Introduction to Turkish cuisine

From savoury dishes, to desserts and coffee

Introduction to Turkish cuisine

Known around the world for its quality and wide diversity, Turkish cuisine is one of the most appraised by both chefs and foodies.

Food has always been a very important part of the Turkish culture and history. Influences and interactions between the cuisines of countries all around Turkey, such as Armenia, Iran Greece, Lebanon, Georgia and even China are very common.

Turkish cuisine uses a lot of vegetables, meat (mostly lamb and beef), cereals and yogurt for the sauces. Fish is also used, especially in the Marmara region and coastal areas, and spicy food can be found in the east.

Well known Turkish dishes

Here are a few example of the Turkish dishes we know the most:


The dolma is basically stuffed or wrapped food. The wrapping is usually made of cabbage or grapevine leaves or any kind of vegetable that can hold the meat mixture (tomatoes, courgettes, peppers or eggplants). Pasta stuffed with meat is also called dolma.

The mixture can be made of meat alone, but is often combined with rice. Dolmas are served very hot with a yogurt sauce on top.

Kefta or Köfte

Also known as Turkish meatballs, keftas are very common in the Middle East region and highly appreciated by the rest of the world. Made of minced meat, spices, onion and bread and shaped by hand, the meatballs are then fried or cooked in sauce. There are several types of keftas that can be made with different ingredients and in various shapes. Keftas are often served with salad or with rice pilaf or bulgur pilaf.


Kebabs or “shish Kebab” are grilled cubes of meat and bits of vegetables put together on a wooden stick. Usually spicy, they can be cooked on the barbecue and will be sure to make everybody happy. As for “döner kebaps”, they are made with sliced meat and put in bread with onions and vegetables. Kebabs are also known in Greek cuisine and can be bought in Greek restaurants, so don’t worry if you get a little confused.


Turkish baklava is considered to be the finest in the world. The name seems to come from Farsi and means “many leaves” due to the number of layers of filo pastry they contain.

This dessert or pastry is not as hard to make as it might seem, but the filo dough can be tricky to handle. Baklavas typically contain walnuts, pistachios and honey, to which can be added cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, spices or rose water.

The filo sheet has to be so thin that if you hold it up, you can see through it. Cutting through the pieces of baklava is frowned upon, and there is a way to eat it without breaking it into smaller pieces - but it’s almost an art.

Turkish pastries and desserts are some of the most delicious in the world: you may have heard of halva, locums and Nightingale’s nests for instance.

Of course, these few examples do not represent the entire Turkish food industry but can give you an idea of what to expect when going to Turkey, or if you feel like trying something at home.

Turkish coffee - a cultural tradition

Turkish coffee is also well known, but people may not understand what it represents in social interactions and hospitality customs.

Coffee is made in a copper coffee pot called cezve; sugar is added to the coffee when it is on the fire, and then served to the guest with foam. Traditionally, a guest would turn the cup upside down once they had finished, so that a fortune reading could be performed.

Long ago, women used to receive  proper training in harems to learn how to make coffee, which would be an important skill for future married life. When entering a Turkish home, coffee is typically ready and served before you’ve had time to sit down.

If you are interested in learning more about Turkish cuisine, food tours and food courses are available all around Istanbul.

Further reading

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