It is said that three major kinds of cuisine exist in the world; Turkish, Chinese, and French. Fully justifying its reputation, Turkish Cuisine is always a pleasant surprise for the visitor.
In addition to being the refined product of centuries of experience, Turkish Cuisine has a very pure quality. The variety and simplicity of the recipes and the quality of the ingredients are guarantees of delicious meals.
Kebabs are dishes of plain or marinated meat either stewed or grilled. Almost every district of Anatolia has its own kebap specialty. Lamb is the basic meat of Turkish kitchen. Pieces of lamb threaded on a skewer and grilled over charcoal form the famous "Sis kebab", now known in many countries of the world. "Doner kebab" is another famous Turkish dish, being a roll of lamb on a vertical skewer turning parallel to a hot grill. You should also try "Alanazik", "Sac kavurma", "Tandir" and different types of "Kofte" as typical meat dishes.
The aubergine is used in a wide variety of dishes from "karniyarik" and "hünkarbegendi", to "patlican salatasi" (eggplant salad) and "patlican dolmasi" (stuffed eggplants). It can be cooked with onions, garlic and tomatoes and served cold as "imam bayildi".
A delicious Turkish specialty is "pilav", a rice dish which is difficult for the inexperienced cook to prepare. In the Black Sea region of Turkey they make a great dish with rice and small fish called "Hamsili pilav". Another interesting dish from the same region is "Miroloto".
"Börek" are pies of flaky pastry stuffed with meat, cheese or potatoes. The delicious Turkish natural yoghurt, "yogurt", is justifiably renowned. A typical appetizer prepared with yogurt is "Cacik". And, of course, don't forget to try "Manti", with loads of yogurt.
One notable variety are the "zeytinyaglilar", dishes cooked with olive oil. "Dolma" is a name applied to such vegetables as grape leaves, cabbage leaves, and green peppers stuffed with spiced rice (Biber dolma). You should also try "Baklali Enginar" (with artichoke) and "Tekmil Lahana" (with cabbage).
Turkish sweets are famous throughout the world and many of these have milk as the basic ingredient such as "sütlac", "tavuk gögsü", "kazandibi", "helva", "asure", but the best-known are "baklava" and "kadayif" pastries.
Among the national drinks, Turkish coffee, Turkish tea, ayran, shira, salgam, sahlep and boza should be mentioned. Turkish coffee comes thick and dark in a small cup and may be served without sugar, with a little sugar or with a lot of sugar. Either way, it is truly delicious. If you like alcohol you can try "Raki" made of anise, it is called as "lions drink" because you must be strong as a lion to drink it.
Soups are coming in a wide variety. These may be light, or rich and substantial. They are generally based on meat stock and served at the start of the meal. Lentil soup is the most common and best loved variety, but there are other preferred soups such as yayla, tarhana, asiran and guli soups.
Mezes are "Hors d'oeuvres" or appetizers figuring mainly at meals accompanied by wine or raki . Eaten sparingly, they arouse the appetite before the meal proper. Examples of meze include gozleme, fried aubergines with yogurt, lakerda (bonito pre-served in brine), pastirma (pressed beef), kisir, humus, fish croquettes, and lambs' brains with plenty of lemon juice. At many restaurants a selection of meze is brought to the table on a tray immediately after the drinks are served for the customers to make their choice.
Some other typical Turkish dishes are:
Generally made of rice, but also of bulgur (cracked wheat) and sehriye (vermicelli), pilaf (pilav) is one of the mainstays of the Turkish table. The rice should not be sticky but separate into individual grains. The pilaf may include aubergines, chick peas, beans or peas. Although pilaf is traditionally a course in its own right, in recent years it has appeared as a garnish with meat and chicken dishes at many restaurants.
Thinly rolled pastry, often the paper thin variety known as yufka, is wrapped around various savory fillings or arranged in layers . The myriad types of börek are unmatched delicacies when cooked to perfection. Boreks can be fried, baked, cooked on a griddle or boiled. Traditionally it was said that no girl should marry until she had mastered the art of börek making. Preferred fillings are cheese, minced meat, spinach and potatoes. In the form of rolls filled with cheese or minced meat mixtures and fried, böreks are known as "Sigara (cigarette) boregi". Böreks should be light and crisp, without a trace of excess oil.
Slices of marinated lamb on a tall vertical spit and grilled as it slowly turns are delicious. The cooked parts of the cone of meat are cut in very thin slices by a huge sword-like knife, and arranged on a plate with Ace or flat pide (pitta) bread. This dish is the most formidable obstacle to the victory of the hamburger in the fast food market. Doner kebap in rolls with slices of pickle and chips is the most common stand-up lunch for city office workers.
A local variation of Doner Kebap would be Cag Kebabi from Erzurum. It is made with slices of lamb threaded on a spit, with 10 percent minced beef mixed with milk, chopped onion, black pepper and flaked chili pepper spread between each slice to hold them together. The surface is covered tightly with wood ash, and then the kebab is roasted horizontally over a wood fire. As the outer surface browns, the cook takes a metal skewer and threads it through the cooked surface, slices off the portion with a long döner knife, and serves it with thin lavas bread.
The diverse köftes of all shapes and sizes are a culinary world of their own. Finely minced meat mixed with spices, onions and other ingredients is shaped by hand, and grilled, fried, boiled or baked. Koftes are named according to the cooking method, ingredients or shape. Plump oval köfte dipped in egg and fried have the evocative name of "Ladies Thighs" (kadin budu). Some köftes are cooked in a sauce as in the case of the delicious "Izmir köfte", the köftes are first grilled and then cooked with green peppers, potato slices and tomatoes in their own gravy. An interesting dish called "Hamsi köfte" comes from the Black Sea region of Turkey.