Headed to Turkey and looking for the best Turkish food to eat on your trip? Here are five of the best Turkish dishes you absolutely must try while in Turkey! And for those looking to learn about Turkish cuisine at home, you should be able to find these dishes at Turkish restaurants around the world!
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The Best Turkish Cuisine
In alphabetical order…
If you have a sweet tooth, here’s a challenge for you: Try walking from the start of Istiklal Caddesi to Taksim Square in Istanbul without drooling – or stopping to try – baklava along the way. For many, it is an impossible mission because this cake of puff pastry (or phyllo dough) and nuts is so good that it seems not to be of this world. There are several nations that claim to have invented it, and without the need to investigate who is right, the fact is that it is very common in Turkey. Which, as a matter of fact, it is one of the best countries for foodies around the world.
Normally the most used nuts for its manufacture are almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pistachios, but it can be done with others as well. To this, the confectioners add sugar, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground cardamom, a pinch of salt, butter and the characteristic phyllo mass.
As a result, and as you can see in the photo, you can get baklavas of different types – all excellent.
It is sold by weight across Turkey. Bon Appetit!
Contributed by Inma of A World to Travel
While other countries have dumplings, Turkey has icli kofte. Icli kofte is a traditional Turkish street food, but you can also easily find them in a regular restaurant as well. The balls are made of a bulgur crust, stuffed with meat, usually beef or lamb, and aromatic spices. Sometimes nuts may also be fixed into the stuffing. The balls are then deep-fried and served steaming hot. In many ways, they resemble the Italian arancini.
You can find icli kofte at many Turkish restaurants. Although they are more common in and around Antakya, the best place to try them is, without a doubt, Sabirtasi in Istanbul. This iconic family-style restaurant has been serving the dish since 1987. Initially, you could only buy them as a snack from the owner at his street stall on Istiklal Street, they now also own a proper sit-down restaurant where you can order a full plate of koftes for only 7 TL a piece. If you’re on the go, you can still buy a single piece from the street stall for only 6 TL.
Contributed by Jacky of Nomad Epicureans
İmam bayıldı is one of the best-kept secrets of Turkish cuisine and is something you just have to try when you’re in Turkey. The name of the dish literally means “the Imam fainted”.
There are a couple of theories about how this dish got its name, but the most commonly accepted one is that the Imam (the person who leads the worship in a mosque) was so overcome by the flavor of this dish when his wife made it for him that he lost consciousness. This might sound a bit farfetched, but just wait until you taste it.
İmam bayıldı is made by stuffing an eggplant with tomatoes, onion and garlic, and sometimes other vegetables as well. The stuffed eggplant is then baked in the oven with plenty of olive oil. It’s a great choice for vegetarians traveling in Turkey and is also suitable for vegans as long as it’s not topped with cheese.
This dish is popular not only in Turkey but also in Greek cuisine. Relations between Greece and Turkey are not always amicable, but the two countries do have a lot in common when it comes to food.
Contributed by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
Referred to by many as a Turkish pizza, pide is actually closer to a Turkish flatbread. The bread has a similar consistency to pizza crust or pita bread, and it’s covered with sauce, cheese, and a variety of vegetable and meat toppings.
This is one of the most common Turkish street foods and is a great option if you’re looking for cheap eats in Turkey or a quick bite in the middle of a busy day of sightseeing.
Known as Turkish Delights to the Western world, the Turkish name lokum is derived from the Arabic for ‘throat comfort’. Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir Lokumları was originally founded in 1777 by Hacı Bekir, and today calls itself the home of Turkish Delights.
Made from a base of corn starch and sugar, Hacı Bekir moved to Istanbul to create lokum. His creations were noticed, and he soon became the chief confectioner to Sultan Mahmud II. He and his descendants held that office until the Ottoman Empire fell in 1920. Today, the building is registered as a protected cultural site with the Turkish authorities, and the shop is owned and run by the fifth generation of the Bekir family.
What to buy? The shop offers samples, so you can taste your way towards your favorites. The pistachio varieties are some of the more popular ones, but there are a ton to choose from. Try the ones with hazelnut, coconut, walnut, fruit, or the ones coated with chocolates.
Think of buying Turkish Delights like you might buy chocolates: sometimes you’re buying a fancy box for gifting, and sometimes you’re buying in bulk and less worried about presentation. Prices here are consistent with other shops in the area, but other shops don’t have the history.
Contributed by Chris Backe of worthygo.com.
Where to Stay in Turkey
If you’re still looking for great Turkish accommodations, we have you covered! You can check out our Istanbul neighborhood and hotel guide for recommendations on where to stay in Istanbul.
More hotel guides for the rest of Turkey coming soon!
5 Things to Pack for a Trip to Turkey
We’re working on our full list of what to pack for Istanbul, but here are five things you definitely want to bring with you!
The Lonely Planet Turkey: a good guidebook can help you with the kinds of safety tips you need if you’re out in the city and feel a bit lost, especially if you don’t have internet or a cell signal. These also have specific neighborhood information that will help you in different parts of the city, and it’s a great supplement to blog posts like this one!
Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (She uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Turkish sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!
Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use for all our travels. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag, yet it’s still quite stylish for all of its security features. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead.
Grayl Water Filter: While the water is *technically* safe to drink now, I would still avoid it. If you don’t want to be buying millions of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste.
Seabands: If you get seasick easily, pack some Seabands or seasickness pills so you don’t miss out on the best parts of Istanbul – being on the water! A trip to Istanbul isn’t complete without a Bosphorus cruise or at least a quick boat trip, so make sure you’re prepared to enjoy it to the fullest!
More Turkey Travel Tips
We have a ton of resources to help you plan your trip to Turkey!
If this will be your first trip to Turkey, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide beautiful places to visit in Turkey. You can also check out our Balkan currency guide, which explains how the Turkish lira works and guidelines for tipping in Istanbul.
We’re working on our massive things to do in Istanbul post, plus you can check out our guide to the best Instagram spots around Istanbul, tips for shopping in Istanbul, how to plan an Istanbul honeymoon, and what to do in Istanbul at night.
If you want to be in the city for just a few days (four or less), check out our Istanbul city break guide, which breaks down the best of the city so you won’t miss anything!
Headed to Cappadocia? If you’re curious about the most Instagrammable places in Cappadocia, we’ve got you covered. We also have posts on the best things to do in Cappadocia, and how to plan a perfect 3 day Cappadocia itinerary, plus how to get to Cappadocia from Istanbul.
Headed to Turkey? Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
If you’re planning a trip to Turkey, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Turkey, but it’s a good idea to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Pin This Guide to the Best Turkish Food for Your Trip
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.