Taken as a whole, Turkish cuisine is not homogeneous. Aside from common Turkish specialities that can be found throughout the country, there are also many region-specific specialities. The Black Sea region's cuisine (northern Turkey) is based on corn and anchovies. The southeast—Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana—is famous for its kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts such as baklava, kadayıf and künefe. Especially in the western parts of Turkey, where olive trees are grown abundantly, olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking. The cuisines of the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean regions display basic characteristics of Mediterranean cuisine as they are rich in vegetables, herbs, and fish. Central Anatolia is famous for its pastry specialities such as keşkek (kashkak), mantı (especially of Kayseri) and gözleme.
The name of specialities sometimes includes the name of a city or a region (either in Turkey or outside). This suggests that a dish is a speciality of that area, or may refer to the specific technique or ingredients used in that area. For example, the difference between Urfa kebab and Adana kebab is the use of garlic instead of onion and the larger amount of hot pepper that kebab contains.
A typical Turkish breakfast consists of cheese (beyaz peynir, kaşar etc.), butter, olives, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, reçel (jam/marmalade; a preserve of whole fruits) and honey. Sucuk/sujuk (spicy Turkish sausage), pastırma, börek, simit, poğaça and even soups can be taken as a morning meal in Turkey. A common Turkish speciality for breakfast is called menemen, which is prepared with roasted tomatoes, peppers, olive oil and eggs. Invariably, black tea is served at breakfast. Coffee has affected Turkish culture so much that the Turkish word for breakfast, "kahvaltı" literally means "before coffee" (kahve 'coffee' altı 'before').
Although fast food is gaining popularity and many major fast food chains have opened all over Turkey, Turkish people still rely primarily on the rich and extensive dishes of the Turkish cuisine. In addition, some traditional Turkish foods, especially köfte, döner, börek and gözleme are often served in fast food style in Turkey. Eating out has always been common in large commercial cities. Esnaf lokantasi (meaning restaurants for shopkeepers and tradesman) are widespread, serving traditional Turkish home cooking at affordable prices.
In the hot summer, many Turks prefer to have a lighter meal with summer vegetables and fruits. A summer meal is usually made up of fried vegetables (aubergines, potatoes, courgettes, green peppers) served with yoghurt or tomato sauce, sheep's cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons, melons, and summer helva, which is lighter and less sweet than regular helva.
Frequently-used ingredients in Turkish specialities include: meat, eggplants, green peppers, onions, garlic, lentils, beans, tomatoes. Nuts, especially pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, together with spices, have a special place in Turkish cuisine. A great variety of spices are sold at the Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı). Preferred spices and herbs include parsley, cumin, black pepper, paprika, mint, oregano and thyme.
Butter or margarine, olive oil, sunflower oil and corn oil are widely used for cooking. Kuyruk yağı (tail fat of sheep) is used mainly in kebabs and meat dishes. Sesame, hazelnut and walnut oils are used as well.
In the Ottoman cuisine, the combination of fruit with meat was quite frequent. Plums, apricots, apples, grapes, and figs are the most frequently used fruits (either fresh or dried) in Turkish cuisine. For example, komposto (compote) or hoşaf (from Persian khosh âb, literally meaning "nice water") are among the main side dishes to meat or pilav. Dolma and pilaf usually contain currants or raisins. Etli yaprak sarma (vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice) used to be cooked with sour plums in Ottoman cuisine.
Eggplant (Turkish: patlıcan) has a special place in the Turkish cuisine. It is combined with minced meat in karnıyarık. As a speciality of eastern Turkey, there are patlıcan kebabs, such as Tokat Kebab, a specialty of Tokat province or Antep's eggplant kebab. In a large number of mezes, side-dishes or main dishes, including şakşuka, patlıcan salatası ("eggplant salad", an eggplant purée/dip), patlıcan dolma ("filled eggplant"), hünkâr beğendi (eggplant purée prepared with cheese and traditionally served with lamb stew), imam bayildi, and moussaka, eggplant appears to be the major element. It is also used for making aubergine jam ("Patlıcan reçeli") in Antalya province.
Milk-fed lambs, the most popular source of meat, have a very low yield today. For example Kuzu çevirme, cooking the milk-fed lamb by turning it above fire, once an important ceremony, cannot be seen anymore. In some regions, meat, which was mostly eaten only at wedding ceremonies or during the Kurban Bayramı (Eid ul-Adha) as etli pilav (pilaf with meat), became a part of the daily diet after the introduction of industrial production. Veal, which was usually shunned, became widespread. However, the main use of meat in cooking is still putting minced meat into vegetable dishes, thus attaining names such as kıymalı fasulye (bean with minced meat) or kıymalı ıspanak (spinach with minced meat, which is almost always served with yoghurt). Alternatively, in coastal towns, cheap fish such as sardines (sardalya) or anchovies (hamsi) is widespread. Combining meat with vegetables or rice or putting meat in soups or in Turkish salty pastries börek or gözleme is typical.
Turkey produces many varieties of cheese, mostly from sheep's milk. In general, these cheeses are not long matured, with a comparatively low fat content. The production of many kinds of cheese is local to particular regions. The following is only a selection.
Turkish cuisine has a range of savoury and sweet pastries. Dough based specialities form an integral part of traditional Turkish cuisine.
The use of flattened dough is rooted in the early nomadic character of Central Asian Turks. Sac, which has been described by some writers as a "primitive" instrument, was indeed a simple instrument; it was easy to carry and use it. However, that "primitive" instrument is the tool through which Turks baked rolled out dough. Both Sac and oklahu/oklava (the Turkish rod-style rolling pin) account for the invention of the layered dough style used in börek (especially in water pastry su böreği, which can be described as a salty baklava with cheese filling), güllaç or baklava. Börek is the general name for salty pastries made with yufka (phyllo dough), which consists of very thin layers of dough. Su böreği, made with boiled yufka/phyllo layers, cheese and parsley, is the most frequently eaten. Çiğ börek (also known as Tatar böreği) is fried and stuffed with minced meat. Kol böreği is another well-known type of börek that takes its name from its shape, as do fincan (coffee cup), muska (talisman), Gül böreği (rose) or Sigara böreği (cigarette). Other traditional Turkish böreks include Talaş böreği (phyllo dough filled with vegetables and diced meat), Puf böreği. Laz böreği is a sweet type of börek, widespread in the Black Sea region.
Gözleme is a food typical in rural areas, made of lavash bread or phyllo dough folded around a variety of fillings such as spinach, cheese and parsley, minced meat or potatoes and cooked on a large griddle (traditionally sac).
Katmer is another traditional rolled out dough. It can be salty or sweet according to the filling.
Lahmacun (meaning dough with meat in Arabic) is a thin flatbread covered with a layer of spiced minced meat, tomatoe, pepper, onion or garlic.
Pide, which can be made with minced meat (together with onion, chopped tomatoes, parsley and spices), kashar cheese, spinach, white cheese, pieces of meat, braised meat (kavurma), sucuk, pastırma or/and eggs put on rolled-out dough, is one of the most common traditional stone-baked Turkish specialities.
Açma is a soft bread found in most parts of Turkey. It is similar to simit in shape, is covered in a glaze with sesame seeds and is usually eaten as part of a healthy breakfast.
It is a common belief that the taste of pilav comes from the butter and stock used for cooking it. However, nowadays most people prefer olive oil to butter.
Dolma is the name used for stuffed vegetables. Like the vegetables cooked with olive oil as described above dolma with olive oil does not contain meat. Many vegetables are stuffed, most typically green peppers (biber dolması), eggplants, tomatoes, courgettes, or Zucchini in the U.S. (kabak dolması), vine leaves (yaprak dolması). If vine leaves are used, they are first pickled in brine. However, dolma is not limited to these common types; many other vegetables and fruits are stuffed with a meat and/or rice mixture. For example, artichoke dolma (enginar dolması) is an Aegean region specialty. Fillings used in dolma may consist of parts of the vegetable carved out for preparation, rice with spices and/or minced meat.
Mercimek köfte, although being named köfte, does not contain any meat. Instead, red lentil is used as the major ingredient together with spring onion, tomato paste etc.
Fried eggplant and pepper is a common summer dish in Turkey. It is served with yoghurt or tomato sauce and garlic.
Mücver is prepared with minced squash/courgette or potatoes, egg, dill and/or cheese and flour. It can be either fried or cooked in the oven.
Rice pilaf can be served either as a side dish or main dish but bulgur pilavı (pilav made of boiled and pounded wheat -bulgur) is also widely eaten. The dishes made with kuru fasulye (dried pulses and beans), such as nohut (chickpeas), mercimek (lentils), börülce (black-eyed peas), etc., combined with onion, vegetables, minced meat, tomato paste and rice, have always been common due to being economical and nutritious.
Turşu is pickle made with brine, usually with the addition of garlic. It is often enjoyed as an appetizer. It is made with a large variety of vegetables, from cucumber to courgette. In the towns on the Aegean coast, the water of turşu is consumed as a drink.
Meze is a selection of food served as the appetizer course with or without drinks. Some of them can be served as a main course as well.
Dolma is a verbal noun of the Turkish verb dolmak 'to be stuffed', and means simply 'stuffed thing'. Dolma has a special place in Turkish cuisine. It can be eaten either as a meze or a main dish. It can be cooked either as a vegetable dish or meat dish. If a meat mixture is put in, it is usually served hot with yoghurt and spices such as oregano and red pepper powder with oil.
Zeytinyagli dolma (dolma with olive oil) is the dolma made with vine leaves cooked with olive oil and stuffed with a rice-spice mixture. Such a type does not contain meat, is served cold and also referred to as sarma, which means "wrapping" in Turkish. The word "sarma" is also used for some types of desserts, such as fıstık sarma (wrapped pistachio). If dolma does not contain meat, it is sometimes described as yalancı dolma meaning "fake" dolma. Dried fruit such as figs or cherries and cinnamon used to be added into the mixture to sweeten "zeytinyağlı dolma" in Ottoman cuisine. Vine leaves("yaprak") could be filled not only with rice and spices but also with meat and rice, in which case it is served hot with yoghurt etli yaprak sarma.
Melon dolma along with quince or apple dolma was one of the palace's specialities (raw melon stuffed with minced meat, onion, rice, almonds, peanuts, cooked in an oven). In contemporary Turkey, a wide variety of dolma is prepared. Although it is not possible to give an exhaustive list of dolma recipes, courgette ("kabak"), aubergine ("patlıcan"), tomato ("domates"), pumpkin ("balkabağı"), pepper ("biber"), cabbage ("lahana") (black or white cabbage), chard ("pazı") and mussel ("midye") dolma constitute the most common types. Instead of dried cherry in the palace cuisine, currants are usually added into the filling of dolma cooked in olive oil. A different type of dolma is mumbar dolması, for which the membrane of intestines of sheep is filled up with a spicy rice-nut mixture.
Popular sea fishes in Turkey include: anchovy hamsi, sardine sardalya, bonito palamut, gilt-head bream çupra or çipura, red mullet barbun(ya), sea bass levrek, whiting mezgit (allied to the cod fish) or bakalyaro, swordfish kılıç, turbot kalkan, red pandora mercan, tırança, and white grouper lagos.
One of the world-renowned desserts of Turkish cuisine is baklava. Baklava is made either with pistachio or with walnut. Turkish cuisine has a range of baklava-like desserts which include şöbiyet, bülbül yuvası, saray sarması, sütlü nuriye, sarı burma etc.
Kadaif ('Kadayıf') is another very common Turkish dessert which differs from baklava in that shredded dough/phyllo is used. There are different types of kadaif: tel (wire) or burma (wring) kadayıf, both of which can be prepared either with walnut or pistachio.
Although carrying the label "kadayıf", ekmek kadayıfı is totally different from "tel kadayıf" (see ). Künefe and ekmek kadayıfı are specialities rich in syrup and butter. Both are usually combined with kaymak (clotted/scrambled butter) when served. Künefe contains wire kadayıf with a layer of melted cheese in between and it is served hot with pistachio or walnut.
Among milk-based desserts, the most popular ones are muhallebi, sütlaç (rice pudding), keşkül, kazandibi (meaning the bottom of "kazan" because of its burnt surface), and tavuk göğsü (a sweet, gelatinous, milk pudding dessert quite similar to kazandibi, to which very thinly peeled chicken breast is added to give a chewy texture).
Helva (halva): un helvası (flour helva is usually cooked after someone has died), irmik helvası (cooked with semolina and pine nuts), yaz helvası (made from walnut or almond), tahin helvası (crushed sesame seeds), kos helva, pişmaniye (floss halva).
Other popular desserts include; Revani (with semolina and starch), şekerpare, kalburabasma, dilber dudağı, vezir parmağı, hanım göbeği, kemalpaşa, tulumba, zerde, höşmerim, paluze, irmik tatlısı/peltesi, lokma.
Güllaç is a "Ramadan" dessert which consists of very thin large dough layers put in the milk and rose water, served with pomegranate seeds and walnut. The story tells that in the cuisines of the Palace, those extra thin dough layers were prepared with "prayers" as it was believed that if one did not pray while opening phyllo dough, it would never be possible to obtain such thin layers.
Aşure can be described as a sweet soup containing boiled beans, wheat and dried fruits. Sometimes cinnamon and rose water is added when being served. According to legend, it was first cooked on Noah's Ark and contained seven different ingredients in one dish. All the Anatolian peoples have cooked and are still cooking aşure especially during the month of Muharrem.
Some traditional Turkish desserts are fruit-based: ayva tatlısı (quince), incir tatlısı (fig), kabak tatlısı (pumpkin), elma tatlısı(apple) and armut tatlısı(pear). Fruits are cooked in a pot or in the oven with sugar, carnation and cinnamon (without adding water). After being chilled, they are served with walnut or pistachio and kaymak.
Homemade cookies are commonly called kurabiye in Turkish. The most common types are acıbadem kurabiyesi (prepared only with egg, sugar and almond), un kurabiyesi (flour kurabiye) and cevizli kurabiye (kurabiye with walnut). Another dough based dessert is ay çöreği.
Tahin-pekmez is a traditional combination especially in rural areas. Tahin is sesame paste and pekmez is grape syrup. These are sold separately and mixed before consumption.
Marzipan badem ezmesi or fıstık ezmesi (made of ground pistachio) is another common confection in Turkey.
Another jelly like Turkish sweet is macun. Mesir macunu of Manisa/İzmir (which was also called "nevruziye" as this macun was distributed on the first day of spring in the Ottoman Palace) contains 41 different spices. It is still believed that "mesir macunu" is good for health and has healing effects. As with lokum, nane macunu (prepared with mint) used to be eaten as a digestive after heavy meals. Herbs and flowers having curative effects were grown in the gardens of Topkapı under the control of the chief doctor "hekimbaşı" and pharmacists of the Palace who used those herbs for preparing special types of macun and sherbet.
Dried fruit, used in dolma, pilav, meat dishes and other desserts is also eaten with almonds or walnuts as a dessert. Figs, grapes, apricots are the most widespread dried fruits.
Kaymak (clotted cream-butter) is often served with desserts to cut the sweetness.
Although the majority of Turks profess the Islamic religion, alcoholic beverages are as widely available as in Europe. However, some Turks abstain from drinking alcohol during the holy month of Ramadan. There are a few local brands of lager such as Tekel Birasi, Marmara34 and Efes and a large variety of international beers that are produced in Turkey such as Skol, Beck's, Carlsberg and Tuborg.
There are a variety of local wines produced by Turkish brands such as Kavaklıdere, Doluca, Corvus, Kayra, Pamukkale and Diren which are getting more popular with the change of climatic conditions that affect the production of wine. A range of grape varieties are grown in Turkey. For the production of red wine, the following types of grapes are mainly used; in Marmara Region, Pinot Noir, Adakarası, Papazkarası, Semillion, Kuntra, Gamay, Cinsault; in Aegean Region, Carignane, Çalkarası, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante Bouschet; in Black Sea Region and eastern part of the country, Öküzgözü, Boğazkere; in Central Anatolia, Kalecik Karası, Papazkarası, Dimrit; in Mediterranean Region, Sergi Karası, Dimrit. As for white wine, the grapes can be listed as follows; in Marmara Region, Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillion, Beylerce, Yapıncak; in Aegean Region, muscat and semillion; in Black Sea Region, Narince; in Central Anatolia, Emir, Hasandede (for further info http://www.hayyam.com/uzumler/index.php). In addition to mass production, it is quite popular to produce wine in private farms and sell them in the locality. Visitors can find different "home made" wines in Central Anatolia (Kapadokya/Cappadocia region - Nevşehir), Aegean coast (Selçuk and Bozcaada (an island in the Aegean Sea)).
Rakı, a traditional alcoholic beverage flavoured with anise, is the usual drink with meze, fish or kebabs. As a matter of fact, the abolition of the monopoly of the state undertaking "TEKEL" on the production of alcoholic beverages spurred the production of Raki and wine in Turkey.
At breakfast and all day long Turkish people drink black tea. Tea is made with two teapots in Turkey. Strong bitter tea made in the upper pot is diluted by adding boiling water from the lower.
Ayran (salty yoghurt drink) is the most common cold beverage, which may accompany almost all dishes in Turkey.
Kefir is prepared with kefir grains and milk.
Şalgam suyu (mild or hot turnip juice) is another important non-alcoholic beverage which is usually combined with kebabs.
Sahlep is another favorite in winter (served hot with cinnamon). Sahlep is extracted from the roots of wild orchids and may be used in Turkish ice cream as well. This was a popular drink in western Europe before coffee was brought from Africa and came to be known.
Şerbet (sherbet) (ʃer'bet) is a traditional Turkish sweet soft drink made of rose hips, cornelian cherries, rose, or licorice and spices. Some contemporary adaptations can be found at http://www.lezzet.com.tr/dosyalar/01205/.
Turkish coffee is a world-known coffee which can be served sweet or bitter. In Turkish, there is a saying that emphasizes the importance in Turkish culture of offering a cup of coffee to someone: "a cup of coffee has a 40-year consideration". (For the link between coffee beans left behind by the Ottoman Army and today's coffee shops in Vienna, take the BBC test at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4305656.stm). It should also be noted that although Arabs call their coffee Turkish coffee, it is different in aroma and taste from the classical Turkish coffee.