Turkish cuisine is largely the continuation of Ottoman cuisine, which in turn borrowed many elements from Circassian, Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Balkan and Greek cuisines. Turkish cuisine has in turn influenced those and other neighbouring cuisines, including those of Southeast Europe (Balkans), Central Europe, and Western Europe. The Ottomans fused various culinary traditions of their realm with influences from Levantine cuisines, along with traditional Turkic elements from Central Asia (such as yogurt and mantı), creating a vast array of specialities—many with strong regional associations.
Turkish cuisine varies across the country. The cooking of Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir, and rest of the Aegean region inherits many elements of Ottoman court cuisine, with a lighter use of spices, a preference for rice over bulgur, koftes and a wider availability of vegetable stews (türlü), eggplant, stuffed dolmas and fish. The cuisine of the Black Sea Region uses fish extensively, especially the Black Sea anchovy (hamsi) and includes maize dishes. The cuisine of the southeast (e.g. Urfa, Gaziantep, and Adana) is famous for its variety of kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts such as baklava, şöbiyet, kadayıf, and künefe.
Especially in the western parts of Turkey, where olive trees grow abundantly, olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking. The cuisines of the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean regions are rich in vegetables, herbs, and fish. Central Anatolia has many famous specialties, such as keşkek, mantı (especially from Kayseri) and gözleme. Dishes directly cognate with mantı are found also in Chinese (mantou) and Korean cuisine (mandu).
A specialty’s name sometimes includes that of a city or region, either in or outside of Turkey, and may refer to the specific technique or ingredients used in that area. For example, the difference between Urfa kebap and Adana kebap is the thickness of the skewer and the amount of hot pepper that the kebab contains. Urfa kebap is less spicy and thicker than Adana kebap. Although meat-based foods such as kebabs are the mainstay in Turkish cuisine as presented in foreign countries, native Turkish meals largely center around rice, vegetables, and bread.
Simit is a circular bread with sesame seeds. Common breakfast item in Turkey.
Turks usually prefer a rich breakfast. A typical Turkish breakfast consists of cheese (beyaz peynir, kaşar etc.), butter, olives, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, jam, honey, and kaymak, sucuk(spicy Turkish sausage, can be eaten with eggs), pastırma, börek, simit, poğaça and soups are eaten as a morning meal in Turkey. A speciality for breakfast is called menemen, which is prepared with tomatoes, green peppers, onion, olive oil and eggs. Invariably, Turkish tea is served at breakfast. The Turkish word for breakfast, kahvaltı, means “before coffee” (kahve, ‘coffee’; altı, ‘under’).
Homemade food is still preferred by Turkish people. Although the newly introduced way of life pushes the new generation to eat out, Turkish people generally prefer to eat at home. A typical meal starts with soup (especially in wintertime), followed by a dish made of vegetables or legumes boiled in a pot (typically with meat or minced meat), often with or before rice or bulgur pilav accompanied by a salad or cacık (diluted cold yogurt dish with garlic, salt, and cucumber slices). In summertime many people prefer to eat a cold dish of vegetables cooked with olive oil (zeytinyağlı yemekler) instead of the soup, either before or after the main course, which can also be a chicken, meat or fish plate.
Although fast food is gaining popularity and many major foreign fast food chains have opened all over Turkey, Turkish people still rely primarily on the rich and extensive dishes of Turkish cuisine. In addition, some traditional Turkish foods, especially köfte, döner, kokoreç, kumpir midye tava börek and gözleme, are often served as fast food in Turkey. Eating out has always been common in large commercial cities. Esnaf lokantası (meaning restaurants for shopkeepers and tradesmen) are widespread, serving traditional Turkish home cooking at affordable prices.
In the hot Turkish summer, a meal often consists of fried vegetables such as eggplant (aubergine) and peppers or potatoes served with yogurt or tomato sauce. Menemen and çılbır are typical summer dishes, based on eggs. Sheep cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons and melons also make a light summer meal. Those who like helva for dessert prefer summer helva, which is lighter and less sweet than the regular one.
Frequently used ingredients in Turkish specialties include: lamb, beef, rice, fish, eggplants, green peppers, onions, garlic, lentils, beans, zucchinis and tomatoes. Nuts, especially pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, together with spices, have a special place in Turkish cuisine, and are used extensively in desserts or eaten separately. Semolina flour is used to make a cake called revani and irmik helvasi. Preferred spices and herbs include parsley, cumin, black pepper, paprika, mint, oregano, pul biber (red pepper), allspice, Urfa biber and thyme. Olives are also common on various breakfasts and meze tables frequently. In Turkey ‘iftars’ (the breaking of fasts) are generally opened with date palms. “Beyaz peynir” and yogurt are part of many dishes including börek, manti, kebab and cacik.
Oils and fats
Butter or margarine, olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, and corn oil are widely used for cooking. Sesame, hazelnut, peanut and walnut oils are used as well. Kuyruk yağı (tail fat of sheep) is sometimes used in kebabs and meat dishes.
The rich and diverse flora of Turkey means that fruit is varied, abundant and cheap. In Ottoman cuisine, fruit frequently accompanied meat as a side dish. Plums, apricots, pomegranates, pears, apples, grapes, and figs, along with many kinds of citrus are the most frequently used fruit, 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. Turkish desserts do not normally contain fresh fruit, but may contain dried varieties.
Imam Bayildi with Borek
Eggplant (Turkish: patlıcan) has a special place in the Turkish cuisine.
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), has become part of the daily diet since the introduction of industrial production. Veal, formerly shunned, is now widely consumed.
The main use of meat in cooking remains the combination of ground meat and vegetable, with names such as kıymalı fasulye (beans with ground meat) or kıymalı ıspanak (spinach with ground meat, which is sometimes served with yogurt).
Alternatively, in coastal towns cheap fish such as sardalya (sardines) or hamsi (anchovies) are widely available, as well as many others with seasonal availability. Poultry consumption, almost exclusively of chicken and eggs, is common. Milk-fed lambs, once the most popular source of meat in Turkey, comprise a small part of contemporary consumption. Kuzu çevirme, cooking milk-fed lamb on a spit, once an important ceremony, is rarely seen.