For all those foodies out there who love to travel, it doesn’t get any better than in Turkey!
Istanbul is the second most visited city in the world and the only city that straddles Europe and Asia. Due to its location, it’s become a strategic multicultural place that has absorbed the best of both worlds, especially when it comes to palate-satisfying scrumptious dishes mixed with a touch of spices and herbs from both continents.
As you walk along the cobbled streets of the ancient city of Constantinople (now Istanbul), the scent of sizzling kebabs, the smell of roasted chestnuts, the aroma of fresh baked bread out of clay ovens will make your nostrils flare and send you into a sitomania!
New to Turkish dishes? Döner kebabs will be a good introduction. Layers and layers of deboned meat on a vertical roasting spit, rotating on its axis before a gas grill and then thinly sliced or shaved with a special long knife, known as the biçaği. The meat is then stuffed with hand cut thick fried potatoes and salad into a meat-juice-and-fat soaked pide (sort of like pita bread).
Usually served with grilled green peppers, tomatoes, onions, parsley and a decent sized portion of bulgur wheat, köfte is the traditional dish of ground lamb mixed with eggs, breadcrumbs and spices, grilled in a longish shape. It’s so well marinated in spices that any pungency or gamey flavours of lamb is covered up. Even for those who don’t so much fancy lamb, this will be revolutionary!
The literal translation of this dish is, lambs intestines wrapped up with sweetbreads and grilled on wheeled cart skewers with fat dripping and the crackling sound popping the intestines, drawing the attention of passers-by. Once cooked, they are taken off from the skewer, chopped up and sprinkled with oregano and cumin. Some may balk at this but the enthusiastic long lines of hungry customers prove otherwise. The Turkish people love this offal signature dish served with either pita bread or long oval ekmek (Turkish bread) garnished with powdered chillies and with onions and parsley.
Who doesn’t like roast meat? Kebabs are one of the most well-known dishes in the Middle East, but none can beat the Turkish style. It’s said that Genghis Khan strung his daily catch on his sword and cooked it over the open fire. The Turks have definitely carried on his cooking style but with a little bit of innovation. Chunks of marinated meat on skewers roasting away on charcoal, singed on the surface while each chunk remains soft and succulent. Mostly roasted together with bite sized onions, mild spicy green peppers, aubergines and tomatoes, these little beauties are bursting with lip-smacking flavours and aromas that will make you crave for more.
Originating from the Balkans, but with a generous Turkish twist to it, Kumpir is basically a gigantic baked potato, cut in half. Scoop out the inside, mash them with butter, spices and cheese, place them back in its jacket and fill with all kinds of salad, cold meat cuts and sauces. It sounds simple and plain but oh! The cheesy buttery spiced potato alone makes your mouth water, not to mention the wide selection of salad, cold meat and sauces to drench and fill your potatoes to a “po-tastic” meal. Enjoy it in Örtakoy, by the Bosphorus, where you can share this hot kumpir with your loved ones in the beautiful glittering night scenery overlooking the Asian side of Istanbul.
The Italians would call them ravioli and the Chinese would call them dumplings, but the Turkish being Turks, they would add some quirkiness to it. Manti is stuffed with meat served with cold garlicky yoghurt garnished with chopped parsley, dribbled in olive oil, caramelised with tomato paste and spice infused and sprinkled with chilli flakes. Sounds peculiar? It’s quite an exquisite combination, in reality. You’ve got to try them to understand the taste. And of course you can order without the chillies.
SIMIT and POGAÇA
For Singaporeans, snack means curry puff or min jiang kueh (Chinese peanut pancake) but for Turks, it’s the sesame flavoured crispy fresh baked bread with a hole larger than a donut – simit. Also called sesame ring bread, they’re sold everywhere; by the roadside, street corners, and alleyways. Pogaça are savoury freshly baked filled bread or pastry, either with feta, potatoes, olives or chocolate. These delicious little treats are best eaten for breakfast or at tea time with a glass of Turkish tea, çay. A Turk can eat at least 6 of them! That’s how good they are.
Çorba means soup. In the Middle East, soup is like pottage. Westerners would use cream while the Chinese is more water based, however çorba is like diluted lentil soup with a drop of cream and a hint of spiciness. It’s fabulous, especially if eaten with fresh Turkish bread – ekmek.
Curious about the name already? It’s an Istanbul specialty – stuffed mussel with herbed rice, some pine nuts and a little currant, all in the shell. Squeeze a little lemon juice in it and voila – tasty with a nutty sweet flavour and a kick at the back of your throat from the lemon juice. It’s a meze – a starter but mostly it’s sold at night in Istanbul’s streets, hawker style catering for young people. In Istanbul, instead of peanuts along with your drinks, the Turkish swaps it for midye dolma!
What Turkish food do you love?