Turkey, described as the cradle where eastern and western civilizations connect, is located almost at the mid-point of where the European, Asian and African continents meet. Unsurprisingly therefore, Turkish cuisine is fusion food at its most extreme, with influences ranging from Middle-Eastern to Mediterranean to Balkan and even Central Asian.
It is easy to dismiss this traditional dish as merely fast food but in Turkey, a ‘kebab’ means any kind of grilled meat with vegetables, and the variety is astounding and creative. Poultry, lamb and beef are all used and mixed with ingredients such as chopped pistachios, quince, loquats or cloves. For those not so inclined towards the kebab, it should be known that kebabs aren’t the sum of Turkey’s parts; with most traditional meals starting with soup, and typical dishes being stews, pastries and a huge variety of fish meals, traditional Turkish cuisine offers a smorgasbord of options.
Some of the best eating experiences can be found on the streets of Istanbul. Visitors can sample delicious and interesting dishes, such as simit; a molasses-dipped, sesame crusted, baked good (the Turkish equivalent to a breakfast muffin) or the popular lunch-time treat: Balik-ekmek fish sandwiches. For the adventurous, try the local favorite of spiced and skewered sheep’s intestines, typically served with bread. And for those needing snacks, there are mussels on a half shell mixed with spicy rice.
Though the landscape has changed somewhat in Turkey, the country’s reputation for being foodies has not. With a basis in the original Mediterranean diet, Turkish cuisine has always been experimental, fusing elements of Persian cuisine such as stews with the spicier flavors of Arab cultures. Recent experimentation, especially in Istanbul, has restaurants giving traditional meals a modern twist, introducing more Western flavors into the melting pot.
A culinary trip to Turkey would not be complete without Turkish coffee. It is a strong, dark concoction, and very sweet. It is traditionally served with Turkish delight, and a glass of cold water to cleanse your palette of previous flavors. This everyday beverage has become a staple of Turkish culture. Ordering a cup of coffee completes any meal, and is a wonderful way to lap up the vibrant Turkish cuisine and culture.