The Turkish cuisine has a long and deep-rooted legacy that goes way beyond kebab. Turkey is a colorful country with differing climates and terrains, featuring a rich culinary experience. With that in mind, below are the geographical regions of Turkey with their own unique dishes, and some of our favorite places to enjoy them.

Aegean

The Aegean coastline is one of Turkey’s most fertile regions, with temperate climates and arable lands resulting in rich olive groves. The olive oils of this region are some of the most treasured nationwide and have also spawned a whole class of vegetable dishes. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs growing in abundance as well as wide variety of seafood dishes reflect the coastal atmosphere of this region.

Notable dishes

  • Enginar dolması – stuffed artichoke in olive oil
  • Yaprak sarması – rolled vine leaves either served cold filled with rice, or served warm filled with meat

Where to try them in Istanbul

Mythos, Giritli, Duble Meze

Black Sea

The Black Sea region’s cuisine and products are heavily based on the sea as well as its rainy and damp climate. It has proven to be ideal for growing the area’s renowned produce including tea, corn and hazelnuts. Tiny, delicious Black Sea anchovies known as hamsi are revered and have inspired many poems. They are also used in a multitude of ways including in bread, stew, rice, and more. The Laz people of this coast have their own dishes while Balkan and Slavic influences are also to be found.

Mıhlama

Notable dishes

  • Mıhlama – a filling cornmeal, butter, and cheese fondue
  • Hamsi pilavı – spiced rice enclosed in fried Black Sea anchovies
  • Kuru fasülye white beans in a tomato sauce
  • Laz böreği – a custard filled baklava like dessert
  • Karadeniz pidesi  an elongated and closed form of the popular pide dish

Where to try them in Istanbul

Hüsrev (from Rize), Fatih Karadeniz Pidecisi, Hayvore

Central Anatolia

Wheat and mutton are the main produce of the Anatolian plateau and this is reflected in their regional specialities; it is the grain center of the country. Extreme variations in temperature between hot and dry summers and snowy winters account for the preservation techniques that have developed here. Examples include dry-cured meats and tarhana soup, which is made from a dried mixture of fermented yogurt, flour, and vegetables. Konya is also the home of the Mevlevi Sufi order, which has its own culinary traditions. Roasted meat, pulses, dried fruit, and bulgur make up a lot of cuisine with flour based desserts.

Etli ekmek

Notable dishes

  • Keşkek – a traditional wedding dish made with wheat and meat
  • From Konya: etli ekmek – minced lamb pide, fırın kebabı – oily roasted mutton
  • From Kayseri: pastırma – cured, spiced beef, mantı

Where to try them in Istanbul

Güler Osmanlı Mutfağı, Aşkana Mantı

Eastern Anatolia

The stunning Kaçkar mountains of the East, and the volcanic landscape that gives rise to the country’s highest mountains such as mythical Ararat come with a harsh climate that is unforgiving for growing vegetables. As a result, dishes based on grain and meat are more common. Winters are long and cold, meaning that even meat has to be preserved and this has given rise to the unusual Kars Goose, which is preserved in salt water before being hung to dry. It is a seasonal delicacy, that you only occasionally see on select restaurant menus. With weather this extreme, it’s also necessary to start day right, the breakfast spread in Van is nationally revered as an epic feast.

Notable dishes

  • From Erzurum: cağ kebabı – meat cooked on a horizontal spit
  • From Van: kavut – roasted wheat flour blend of honey and walnuts, jajı – a dip made of yoghurt and cottage cheese

Where to try them in Istanbul

Seraf, Şehzade Cağ Kebabı, Van Kahvaltı Evi (for a traditional Van breakfast)

Mediterranean / South Eastern Anatolia

Stretching from the popular tourist destinations in the West to the finger of land that juts into Syria in the East, this region enjoys sunny weather accompanied by the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea and fertile soils of Anatolia. A wide range of fruits, vegetables, and herbs are grown here, and enjoyed throughout the year. Towards inland, spices are one of the defining features of this region, a result of its location on the former spice and silk routes.

The most common spices are red hot pepper flakes, paprika, dried sumac, cumin and mint. These are used in popular snacks such as çiğ köfte (originally made with raw meat, but more likely to be a vegetarian kneaded-spiced-bulgur-mix in Istanbul) and lahmacun (a crispy dough base topped with spiced meat) or in the region’s meat dishes, of which there is an astonishing variety from offal to kebab. The region is also home to desserts such as the best baklava in Turkey, featuring lots of trademarked Antep pistachios and other nuts.

Baklava

Notable dishes

  • Adana kebab – heavily spices minced meat cooked on a skewer
  • From Mersin: tantuni – small pieces of beef cooked and served in a wrap with spices and herbs
  • From Hatay: künefe – cheese based dessert, katmer – sweet or savory pastry filled with pistachio
  • From Urfa: çiğ köfte
  • From Gaziantep; beyran – soup made from lamb neck, tail fat, and rice
  • From Siirt: büryan kebabı – lamb cooked underground, perde pilavı – spiced rice baked inside a thin dough crust

Where to try them in Istanbul

For Hatay cuisine: Akdeniz Hatay Sofrası, Antiochia, Emine Ana (for tantuni)

For Gaziantep cuisine: Antebi, Dürümcü Emm (for beyran soup), Şeref Kebab (for büryan kebab and perde pilaf), Karaköy Güllüoğlu (for baklava), Tatbak (for lahmacun); click here for the top 7 Gaziantep cucine restaurants in Istanbul

Katmer

Culinary heritage

Hatay is the second Turkish city to make it to the UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy list. The name was included in November 2017 after Gaziantep paved the path two years earlier. Both southern cities are known for their multi-ethnic gastronomic influences and centuries-old culinary heritage.
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