Turkey is a culinary wonderland. There is SO MUCH DELICIOUS FOOD! Everywhere! All the time! First of all, you should know that in Turkey, people drink a lot of tea. And I do mean A LOT. Throughout the day, people are sipping tea all over the country. It is black tea, prepared strongly and then watered down with boiling water. People often put a sugar cube—or a few—in their glass, and it is always served in small tulip-shaped glasses.
Turkish coffee is also common, though people drink this less frequently. It is strong coffee, but just a little bit, served in an espresso-sized coffee cup. Other beverages people like to drink include ayran, a salty yogurt drink, and şalgam, a fermented black carrot or turnip juice, which is also salty and can be spicy.
I love food, and have really been enjoying this aspect of Turkey. Somehow, I haven’t gained any weight… Perhaps this is because much of the food is very healthy. I live in a very rich agricultural region, so there are fresh fruits and vegetables all over the place. People sell them on the side of the road, in farmer’s markets, and at local shops. Some of the most common vegetables include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onions, and greens of all sorts.
It is said that the best kebab is from Turkey, and the best kebab in Turkey is from Adana, making Adana kebab the best kebab in the world. Thankfully for me, Adana is just an hour down the highway! So I eat a lot of kebab. When you order kebab at a restaurant, you are not only getting kebab. Before the meal, a large plate of salad is brought out, which everyone shares, often eating their fill straight from the main plate. Yogurt is also very popular in Turkey, and is served with most meals. This yogurt is not sweet, but sometimes it will be topped with walnuts and honey. Yum! Other appetizers also appear before the meal, even if you did not order them. Be careful: it is easy to fill up before the main entrée is delivered. But when it comes, it is so delicious, it doesn’t matter how much you have already eaten.
Lamb is the most common meat in this region. People also eat beef and chicken, but since most people in Turkey are Muslim, and Muslims do not eat pork, it is not common to find pork on a menu, or even in the store. But, lamb is very delicious. Turkey is surrounded by seas on three sides, so you can find excellent fish. Also, food is pretty cheap in Turkey compared to America, so you can eat well for little expense.
Kebab is prepared with spices and placed on a metal skewer. It is them cooked in a fire pit, and served with bread smothered in drippings from the meat. Parsley is another necessity, along with small hot peppers, if you choose, radishes and onions. Oh, and lemon! People love to squeeze lemon on many things.
Sweets in Turkey are outrageous. People love sweets! Gaziantep is the pistachio capital of the world, and is an hour and half down the highway the other way (east). The most popular thing to make with pistachios is baklava. Here, there are many types of baklava. It is so delightful!
Afiyet olsun (ah-fee-et-ol-soon) is like bon appetite in French, but can be said before or after a meal. People here often ask me what we say in America. I guess afiyet olsun would be like “Enjoy your meal,” though this is not a common phrase like it is in Turkey. It now feels funny for me to not say something before or after a meal.
Another nice phrase people say in Turkish is Elinize salik, which translates to “health to your hands.” This is said to the cook after eating a delicious meal they prepared, and I think it’s lovely.
A fun aspect of Turkey is that most every region or city has a special food they are particularly known for. Maybe it’s something that grows best there, or a dish that is served all over Turkey but that town makes the absolute best. Mersin is known for tantuni; Kaharmanmaraş is known for its ice cream; Malatya is known for apricots. It’s fun to try these foods when visiting each town. I am always happy to talk about food, and I have a habit of photographing interesting dishes, so if there is anything you are particularly interested in, please let me know.
I love to cook, so have been experimenting with a number of Turkish dishes. Some are rather complicated. But I have chosen a simple and healthy recipe to share with you, called Kısır. It is made with ingredients I think you can easily find, it’s quick, tasty and lasts for a few days.
This dish is healthy and filling, so I felt good when I ate it. It is similar to tabouleh in that it is made with bulgur and other fresh ingredients. It is an excellent side dish, or as you can see from the recipe, you can eat it a lettuce leaf like a taco and call it a meal.
2 cups bulgur (the light and small version if possible)
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
½ bunch parsley, finely chopped
½ bunch dill, finely chopped
4 Tablespoons tomato paste
4 Tablespoons red pepper paste
2 Tablespoons dried mint
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice from 1 lemon
Rinse the bulgur. Place in a bowl and pour 1 ½ cups boiling water over it. Cover and let stand until the water is absorbed. Mix in tomato and pepper paste (in Turkey, people often use their hands). Now mix in the remaining ingredients, and it’s finished! Serve on a piece of lettuce and eat like a taco… or if you prefer, just eat with a spoon. Afiyet olsun!
The word bulgur is Turkish. It is a whole grain that is grown throughout the world, and it is very common in Turkey. The other ingredients used in this recipe are also available throughout the year. At the weekly farmer’s market in my neighborhood, I always pick up fresh tomatoes, parsley, lemons, onions, and dill. Other items I purchased this week include eggplant, leeks, spinach, eggs, and apples. I buy these directly from the farmer, who harvested them maybe a day before. This is also a good chance for me to practice my Turkish. I can practice names for the fruits and vegetables and also numbers, such as how much something weighs or how much it costs.