Turkey is renowned for having a unique mix of both Eastern and Western influences. Because of its location near two continents, European and Asian ways of life have shaped the culture of Turkey.
When it comes to cuisine, these influences are apparent. Traditional Turkish foods have elements of both continents’ cooking styles and ingredients.
In my opinion, Turkish cuisine is some of the best in the world–it offers a diversity of dishes that are full of flavor.
Today, you can find Turkish food in countries throughout the world as people discover the appeal of these dishes. Even if there are no Turkish restaurants nearby, you can make these foods at home!
I’ve included everything from main dishes to desserts in this list of the most popular Turkish foods. You have likely heard of doner kebab and the sweet treat baklava; I have also added many other great foods like the Turkish ice cream dondurma and the dumplings called manti.
I hope you enjoy trying some of these tasty dishes!
One of the most delicious Turkish foods is kofte, a type of meatball that is usually made from ground beef or lamb.
There are regional variations in cooking methods, spices, and shape. Different types of kofte can be served as an appetizer or a main dish.
Inegol kofte is one of my favorites; it is made by combining onions and breadcrumbs with the meat, then grilling it.
Kofte can be fried, baked, grilled, stewed, or with cig kofte, served raw. My favorite way to eat kofte is to have it with rice, fresh vegetables, and yogurt.
The term dolma refers to any type of stuffed vegetable. Many people prefer using grape leaves to make dolma, but I like cabbage leaves the best. Swiss chard is another excellent option.
Traditional dolma recipes call for either ground lamb or beef. If making vegetarian dolma, use bulgar, pine nuts, currants, or a combination of these ingredients. Dolmas are common in a few Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, like Greek food culture.
Rice is an essential ingredient, whether you are using meat or not.
When it comes to seasoning, tomato paste, parsley, cinnamon, lemon, and mint are all common choices.
My favorite way to eat dolma is to top it with yogurt and a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes!
Once considered a luxury, baklava is now one of the most popular Turkish foods available.
People have been making baklava since the 15th century, if not before.
I find that making baklava is a bit of a process, but one that is well worth the effort. Layers of buttery phyllo pastry and minced walnuts get topped with a sugary syrup.
Almonds or pistachios also work well in this dish.
Some people like to add nuts and chocolate on top of this dessert. I think it is sweet enough on its own without any added garnish.
4. Döner Kebab
One of my absolute favorite Turkish foods is doner kebab. It is similar to shawarma, gyros, or donair in that it uses shaved rotisserie meat.
Lamb is the traditional kind of meat used in this dish, but beef and chicken are also ideal for doner kebab.
Two ways to serve doner kebab are on a platter with rice or to put it in a sandwich.
I prefer using lavash, but you can also use pita or another type of flatbread to wrap it up.
The best part of this dish is the toppings! Garlic sauce is a must; there is also a red chili sauce if you like heat.
Lettuce, onion, pickles, tomato, and turnips are all great options to go on top.
If you come from a Turkish family, you will know that breakfast is a big deal.
Kahvalti is a traditional breakfast spread that fills you up and gives you the energy to take on the day.
Kahvalti includes eggs, a variety of cheeses, and bread. Pide–a flatbread, and simit–a type of bagel, are commonly served.
One of the best parts of kahvalti is the array of spreads and jams. Molasses, tahini, fruit jams, and black olive spreads are popular.
Hazelnut spread can be found on many kahvalti platters as well, which makes sense since Turkey produces three-quarters of the world supply of these nuts!
Turkish ice cream is very different from American-style ice cream. In Turkey, goat milk is traditionally used instead of cow milk.
Dondurma also has two unique ingredients that give it an interesting texture. Mastic, a kind of tree resin, makes the ice cream chewy.
The thickness of the ice cream comes from salep, a flour made from orchid tubers.
This ice cream does not melt quickly; it is firm enough that you can eat it with a knife and fork. Street vendors often hold it upside down when serving customers.
I like cherry dondurma best; pistachio is a close second!
Many people enjoy having lokum on Eid-ul-Fitr or other special occasions.
The texture of lokum is similar to a gumdrop, soft yet chewy; this dessert is also called Turkish delight.
The gel-like consistency comes from ingredients like sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and cream of tartar.
Lokum comes in a variety of flavors. Rosewater is a classic choice; I prefer the taste of lemon or orange lokum. Sometimes food coloring is added to give a bright appearance to these treats.
Some of these desserts feature little surprises inside, like pistachio or date. The squares are usually covered with powdered sugar and are incredibly sweet!
8. Kuru Fasulye
One of my favorite Turkish meals to enjoy is kuru fasulye. This tasty dish uses white beans stewed in tomato sauce and seasoned with onion and garlic.
There are several variations on the dish; for example, you can add vegetables like green peppers or whole tomatoes.
Some kuru fasulye dishes also have lamb or pastirma–a cured beef–added for extra protein and flavor.
In my opinion, the best way to eat this dish is to have it over bulgur or rice. Top it with cacik–garlic yogurt sauce–and add some pickled vegetables! It is the ultimate Turkish comfort food.
Meze is the Turkish take on appetizers or hors d’oeuvres. A wide variety of dishes are shared among everyone at the table before moving on to the main course.
There are variations based on different regions of turkey, but meze usually includes a mix of bean dishes, vegetables, cheese, bread, and yogurt.
Some of my favorites are hummus, grilled hot peppers, and purslane salad.
Meze is more than just a starter before your meal. It is an opportunity to talk with your friends, to slow down and enjoy their company while partaking in delicious food.
Another one of the most popular Turkish foods is manti. This type of dumpling is usually made with lamb or beef but there are also vegetarian versions that use chickpeas.
A thin dough surrounds the filling that is flavored with various spices. They often have onion, hot red pepper, and sumac; mint is another common seasoning used in mani.
They come in different shapes and sizes and are usually boiled or baked in the oven. I like eating manti served with garlic yogurt sauce and mint.
This is one of my favorite dishes to share with friends and family.
11. Kuzu Tandir
Lamb is a staple in much of Turkish cuisine; kuzu tandir is an example of a popular lamb dish that is usually served with rice or potatoes.
Tandir refers to a technique that is used to cook the lamb. Traditionally, the lamb would be slowly roasted over coals in an outdoor pit, but today it is often roasted in the oven instead.
Either way, the aroma of the meat cooking will have your mouth watering as you wait for it to finish!
My favorite seasonings for making kuzu tandir are simple, just lemon and rosemary. In my opinion, it also tastes great when made with thyme and garlic.