There are plenty of Turkish foods that have gone global, everyone is familiar with the shish kebab, and the doner and of course baklava, but there are some food traditions that may be a bit surprising to a tourist. Here is a crash course on some of the more unique, delicious and downright odd delicacies that Turkey has to offer. Afiyet Olsun.
This eat at your own risk street food is probably, for that reason, most commonly sold during drinking hours. Fragrant rice-stuffed baked mussels piled high on a tray, are served up with a squeeze of lemon. The seller will keep them coming one after another so don’t be afraid to cry uncle!
These are another snack best eaten after a few drinks. Islak means wet and it is something of a mix between a sloppy joe and slider. They are housed in a steaming box at your corner donerci, garlicky and greasy and only considered a mistake the next day.
It is the Turkish tradition, that in order to avoid a hangover after a long night of drinking, they stop into a late night Iskembeci and order a tripe soup. The Turks swear by it. For the less brave, lentil soup is also a popular late night snack although its hangover staving properties are not as renowned.
Falim is a sugar free chewing gum is often sold by roadside salesmen during traffic congestion. A man will walk by with strings of pink or white gum. You tell him the number of pieces you want and he clips them accordingly. Don’t let the colors fool you though, they both have the principles of chewing on flavorless wax! Bonus: Your fortune written in the back --Turkish Fortune Cookie.
PS: I know that gum is not actual food, but your brain thinks that you are chewing actual food when you chew a gum.
This funny looking dried berry can be found in a bin at any dried fruit and nut shop. It grows in the region and is also a popular fruit in Iran. It is mostly used for the health properties it is purported to have. However many Turks will eat it as a snack as well. Not surprisingly, it’s furry interior has been described as tasting sweet although dry and mealy.
Tavuk gogsu is a signature dessert of Turkey. It was created during Ottoman times, the ingredients being chicken breast, milk, sugar and cinnamon. It is essentially chicken breast pudding. It can be hard to find the real deal any more, but if you can track it down, you must give it a try. Here is one shop still serving it.
In the U.S. kestane or chestnuts are a fairly seasonal and rather old fashioned nut. Generally at Christmas time you may have a few in a bowl of mixed nuts, but they don’t seep into our culture except through a nostalgic Christmas song. Not true in Turkey. While the high-season for getting chestnuts is certainly fall, during which time gorging on chestnuts is almost a hazing ritual, chestnuts are actually popular year round. Walk through any major point of foot traffic and a man will be there, all seasons roasting chestnuts for your temptation.
Formerly made in homes, this flour, butter and pulled sugar treat is now more commonly bought in stores. It is traditional to buy a box or two when travelling a far distance to visit family or friends. The gifted box is then passed around the next few nights, each guest reluctantly taking a piece. The best description I can come up with about pismaniye is, it is less a flavour and more of an experience. It’s as if NASA were able to create a dessert that upon the first bite it instantly sucks all moisture from your oral cavity…. As Turkish delicacies go, this may be one of the most acquired tastes I have come across.
Turkey takes the standard baked potato (or jacket potato for our British friends) and dials that bad boy up to 10. Kumpir is an already enormous baked potato which is then cut in half vigorously whipped with butter and cheese and the loaded with every topping combination fathomable to man, and possibly a few more. We are talking hotdogs, corn, peas, mayonnaise, chili paste, olives, pickles, couscous, beets, you name it and the potato master can more than likely fulfill your every baked potato topping dream.
Not for the faint of heart, this is a classic for offal lovers. Kokorec is a street food, offal (typically sweetbreads) skewered and wrapped in lamb intestines. It is then rotated over coals to get the perfect char. The usta will then masterfully chop your order with two butchers knives and serve it to you with some spices as a sandwich in the middle of soft white bread. If you didn’t know what you were eating, I can promise you will love it. Try it out and don’t let your head get in the way of your taste buds.
Lamacun should be declared a national treasure. It is a mix between a super thin crust pizza and some kind of Mexican roll up. Thin, oven fired crust topped with a spicy lamb mix, parsley and onion plus a squeeze of lemon are rolled together to form a savory appetizer, or a quick cheap snack on the go.
Traditional cig kofte is raw lamb or beef mixed with heavy spices and served just that, raw. It has been banned from most venues for sale since 2009, although if up for the challenge word is you can still find it in Fatih. Modern cig kofte is the same blend of spices, mixed in with bulgur and then served with either lettuce or thin lavash. These are traditional starters or a light snack and also typically 100% vegan.
Pide is a Black Sea specialty that is so delicious it has permeated all aspects of Turkish culture. I hate to compare it, but it could be considered Turkey’s pizza or calzone as they can be open or closed. Pide is fast food, but quality is not skimped. Always get the extra egg cracked on top, everything is more decadent with that extra egg.