I definitely view Turkish food as something to get excited about. Countries that specialise in markets tend to have yummy fruits, nuts, sweets and other snacks which makes me one super happy human. Food in Turkey was generally cheap, always filling and it often fit into the category of comfort food. After our two weeks there, I know Andy was definitely looking forward to some variation – meals tended to be pretty carb heavy, but because I loved all the market food so much I managed to maintain more diversity. Below is a list I’ve created of some of my favourite food memories during our time in Turkey.
Durum kebab: obviously we have to start with the basics. Kebabs in Turkey are dirt cheap (we are talking about NZ $2), extremely basic and in my opinion, not particularly great. Usually they would be mostly bread with some meat – lacking all the salads and sauces that I’d come to expect from Turkish takeout back home. However, as travellers on a budget we ate our fair share of kebabs. When we were hungry, these babies could really hit the spot.
Gozleme: often my favourite option on the menu, Gozleme is basically a pizza, but with dough that seems to be a cross of flatbread and crepes. Usually stuffed with cheese, meat or vegetables, I rarely got sick of Gozleme. This can be compared to ‘pide’, which is pizza dough in the shape of a canoe, and then stuffed with filling. It was not uncommon to find both of these dishes on the menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner – although for breakfast I tended to prefer ‘menemen’, a dish similar to shakshuka but with a Turkish influence. Turkish breakfasts are traditionally (and commonly found at hotels etc.) cold platters of boiled eggs, breads, tomato, cucumber, fruit and bread.
Fruit: oh, how I loved the fresh fruit in Turkey. I love fresh fruit anywhere, but for the first time in my life, fresh figs were cheap as chips. Juicy, golden peaches were also in abundance – we were always just careful to wash the skin first. I discovered early on that the fruit in supermarkets is below average, so I would always keep my eyes peeled for stalls and stock up when the opportunity arose. It wasn’t often that I didn’t have a fig or two squashed into my backpack somewhere. An abundance of fruit usually results in cheap fruit juice – the most common flavours were pomegranate and good ol’ orange juice. I can never refuse a fresh orange juice – all pulpy and sweet, and so quenching on a hot day. Yum!
Mezzes: eating mezze style is one of my favourite ways of eating – essentially a platter of lots of different things, usually with an abundance of dips (hummus, babaganoush, salsas and the like) and tasty Turkish bread. It was such a good way of trying different Turkish foods and it usually meant we could just have a lighter lunch, as Andy and I would often just share.
Vendors: there are so many street food stalls around Turkey, most of them selling a similar array of snacks. Whether it be corn on the cob, pretzels, chestnuts or mussels (I’m a bit skeptical about that last one) there is something for basically everyone. Although if you’re after something sweeter, it is never hard to spot an ice cream stall or rather, hear, as these guys like to ring bells to draw in people’s attention – and then they would perform tricks with the ice cream as they made it. Having an ice cream was always quite the show!
Pastries: my preferred means of dessert in Turkey, I love myself a good baklava. Whether it be pistachio, walnut or some other kind of nut I just love the sweet, sticky, crunchy texture and the flaky layers of oozing pastry. Turkish delight is also delicious – mind you, the fresh stuff tends to be on a whole new level compared to the boxed up souvenirs (which I still think are yum!) There are so many souvenir shops selling Turkish sweets, but if you are after authenticity, convenience stores and bakeries usually have the better, homemade stuff.
Last but not least is the Islak Burger. I have to be honest, we didn’t try this but I felt compelled to include it. Why? Because it’s local to Istanbul and my list of delicious sounding food was already so long I didn’t feel the need to add a soggy hamburger on there as well. Yup, soggy. It’s on this list, because, well, it’s an Istanbul specialty. They are pretty hard to miss – we can all guess what a soggy hamburger looks like, and they are usually sitting front and centre. The only consolation is that the ‘sog’ is from the sauce and yeah, it’s meant to be tasty. Maybe next time!