Turkish Restaurants

As the country has been the crossroads between Europe and Asia for thousands of years, the food in Turkey benefits from the rich heritage of many cultures. You will find many dishes that seem to be from Greece, Italy, Spain, Egypt, and other far flung corners of the world. While there are differences depending on which region you are in, there are simple and pure dishes that are fairly universal.

The Turkish food you will find available in most restaurants are: kebabs, what is called shish kabob in North America; kebap, similar to the gyros from Greece; borek; savory meat pies like those found in neighboring Balkan countries of Russia and Ukraine; and kofte, meatballs often served on a stick. You will also find various rice and pilaf side dishes; fish from the Black Sea and Mediterranean; plenty of fresh vegetable like eggplant (aubergine), tomatoes, chick peas, artichokes, potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, and peppers. Different types of flat breads almost always accompany meals, as do yogurt side dishes and garnishes. Turkish sweets (most prominently, baklava and Turkish delight) are famous around the world—as are Turkish coffee and tea, both often heavily sweetened. Raki is a traditional alcoholic drink that bears the same name it does in Greece. It is home brewed by most households using anise, and is quite powerful. Chicken, goat, and lamb are the main meats—rarely will you find beef. Virtually never will you find pork.

Today, the country is one of the top destinations in the world, and you will find excellent Turkish restaurants in all the most visited tourism centers. In Cappadocia, try the Somine in the town of Urgup. “Somine” means fireplace, and there is a large carved fireplace in the center of the main dining room. Most of the Cappadocia hotels will also have good restaurants serving traditional Turkish food and some local specialties. You have a very wide selection of restaurants serving Turkish food in the larger cities of Istanbul and the coastal resorts like Izmir and Antalya. For the best view in Istanbul, try the Huzur, a traditional fish restaurant that looks across the Bosphorus to the Old Town and beautiful Topkapi Palace.

True travelers wisely learn and practice some basic local customs and etiquette when they visit other countries. If you are dining out in Turkey in Turkish restaurants that normally deal with a large number of foreign visitors, this is not so important. But if you are dining as the guest of local people and in establishments that don’t normally deal with tourists, knowing the basics of etiquette will be very rewarding and provide you with some of the most authentic experiences possible. Many of the tours that you are able to book will take you into local homes for meals, so knowing some etiquette is a big plus. The people appreciate when you show this kind of respect, and they are happy to answer questions. If you are unsure—ask. Food in Turkey is a subject the local people are happy to discuss.

The taboo against eating with the left (unclean) hand is rarely expected of foreign visitors, but you should consider observing it if you’re off the beaten path in little local establishments or the guest of devout Muslims. For a home-hosted meal, a small hostess gift such as sweets or pastries or a decorative souvenir from your own home is appropriate. If you know there are children in the family, a gift for the child is most welcome. If you know the family drinks, a bottle of alcohol is acceptable. Stay away from alcohol if you do not know the family, as many Muslims do not drink. For dining in restaurants in Turkey the etiquette is a little different. Splitting the bill is unheard of—the person who invited the other/s is expected to pay. Once you’ve been invited out, it is polite to return the favor. If you’re enjoying the nightlife of Istanbul, Marmaris, or Antalya and the restaurant meal is a spontaneous gathering, you can offer to pay the bill if you can afford it. But be prepared to pay if the others are willing. Smoking while eating in Turkish restaurants is common, asking someone near you not to smoke is virtually unheard of. Most establishments that cater to international tourists will have nonsmoking areas. When you eat with a local family, especially in smaller villages and towns, you will probably be sitting on the floor around a low table. The dishes of food are almost always communal.

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