My description of Turkish food starts in reverse order from a meal, because of the irresistable appeal of Turkish desserts. Look at the syrup being poured over a mountain of baklava! This cafe was in Taksim, İstanbul, it was several stories high, with sweets on the ground floor and tables above. They had counters full of cakes, pastries and puddings. We had krem çikolata, rich and chocolatey. A truly superb dessert.
Don’t miss dondurma, Turkish icecream, if you have a sweet tooth. It is made with salep (from orchid tubers) to give it a slightly chewy texture which you don’t find in ordinary icecream. To keep it malleable the vendor stirs it with an enormous paddle as long as a crowbar and it stretches like a pizza dough. Definitely more exciting than the stuff in a plastic tub. There’s some great videos and photos of dondurma at thethinkingblog.
One difficulty we had in Turkey was trying to maintain my gluten free diet, a necessity if you have coeliac disease. Often we were able to get pilav (rice) with a stew, often with lamb, beans and tomatoes. These were great. On other occasions we had to be more creative. In Niḡde we asked for an iskender kebab without bread. The men serving us had a debate about whether an iskender without bread was really an iskender, but I received my plate as requested without bread. It had the meat, salad, iskender tomato sauce and plenty of yoghurt. It satisfied the conditions of a good meal even if it didn’t satisfy the conditions of being an iskender.
Yoghurt takes on a new personality in Turkey. You soon realise that it’s not just a good topping for muesli. It is a great condiment for lots of savoury dishes, and it even makes a good drink. Ayran, the yoghurt drink, is readily available in a carton from a Turkish supermarket, but the best ayran comes from a fountain. Keeping the yoghurt flowing like this creates a marvellous froth on top, like a beer or a cappuccino. It tastes quite sour, like plain yoghurt, but is much thinner. You can add salt if you like.
The first place we experienced the ayran fountain was at a restaurant in İstanbul that served shish-kebab. This was an exciting place to eat, with spiced meat on swords served with an array of dishes and bread so you could assemble your own kebab. There were roasted vegetables (onion, chili, tomato, capsicum), herbs (mint, parsley), a tomato sauce and raw onion in case you really wanted to spice it up. You can see this lavish spread in the picture.
Kebab seems to refer to a broader range of dishes in Turkey than you first expect. Here in Australia we have döner or shish-kebabs, but in Turkey kebab refers to a variety of meals. One experience of regional food we had was testi kebab, cooked in a pot. The pot is broken open to serve the casserole inside, which is eaten with pilav or bread. It is very exciting when the waiter cracks open the pot to serve your meal.
Most Turkish meals feature bread, especially breakfast. In the traditional breakfast bread is served with a spreads like jam and nutella, or with boiled egg, olives, tomato and cheese. This is a limited breakfast for a coeliac who can’t have the bread, so I was particularly excited at one hotel where we had menemen for breakfast. Menemen is like an omlette with pieces of chilli and tomato, which was served in a hot plate. It was great.
I’d recommend Turkey as great destination for food. The sightseeing is fun too.