This post is all about the food of Turkey. In some ways eating has been the biggest change for Amy and I on the trip so far. At home we would go out to eat maybe once or twice a week. For the last month we have eaten out for nearly every meal, and done no real cooking. The closest we have come to cooking is mixing cereal and yogurt in our room for breakfast. I know you all have been wondering about the cuisine and variety of foods that Amy and I have been sampling for the last month so I will detail the gastronomic delights we enjoyed while in Turkey below.
If there were two words to summarize the cuisine of Turkey it would have to be grilled meat. There is very little fault I can find with a country that likes to grill meat on skewers, over open flames or even cook it in a pot for 6 hours. In Istanbul the best food we had was at Cezayir near Taksim Square the center of modern Istanbul. The ambiance was excellent, as seating was outside in a beautiful courtyard patio under the stars. While we were some of the first people to arrive at 7pm, the restaurant did fill up by 8:30. Amy had pasta with wild mushrooms and green onion; my dish was strips of grilled filet mignon over a base of Greek-style yogurt and grilled bread. The filet was excellent, very tender, and the bread and yogurt base was creamy with a slightly smoky flavor from being grilled. The long grilled green pepper on the plate is a very common side in Turkey and was quite sweet.
All of our lodging in Turkey included a traditional Turkish breakfast. And while there was some variety it generally included a hard-boiled egg, bread, jam, butter, olives, tomatoes and feta cheese. In short, delicious and heart healthy! The picture below is the buffet style breakfast that we had while staying at the White Garden Pension in Antalya. Served from 8-10 every morning, breakfast also included Turkish tea or Nescafe coffee. Generally the tea was our choice of caffeinated beverage.
No post of Turkish food would be complete without mention of the kabob, known in Turkey as the kebap. Kebaps are by far the most prevalent form of grilled meat in Turkey. These two chicken and lamb kebaps are from a restaurant in the old city of Antalya. Kebaps in Turkey come in three basic incarnations: chicken, lamb and kafta, which is a spicy meatball. All are quite good and are a good budget choice for lunch or an affordable dinner. One quick note on the fresh vegetables and salad pictured here. We had received advice to not eat fresh vegetables from our travel doctor at Penn Travel Medicine. His rule was if you couldn’t cook it, peel it, or boil it – forget it. In practice we found that all of the fresh vegetables in Turkey were quite safe and delicious. I think if you use some common sense and only eat fresh vegetables or salads at restaurants that are clean and crowded you will be just fine in Turkey.
One surprisingly delicious non-Turkish meal was the Turkish nachos at Fat Boys Café and Bar. Amy and I stopped in there one night after a long day of hiking through the valleys around Goreme. On a whim I decided that I would order the nachos. My expectations were pretty low but when the plate below appeared at the table I was pleasantly surprised. The chips were spicy and not dissimilar from Doritos, but the toppings are what made the dish. Topped with beans, tomatoes, green onion, cheese and a Bulgarian-style yogurt, the whole dish was broiled to bubbly goodness. I would recommend them to anyone spending time in Goreme and looking for a break from traditional Turkish food.
I will end this post on one of the best meals I had in Turkey. In Cappadocia they have a special kebap, the Desti Kebap. This is a special dish that is cooked in a clay pot for 6 hours. You have to order it ahead of time and when you arrive they bring it to your table and in a bit of a table-side show use a hammer to crack open your dinner.
Amy had a chicken and I had a meat desti kebap. Meat generally means lamb in Turkey, but this may have been a mixture of lamb and beef. Either way it was delicious, extremely flavorful and moist.
The accompaniment of yogurt with Turkish spices on top was not only beautiful but a perfect dip for the fresh bread and a little of the pickled pink cabbage.
I found the food in Turkey to be quite good. My one complaint is that there is somewhat of a limited range of flavors. Breaking up traditional Turkish meals with a Turkish influenced western dish like the nachos easily solves the flavor monotony. Let’s hear your thoughts, what else do you want to know about food? For those that have been to Turkey, what’s your favorite Turkish food?