Top Turkish Dishes, the Best of the Turkish Cuisine

Picture of some of Turkish finest dishes displayed in Istanbul.
Turkish dishes displayed in Istanbul. © Photo by Xiquinho

Yet with this article you can get a gist of a whole big world of Turkish tastes. Following you will read about some of the most common and most favorite Turkish dishes people cook and eat both at home and in restaurants.

Vegetable or Zeytin Yağlı Dishes

Turks have a big diversity of vegetables and of course this reflects on the dishes. One very important detail about vegetable dishes is whether they have meat in them or not. If a dish is cooked without any kind of meat then it is called zeytin yağlı — meaning cooked with olive oil. These kind of vegetable dishes are mostly served cold. Here are three good examples of zeytin yağlı dishes:

Picture of wrapped vine leaves (yaprak sarma) in Istanbul, Turkey.
Wrapped vine leaves. © Alpha
  • Yaprak Sarma — Wrapped vine leaves with a filling of rice, onion and spices like mint, currant, pepper and cinnamon.
  • Dolma — Vegetables either fresh or dried eggplants, peppers, tomatoes or zucchinis are stuffed with a mixture of rice and onion with various spices.
  • Taze Fasulye — Green beans cooked with tomato and/or tomato paste and of course onion.

Since Turks love meat very much, almost all the zeytin yağlı dishes are cooked with meat, too. But that’s not it. There are many other delicious meat dishes to discover.

Turkish Dishes with Meat

Picture of lahmacun, a pizza like dish in Istanbul, Turkey.
Lahmacun. © Chung Lun Chiang
  • Karnıyarık — Fried eggplants with a minced meat, onion, parsley, garlic and tomato filling. This dish is a must. To make sure that what you get is a good one, check the eggplants. The dark color of the peel should not smudge on the peeled parts and the meat should not look too dark or dry.
  • Lahmacun — A pizza like dish with a topping of finely minced meat and onions with spices on flaky thin dough. It is served with tomatoes, lettuce, parsley or rocket and most people prefer to squeeze lemon on it and roll to eat easier like tacos. It originates from the early Syrian cuisine of the Levant and the name comes from Arabic “dough with meat”. It has been a popular fast food like dish in Turkey.
  • Kurufasulye — Beans, Turks just love it. It can be cooked with or without meat or even with dried spiced thin slices of beef called pastırma. Served with sade pilav (plain rice) and turşu(pickles and sauerkraut). The restaurants across Süleymaniye Mosque are the masters of this dish.

Best Known Dishes and Masterpieces of the Turkish Cuisine

  • Kebaps — Kebap is the common name for a dish where meat is coated around a skewer and grilled over a charcoal fire. Originally the meat consisted of lamb or beef, but nowadays you can also chose chicken. What Kebap To Eat While Visiting Istanbul is a full page dedicated to this mouth watering dish.
  • Döner –In essence it is a dish of beaten pieces of meat seasoned with suet, local herbs and spices, skewered on a spit and grilled vertically. Check out this page if you want to know your döner kebap history and selected dishes.
  • Köfte — It is commonly referred to as meatballs, but they come in all shapes. The köftebasics are ground meat (usually lamb or mutton) mixed with crumbled bread, minced onions and spices. The most common dish is Izgara Köfte, where the meat mixture is grilled and served with grilled green peppers, chopped parsley, crumbled dried red peppers and rice or bread on the side.
  • Mantı – You could think of mantı as some kind of dumplings. This excellent Turkish dish contains two main ingredients: the dough and the filling, which consists of grounded beef or lamb, onion, salt and pepper. Find out why good handmade mantı is so much more than just Turkish ravioli with yoghurt.

Popular Turkish Side Dishes

Picture of cacık, a refreshing cucumber dish in Istanbul, Turkey.
Cacık. © Alpha
  • Pilav — There is a great variety of pilaf in the Turkish cuisine, yet the easiest one to make is the most favorite and available one: sade pilav. It is plain rice cooked in water with butter/vegetable oil and noodle like small pasta pieces – şehriye. Varieties are rice cooked with eggplants, chickpeas, meat or liver slices; and of course spices like cinnamon, pepper, thyme, cumin and even almonds.
  • Bulgur Pilavı – this side dish looks like rice but is actually wheat. The most common type is cooked with roasted onions, green peppers, tomato paste and mint. One of my favorites.
  • Fried vegetables — Fried eggplants, green peppers, and zucchini with tomato sauce or yogurt are one of the best treats. According to your liking garlic is always welcomed with the sauce or in the yogurt.
  • Mücver — The main ingredients of this popular Turkish dish are shredded zucchini, eggs and flour. A very common cooking preference adds white cheese, green onions and mint. It is lightly fried in vegetable or olive oil, and served hot as a side dish.
  • Cacık — A very refreshing mixture of grinded or shredded cucumbers with diluted yogurt, garlic and mint. On a hot summers day some serve it with some ice cubes in it, to make it even more refreshing.

Most restaurants on Istiklal Caddesi serving hot food display the available dishes. So if your stomach gets upset easily, take a peek at the food and try to stay clear of the too oily or spicy looking ones.

Afiyet Olsun!