i wrote this in February 1998, when I was still new to Turkey. The prices have changed a lot, but the great food is the same.
The food in Turkey is wonderful and very nutritious. Of course I cook my own way (sort of) at home, but I often eat lunch at one of a few local restaurants around our office. One is the first one I ever went to, so it is kind of my favourite, and the people there always treat us well. The other was recommended by some students, who guided us there and then left– and we had a free lunch. At both places lunch is $2 or $3 for wonderful food.
OK, these are some of my favourites. Tavuk (ta-ook) shish is chicken shish. It is pieces of chicken broiled and then served on a plate with salad (mostly lettuce and red cabbage), grated carrot, slices of the huge radish (about the size of a turnip), and a long thin green pepper. There is usually bulgur and occasionally rice. Sprigs of parsley are liberally sprinkled on top. This comes accompanied by wonderful bread. One kind of bread is flat and it has indentations on the top (the bread maker pokes his fingers into it to do that). The other bread often arrives puffed up like a balloon. It is long, about the length of two plates. Both kinds of bread are called pide (pee-day) (like pita). We tear off a piece and use it to wrap some food and eat it. I learned recently that it is rude to completely clean one’s plate, which is no problem, as the food is abundant and it’s hard to eat it all.
Other dishes I like are kuzu shish (lamb) and various kinds of kebab–usually lamb and usually ground meat. Two kinds, Adana and Urfa, are spicy, and are regional foods (both those places are towards the south of Turkey).
Doner is what I usually associated with Greek restaurants. It is pieces of lamb turning on a spit– like the gyros. A common doner dish consists of cubes of pide with sliced doner on top, and then a tomato-ish sauce on top. Sometimes there are a few french fries mixed in. On the side there is yogurt. Sometimes there are pieces of fresh tomato mixed in. This is called iskender kebab– iskender being Alexander, as in the Great.
French fries are kind of random here. If you order a hamburger, they stick two or three fries on top of it under the bun. At Mcdonalds you can get mayonnaise to go with your fries. Yuk. Oh yes, there is a McDoner near my apartment.
The soup is good. Usually it is a red lentil soup served with a chunk of lemon to squeeze into it. The chicken soup seems to me to be rather watery. There are also some yogurt based soups, some of which are cold and may include garbanzos.
Lemons are ubiquitious. They are used as a dressing for salad, in soup, and in a lot of other ways, if only to squeeze over whatever is on the plate. Lemons cost about 6 cents a piece. They grow in Turkey, too.
Desserts are intense, and I have not had many since I got here. Of course there is baklava, and variations of same. It is so sweet that a little bit goes a very long way, though Turks can eat a whole plate of 4 or 6 pieces . There are cakes (called pasta here) that look better than they taste. They are actually not so sweet. There is a wonderful bakery near my flat that has chocolate filled cookie things that are wonderful and some sublime hazelnut filled pastry.
Bread at the bakeries is very cheap, as the price is government controlled. Most of it is the French bread style, and it costs about 10 cents. It has to be eaten the same day, as it goes stale quickly. It’s kind of like that cheap bread at Safeway and Albertsons that you can get. There is also “flower” bread that is like buns in a circle around a center, like a flower. It usually has some sesame seeds sprinkled on top. We can get various other kinds of bread, some whole wheat, some seeded. There is even what we consider regular sliced bread, but it is not that great, especially in comparison with the other bread.
Another kind of pide is a long pide bread with cheese in it, or minced beef. I like the cheese one as it reminds me of a version of cheese pizza or cheese toast. Lahmacun is another common baked item, sometimes called a Turkish pizza. The thick crust is covered with minced lamb, tomatoes, peppers, and onions, but no cheese.
On the streets you can find carts selling simit, which look kind of like bagels, but are not quite as bready. There are also chatal (fork), which are three pieces that meet at each end. They are a little richer than simit. The third choice is achma, which are also like bagels, but softer. These are a cheap way to fill up if you are on the run.
A common salad is choban (shepherd) salata, which is chopped tomato, cucumber, peppers, and onion dressed with oil and vinegar. Of course there are green salads, as unfortunately Turks have discovered head lettuce. One thing you see here sometimes is a cart selling cucumbers. The guy will often peel and salt them for you and then you can walk down the street chomping on a cuke. Great fast food!
Coffee culture as we know it has arrived in the form of Starbucks and Gloria Jeans. Before that there was the traditional Turkish coffee, which is like thick espresso, or else there is instant coffee. Neither one is very good, as far as I am concerned. Everyone drinks tea, which grows in Turkey too, and in fact most offices have a go-fer who brings tea all day. It is very common for tea to be offered to customers and friends, rather than coffee.
The yogurt is great.. People eat a lot of it. They even make a drink of it, called ayran. It is yogurt and water, sometimes with dill weed in it.
At fish restaurants (meyhane) you can choose mezes, which are appetizers. I often order several and that is my dinner, accompanied by a glass or two of raki, which is similar to ouzo (but don’t say that to the Turks!). Mezes might be include raw fish in lemon, like seviche, thick yogurt dishes with cress or grated carrot, fava bean paste, eggplant purée or eggplant in a tomato sauce, pickles, and more. They are really good and at most places you can choose them from a big tray. Fish is rather expensive at restaurants and what is offered is usually the fish that is in season. It might be sea bass or snapper or tuna, among others. There are some very small fish that Turks like, but I personally don’t like them.
I hope this has whetted your appetite to visit Turkey!