This Turkish food guide will take you through everything you need to know to plan your food tasting itinerary in Turkey. Turkish people have a passion for eating well. They often prepare meals together with a smorgasbord of options.
For many Turks, dinner is the most important meal of the day. Part of the Turkish tradition of dining out is going to a restaurant or street vendor specializing in one type food such as kebabs, kofte, grilled fish or pide and sharing the dishes that are served in the middle of the table. The cold dishes would be served first, then the hot dishes.
In Istanbul you can find traditional European style service in some restaurants, but if you’re looking for a traditional Turkish experience, look for the restaurants specializing in one type of food.
The experience of eating in Turkey is to be shared with others and not to be rushed. Take your time to drink your tea or coffee, eat slowly, enjoy conversation, and simply be with your friends and family. One of the beautiful things about Turkey is you will not be rushed out of a restaurant. Sit, chat, drink and enjoy.
Don’t forget to get your tips on planning your first trip to Turkey to use with the food guide.
Table of Contents
Planning Your Food Tasting Itinerary
STEP 1: Pre-Trip Planning
When planning your food tour through Turkey, do some pre-trip planning to find out the best restaurants, must try foods, food tours and cooking classes available.
STEP 2: Foodie Themes
When you’re planning there are several foodie themes to work through as you’re deciding your food travel itinerary:
- Regional Foods & Favorites
- Famous Restaurants
- Specialty Shops & Eateries
- Food Markets
- Savory Street Foods
- Wineries & Cocktail Lounges
STEP 3: Organizing Your Turkish Food Itinerary
We would suggest planning 1-2 specific food stops each day in whichever city you are in. Take advantage of having three meals a day – asking your hotel or locals their favorite places to go. Plan for plenty of time to enjoy your meal and enjoy the experience.
STEP 4: Where to Find Restaurant Reviews & Recommendations
You’ll find plenty of food and restaurant reviews on Adventurefolio. Don’t forget to check our city guides for things to do including our Foodie Guides. Other places you can find suggestions are:
- Adventurefolio Instagram Community
- Foodie Blogs
- Trip Advisor
- Lonely Planet
STEP 5: Consider Booking a Food Tour or Cooking Class
Istanbul has a mix of all the regions of Turkey, and you’ll find all the must try foods in various restaurants in the city. Istanbul has opportunities for cooking classes with a fusion of Turkish history, shopping for the dishes you will cook, and then preparing several courses with a local chef.
In any area of Turkey, you visit to taste the local cuisine, you can book tours where you eat your way through the city while enjoying learning about the history of the area. Tours will include an English-speaking licensed guide to accompany you whether it is a private or small group food tour. Be sure look through the Turkish food guide and plan to come hungry!
Food Regions in Turkey
Turkish food is influenced by Central Asia, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisine. Modern Turkey is divided into 7 regions each producing and specializing in a specific area of Turkish cuisine.
The Marmara region where Istanbul, Bursa & Edina are located is where the Ottoman empire’s wealth, industry and gourmet foods were located. You’ll find regional foods all over the city in Istanbul with any restauranteur jumping at the chance to open a location in the city. Located on the Marmaris, this area is known for small fish, mezes, raki, white wine and puddings.
The Aegean region’s largest cities are Izmir, near Ephesus and Bodrum and have a heavy Greek influence on its cuisine. With the Greek islands a stone’s throw off the coast, and abandoned Greek villages in this region of Turkey, you can imagine the mix of foods and culture. The Aegean region is more liberal in its view of alcohol and is known for its wines, olives, salads, herbs, wild weeds, and seafood.
The Mediterranean region consists of the larger cities of Antalya, Kas, Fethiye and Adana and grows most of the fruits and vegetables in the region. There is nothing like walking down the street and picking an orange straight from the tree and eating it. This region is known for large fish, salads, oranges, lemons and figs. If you’re looking for the best fish in the area, look for the Balik Evi (Fish House.)
The Southeastern region’s largest cities are Gaziantep, Urfa and Mardin and is influenced by the neighboring countries of Iraq and Syria. The famous cig kofte and isot chili pepper come from this region. This area produces some of the world’s best pistachios, in turn the most delicious baklava and kunefe. You’ll find ample supply of kebabs, bulgur wheat, baklava, kunefe and peppers in Southeastern Turkey.
The Eastern region’s largest cities are Van, Kars and Malatya. Eastern Turkey is bordered by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and has a large Kurdish population that all influence the food in this region. You’ll find delicious cheeses, dried fruits, grains, and lamb.
The Central region’s largest cities are Ankara, Konya, Kayseri, and Cappadocia are known as the agricultural heartland of Turkey growing most of its vegetables and grains. This area is unique in cooking most dishes with butter instead of olive oil. This area is known for its borek pasteries, lamb casseroles, beef pastirma and fruit molasses.
Black Sea Region
The Black Sea region’s largest cities are Trabzon and Samsun. This region is famous for a fish called hamsi with over 200 different recipes for it. You’ll also find this region is passionate about hazelnuts, corn, salad greens, tea and pide bread.
Favorite Ingredients in Turkish Food
You’ll find some key ingredients are staples in many of the Turkish dishes you’ll try in Turkey. You’ll notice Turkish food includes many kinds of meat in their dishes. If you’re looking for vegetarian or vegan options, you will find dishes that will fit the bill and taste amazing. The larger cities like Istanbul & Izmir have restaurants that cater to vegetarian and vegan Turkish cuisine.
Bread will be served at every meal. Enjoy!
- Onion & Garlic
Beginner's Glossary of Turkish Food
Pronounced (eye-rahn). The other national drink after raki, made with yogurt, salt and water.
A favorite treat made with filo dough layered with pistachios or walnuts and soaked with sugar syrup.
This is a savory pastry called yufka that is rolled, stuffed, or layered with feta, spinach, or lamb.
Pronounced (ch-eye). Tea, served at all meals including tea time at 10am and 2pm.
Pronounced (chorba). Soup, served for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
This is anything stuffed, usually with peppers, eggplant, and zucchini.
This is ice cream, the most popular kind being stretchy and called maras, made with mastic gum and salep. (pronounced marash)
Pronounced (goz-lem-eh). A kind of thin savory pancake, usually stuffed with feta, spinach, or lamb. A dessert option is made with Nutella and fruit.
A sweet flour made with tahini and soapwort root. In shops, it is sold in sticky bricks.
Pronounced (kah-veh). Turkish coffee, usually served black or with sugar upon request. Be sure to sip the tea as there are coffee grounds in the cup.
Prounced (kah-vahl-teh). This is breakfast and literally means ‘after coffee’.
Pronounced (kay-mak). This is delicious, clotted cream made with buffalo, cow, or sheep’s milk.
Chargrilled meat usually on a skewer. You’ll find a wide variety of kebabs throughout Turkey with the doner kebab, iskender kebab and patlican kebab being a few favorites.
Pronounced (kof-teh). Turkish meatball with ground meat usually served with bulgur wheat.
Chargrilled sausage made with lamb, often wrapped in lamb intestines. This would typically be categorized as “street food”.
Pronounced (lah-mah-joon). Turkish flat bread topped with minced meat, tomatoes, onion and garlic.
A casual restaurant, typically an inexpensive lunch where most dished are displayed and you choose what you want.
Turkish Delight served in many flavors. Favorites are pistachio, rose, lemon, hazelnut and mint.
Pronounced (man-tuh). Small dumplings usually stuffed with minced meat and served with a garlic yogurt and pepper sauce.
Pronounced (may-hah-neh). This is a bar that serves appetizers called meze and served with raki.
Pronounced (pay-neer). Cheese, with Kasarli and Beyaz Peynir being some of the most popular.
Pronounced (pee-deh). You may see signs calling this Turkish pizza. It’s a boat shaped flat bread with different toppings cooked in a wood fire oven.
A restaurant more upscale than a lokonta that is open for lunch and dinner.
Pronounced (sahl-cha). A paste made with tomatoes and peppers used to flavor a variety of dishes.
Pronounced (sah-lep). A hot drink served in winter, made with powdered orchid tubers; thought to be an aphrodisiac.
Prononuced (soo-jook). A spicy dried sausage, usually made of beef and usually fried.
Breakfast in Turkey is like brunch or a feast, any day of the week. Look for breakfast salons to get a taste of many different regional breakfast favorites.
It will start with tea; strong or weak, with or without sugar. White bread is always served with breakfast, some will serve different types of grain bread for a healthier option. You can include other breads and savory pastries such as pogaca, simit, borek and acma.
The rest of a traditional turkish breakfast typically comes out on small plates with white cheese (like feta), Kasar peynir, black or green olives, butter, honey, jam, sliced tomatoes, and cucumbers. Your breakfast will include hard boiled eggs, an omelet and possibly sucuk with eggs.
Menemen is a classic breakfast dish made with eggs, tomatoes, green bell peppers and onions; all cooked in one dish and served with bread.
There are many other dishes that can be served with your Turkish Breakfast depending on what region you are in. In Van, you can find breakfast salons that serve up to 40 different plates. Spanning 2-3 hours, they will eat a huge breakfast and not eat the rest of the day. In the Black Sea region, they dip their bread in cheese fondue. In Istanbul, you can find a kahvalti evi that will host large breakfasts that showcase different region’s breakfast traditions.
Best Turkish Sweets
Turks have an undeniable sweet tooth that has translated into a variety of sweets. There are shops that specialize in different kinds of sweat treats – the key is knowing what you want, and which shop to find it in. As you wonder through the streets of Turkey these are the signs you’ll be looking for:
Pronounced (tat-li-jeh). Serves helva, Turkish Delight & ice cream.
Pronounced (shek-er-jeh). Serves cakes, doughnuts, scones & cookies.
Pronounced (moo-hah-le-bee-chee). This is a pudding shop, serving milk and rice-based desserts.
Pronounced (pahs-tah-neh). Serves cookies and syrupy sweets like baklava.
Pronounced (bak-la-vah-jeh). Specializes in serving different types of baklavas.
Grab a cup of cay and enjoy your afternoon tea with a friend – this is a time to be shared.
Famous Drinks in Turkey
Raki is the official drink of Turkey. It’s a black licorice liquor that is served with mezes, fish or oysters. Its poured as clear liquid and then diluted with water turning it into a cloudy looking drink. It’s a Turkish favorite!
Cay is black tea that Turks enjoy plentifully throughout the day. You’ll start and end each meal with a cup as well as having tea breaks at 10am & 2pm. You’ll see the Cayci (Cay Man) walking through the streets with cups of hot cay on silver platters offering tea to shopkeepers and visitors. Don’t be afraid to sit down and chat with a local over a cup of cay.
Turkish coffee is an ancient tradition from Ottoman times. You can order it with or without sugar. It is served with the coffee grounds in the cup so be sure to only sip the coffee so you don’t end up with a mouthful of black coffee grounds.
Wine in this region dates back around 6000 years, with the Hittites making alcohol out of grapes. Over the years, wine became a key component of celebrations. Modern Turkey has many wines that will match the best of American, Australia, Italy, and France. Look for local white wines made from white grapes called emir and narince from the Central region of Turkey, and misket from the Aegean Coast. Try local red wines made from red grapes called okuzgozu grown in the Eastern region, and bagazkere grown in the Southeast region.
If you want to try a local Turkish beer, you can find Efes pretty much anywhere in Turkey.
Best Turkish Food for Kids
When your traveling in Turkey with kids, its always good to prepared and know what are some simple foods that your kids or picky eaters in the family might enjoy. We’ve got a list of a few of our favorite Turkish dishes for your kids:
- Lentil Soup
- Chicken Shish
We’ve got a full guide of best Turkish food for kids and tips for having a great trip even if you have picky eaters in your family.