Turkish cuisine is known worldwide as one of the best, it draws its influences from the four corners of the former Ottoman Empire and each region has its own specialities. Turkey is self-sufficient in food production and also produces enough surplus for export, this means that Turkish food is usually made from fresh local ingredients and tastes much better.
A main meal will usually start with the meze, this is a variety of small cold and hot dishes which are made for sharing. In many restaurants a waiter will bring these round on a tray for you to inspect and make your choice, it is common for a Turk to have a look at the food being prepared in the kitchen before deciding on what to eat, so if you are not sure, don't feel shy about asking.
Meze includes anything from dips such as taramascdata and cacik (yoghurt, garlic and cucumber) to dolma (anything stuffed with rice such as vine leaves or peppers), karides (prawns) or arnavut tiger (cubes of liver fried with spices and onions).
The Turks have hundreds of ways to prepare aubergine and imam bayddi is one of the best; aubergine cooked in olive oil and filled with tomato and onions, its name literally means 'the priest swooned' - presumably due to the delicious taste.
The Main Course
The main course is usually meat or fish, Turks always have bread with their meal and main courses are usually served with rice, typically a goban salatasi, a 'shepherd's salad' of tomato, cucumber and onion, dressed with olive oil and served with lemon will be placed in the middle of the table.
Lamb is the most common meat in Turkey, this and chicken are prepared in a variety of ways and usually grilled. Shish kebab (cubes of meat on a skewer) is popular and well known. Kofte, which are like small lamb burgers are also well worth trying and those who prefer something a little spicier should try the Adana kebab, which is also made of minced lamb but with the addition of peppers and formed around a skewer.
There are numerous variations and regional specialities of the kebab. Fairly rich but very tasty, is the tskender or Bursa kebab, named respectively after Alexander the Great and the town in which it originated, which is slices of doner meat layered with yoghurt, tomato sauce and pitta bread. Turks are also fond of stews or what they term sulu yemek (food with sauce) and there are restaurants which specialise in these and will usually have large containers of the different varieties on display.
Usually a meal will be finished off by a plate of fresh fruit, beautifully prepared and placed in the centre of the table for sharing. Karpuz (water melon) and kavun (melon) are popular, those with a sweet tooth will be delighted by the sticky, honeyed desserts. There are many varieties, of which baklava (layers of filo pastry and pistachio nuts soaked in honey) is perhaps the most common, also worth trying is the siitlag, a cold, slightly sweet milky rice pudding, the adventurous might want to order tavuk gogusu, a milk pudding made from pounded chicken breast - it sounds strange but is actually delicious, and when well made it is impossible to tell it is made from chicken.
Turkish breakfast kahvalti usually consists of fresh white bread, honey, beyazpeynir - cheese similar to feta, literally translated as 'white cheese'- tomatoes, cucumber and black olives, washed down with black tea. The Turkish equivalent of a fry up is menemen a type of omelette with peppers and other vegetables or eggs fried with sucuk, a garlic sausage.
Common fruit juices include visne - sour cherry juice, another favourite drink, particularly in hot weather, which is also credited with curing all ills, is ayran, a yoghurt drink, which is often salted and, therefore somewhat of an acquired taste. Bottled mineral water is cheap and easily available and fizzy drinks are sold everywhere.
Usually Turkish tea is brewed in a sort of combined kettle/ tea pot which is placed directly on the hob and has water boiling in the bottom section and tea brewing in the top so it can be made weaker or stronger as required.
It is drunk black and usually with plenty of sugar. Unless you specifically ask for Turkish tea, hotels will assume you want English tea and often present you with a cup of boiling water and a tea bag on the side.
Turkish coffee is the perfect way to finish off a good meal, when ordering specify whether you want it sade (plain), orta (with some sugar) or sekerli (very sweet). It is brewed with the specified amount of sugar mixed in with the coffee granules, it is served in small cups.
One of Turkey's most famous exports, lokum or Turkish delight as we know it, comes in many flavours and not only the rose, lemon and pistachio varieties which are common elsewhere. It is often served with Turkish coffee at the end of a meal. There are now some Turkish Delight factories where you can book a tour to watch it being made and sample the wares.