dog. Lamb sweetbreads, heart, lungs and kidneys are seasoned with olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper. They are held together with the intestine and then slow roasted on a large skewer (similar to a döner). It is then shaved and served in a roll. A popular late night delight after a party or an intense game of Okey.

Dondurma Turkish Ice Cream

Baklava – Yes, we already did a whole post on ONLY baklava, but it is worthy of mention again. And again.

Lokum Turkish Delight

Lokum – Turkish “Delight” is exactly that – and if you haven’t tried it fresh from a market vendor in Turkey, you haven’t tried it before. The rose flavour is especially delicious.


Künefe  – Shredded wheat soaked in syrup and topped with crumbly pistachio. Sounds delicious, right? What about if there is a layer of melted cheese underneath? Still all good ingredients, but for us, didn’t quite work all together.

and, to wash it all down…


Efes – For a country where beer choices are few, the award-winning Pilsner Efes was surprisingly good.


Ayran – The judgment was split on this one (Pete: yay, Dalene: nay). Ayran is very popular, commonly served with döner, and is best described as a salty yogurt drink.

Turkish Food - Tea

Çay – The Turkish take their tea seriously, and in large quantities. It is not uncommon to see people walking around with trays of the tiny glasses to be distributed in the markets or at any public venue.

So after indulging on all this wonderful Turkish food we are in desperate need of a long term appointment with a treadmill. We keep wondering if we will find a country where they are crazy about celery. Maybe if we find this place we can drop some of these hard-earned travel inches.

Are you planning your first trip to Turkey? Use the Turkey Travel Blog to help plan your journey.

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  1. Yum! This made me salivate! Turkish food should be main stream like Italian or Greek food, it’s soooo good! I love them all.

    What I find surprising is no one ever mentions Midye (stuffed mussels). I’ve read a lot of blogs featuring Turkish food but midye is never included. Perhaps because it is a street food and most tourists wouldn’t try them? I don’t know… but when I visited Istanbul I tried them and they were soooooo good! Midye is my most favourite street food in Turkey!

    Salivating post!! :))

    1. I never did get a chance to try Midye. Whenever I came across them, I was never in the mood. I love mussels. I will definitely give them a try when we go back.

  2. Major YUM – I definitely should not have read that in the middle of the afternoon!

    1. I probably should have put a warning on it – “will make you hungry”. It’s making my stomach growl this morning 🙂

  3. What a beautiful set of pictures. I am happy to notice that i have eaten more than half of these in our trip through Turkey. And more than a few Efes along the way.

    Our favorite aspect was the spices on the table everywhere we were. Chili pepper goes on everything. My favorite dish that didn’t make your list was Iskender Kabab. Meat in a sauce over bread.

    1. Agreed, the chili pepper on the table was right up my alley. I love my food hot and spicy. We did try the Iskender Kebab, numerous times, just never got a photo of it 😉 It is definitely worth mentioning though. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. This all looks so SCRUMPTIOUS! 😀 nom nom nom! And I just wrote a post about Moroccan recipes! Its a food day all around! 😀

  5. This post should come with a warning: don’t read if you are hungry! Everything looks and sounds delicious. Now I’m laying in bed and my stomach is talking to me. We leave on a cruise to Greece tomorrow so there is literally no food in my house.

    Seriously great post! I want to go back and do a food tour of Turkey.

    1. Ahhh, a cruise to Greece. Have a wonderful trip, I’ve heard some of the food is quite similar, so enjoy!

  6. wow, these photos are amazing. Other than the obvsious, do any of these have sesame in them as far as you know? My husband is allergic. Would be great to know if there are any definite no nos right off the bat.

    great post!

    1. As far as I know, the only one with sesame is the Simit. All the rest, nope, he should be good to give them a try.

  7. Nice summary. Never heard of some of these things. (OK, most of them.) If I see a Turkish restaurant in San Diego I’ll refer back here. 🙂

    1. I had never heard of pretty much all of these (except for doner). I wonder if we come across a Turkish restaurant outside of Turkey how many dishes I will recognize.

    1. It’s the perfect combination. The ayran is so refreshing. I think Dalene is crazy for not liking it. We will be back in Turkey and we will meet up for some Efes’s. We promise.

  8. Wow, that is a list and a half. You didn’t do a bad job of ‘eating Turkey.’ We love all of those – reluctant to choose a favourite…although the mantı in your photo is looking particularly appetising! 🙂

  9. Here are some other great Turkish food you’d wanna consider..

    1.Eggs with Sujuk (Sucuklu Yumurta) and Pastırma.

    Really good with breakfast:)

    2.”Lahmacun” (Lahmajoon/ Turkish mince pizza)
    3. imam bayıldı/Karnıyarık
    4.Mercimek Çorbası , İşkembe Çorbası, Kelle paça Çorbası..

    delicious soups…

    and so many more…..

    Don’t forget a nice Turkish coffee after all of this great food;)

    1. Ahmet…those are ALL great suggestions to add to our list (although I think I only know two of them – haha!) Just more for us to try when we come back to visit! 🙂

  10. You’re killing me. I absolutely loved Turkish food. I also liked the pide, which didn’t make your list, maybe didn’t have a picture? I’m so bad about remembering to take pictures of food, especially when it’s so good I don’t have the patience to photograph it first. Kebabs, doner, the bread, the spices, OMG I miss Turkish food! It’ll probably be a major factor in our decision to go back there! Love your photos!

    1. Thanks Ali! There are a few things missing from our list (although I have to say that I didn’t really care for pide, but Pete did, big surprise haha!)

  11. Wow. And there was me thinking Turkey’s sole contribution to world cuisine was the doner kebab, horrifically interpreted in the UK to mean something quite.. quite disgusting.

    My opinion of the doner did change in Germany, where I learnt that it doesn’t have to be a giant pile of brown gristley meat served with chips and curry sauce at 3am. That said, the Kokoreç looks absolutely perfect for a late night post beverages snack!

    1. One of our Turkish friends told us that doner has become the best selling fast food in Germany? I would believe it. Have to say that I skipped the kokoreç, I’m happy to leave the unusual taste-testing to Pete!

      1. That sounds likely – there is a massive Turkish community in Germany (well, in the parts I visited anyway!). The kebabs I had were always really excellent there, tasty juicy (recognisable!) meat. A far cry from what I had previously experienced in the UK 😉

  12. This looks really excellent!

    We live in Germany and Turkish food is extremely popular here (partially due to a large Turkish community), however, most of the people only know Döner Kebab and Lahmachun, which is a pity as Turkish cuisine is really diverse and stretches far beyond fast food! Your photos are the perfect proof and it makes it think it’s time to plane another trip to Istanbul 🙂

      1. Oh it is even better than in Turkey, believe me! It’s like Tex-Mex in the U.S – somebody came from Mexico and invented amazingly tasting creations based on Mexican food. The Turks who came to Germany perfected their recipe for Doner when there – in Berlin, to be precise. Best doners on the planet! 😉

  13. Uh, yum! I love Turkish food. I think gozleme and sarma would have to be my favourites from when I was there. You certainly did well trying so many different foods!

  14. My mouth is watering looking at those photos. I also love Halvah in small doses – though don’t know if it was the Turks or Greeks who invented it.

  15. So glad we are in Italy right now with so much amazing food around otherwise my hunger would be through the roof! We were super surprised with Turkish food as well and could well be our favourite foodie country!

  16. The food looks delicious! We only spent 6 hours in Istanbul (layover on the way to turkey) but in that time we did manage to fit in a delicious meal of iskender and doner kebab….hmmm… so good!

    1. Thanks Vicky. I’m now thinking of where I can get my hands on a kebab in Malta… Strange in the restaurant today I saw Moroccan Tagine, so you would think Kebab should be around somewhere….

  17. I really didn’t need another reason to visit Turkey, but these food shots have sealed the deal. I realize that I’m only familiar with about 4 or 5 of these dishes, so I really can’t wait to experience all this wonderful, authentic Turkish cuisine!

  18. Awesome post! Turkey really does have amazing food. I’ve already made stuffed peppers and we only got back from Turkey two weeks ago!

  19. Another reminder that we’ve really, really got to go to Turkey soon! That manti sounds amazing; I’ve never even heard of it before. YUM.

  20. We went to the Calgary Turkish Festival this past weekend. We tried the Manti – AWESOME, the Gozleme – also AWESOME and a Kokorec – indeed AWESOME.
    Paxton played it safe and had an ice cream come from McKay’s. Well, most of one, as there is always a parent tax to pay.
    It was fun to be at, they had entertainment and booths and food and well, all the usual cultural festival stuff.

    1. I’m SO HAPPY that you tried all these and came back to tell us about them! And if you happen to perfect a manti recipe by the time we come to visit…hmmm…I wouldn’t hate that… 🙂

  21. Wow! I was surprised to realize that 99% of these dishes can be found in the Greek cuisine too! Even the names are almost the same! On the other side, if I think again, it’s not such a big surprise, especially considering the fact that we(Greeks and Turks) have lived together for over 1500 years!! At first during the time of the Byzantine Empire(330-1453) until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans(1453) and then during the Ottoman Empire and until the Greek War of Independence(1821). At least something good came out of all these dispute: Greece and Turkey after so many years of mutual cultural interactions have eventually managed to create probably the best cuisine in the world nowadays!

  22. wow! what a great find, I love all YOUR photos. :] I own a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant in the OC and I just shared your content on our Facebook. :] Thanks!

  23. Along with the foods mentioned you have to try cabbage sarma that’s homemade, it’s filled with meat and tastes very different to the olive oil version in the restaurant. Some foods that you would be unlikely to find in a restaurant but don’t die before you try are : Barbunya :Ezogelin Soup :Irmik Helva :Paca soup The absolute best thing in the world :Icli kofte. I wish I could make these things for you, I really want to have a restaurant that serves food us Turks eat and sooner or later everyone will get used to it too:)

  24. Hi There. Great blog and detailed explanation. I am a Turkish guy by the way. One little advice though. Every dish has its own originating region/city. Even though Istanbul is a metropolis where you can find all of them, sometimes you can’t find the best. For that, you have to travel those other cities. Like; if you want to eat the best Iskender (version of Doner), then Bursa is your city (and ask for only the 2 restaurants for the best)..or for kebabs, lahmacun, baklava and other pistachio including tastes, you should go to cities Gaziantep and Urfa.Hatay is also another city for the best kebabs. We can conclude that, several cities of Turkey has their own cuisine :))
    Bon appetite during your journey to Turkey.

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