Eating Out on a Trip to Turkey

 In my travelogue of Turkey, I briefly touched upon Turkish food. But there have been quite a few queries asking for details on the cuisine and the various dishes that we tasted there. The need for a separate post about Turkish food stems from that.

Adana Kebap Platter in Istanbul

My earlier exposures to Turkish food were in Hyderabad. Hyderabad has a Turkish Consulate fostering closer ties of that nation with our city. The erstwhile rulers the Nizams had a deep connection with Turkey and there were many marriages between the Turkish royals and the Nizam’s family. The Consulate does an annual Turkish festival in well-known hotels in Hyderabad, usually flying down chefs from Turkey. I had the good fortune of attending quite a few of these, fostering an interest in me the cuisine.

Turkish cuisine has a strong influence of the food of both Europe (especially the Mediterranean) as well as Western Asia. Istanbul and cities like Kusadasi and Antalya are dotted with small restaurants and street stalls, serving essentially meat-based delicacies. 

Doner Sade  - Istanbul (top) and Antalya

One of the most popular snacks is Durum (doner, what we call shawarma rolls here. There are usually two versions Tavuk  (chicken) or Et (beef). A typical durum (doner) in Turkey costs Lira 40-50, about Rs 200-250, and can easily fill in for lunch. You can opt for Doner Sade where the meat is not rolled into the bread and is served separately. Some even ask for Pilaf instead of bread along with the shawarma meat.

Hummus & Kebaps on Bosphorus Cruise

We enjoyed a full Turkish meal on the Bosphorus River Cruise in Istanbul. Here the spread started with soup, followed by mezze platters and then a huge assortment of kababs (or kebaps as they call there). Finally, there was dessert. But mostly as we toured Turkey, we found people doing their lunch with mezze, salads and kebaps.

Urfa Kebap

Among the kebaps, the most famous is Adana kebap. A long sheekh of beef is served with bulger (a cereal popular here), salads, and often a large piece of smoked chili. A variant Urfa Kebap is less spicy. Chicken lovers usually go for Chicken Shish. Kebaps are served with bulger, vegetables and dips. You can substitute it with Turkish bread or French fries.

Isgara Kofte (Top) and a Street Side Kebap Place in Istanbul

Kofte or meatballs is another popular food. Izgara Kofte is juicy grilled meatballs with little spices again served with salad and bulger or French fries.  We loved these at a small place next to our hotel in Istanbul and often went back for the food.

Dolma (top), Beef Stew (Middle) and Mezze Platter

The cheese, salads, and cold cuts in the buffets were often meals by themselves. At least three varieties of olives used to be there along with lots of vegetables. Among the cooked dishes were stews, eggplant is extremely popular here, but we enjoyed the Chicken and Fish stews also. We encountered the famed Dolmas (stuffed vegetables) in very few places. Our hotel at Kusadasi served the best dinner buffet of the trip with the food very local, while the breakfast at Hilton Istanbul was sumptuous. The salad bar at the Kusadasi dinner buffet had more than twenty varieties of salads.

Simit Stall (top), Simit (middle) and Kumpir Stall in Istanbul 

The most popular street food seemed to be Simit, a donut type of bread served with chocolate and other dips. Kumpir is another common street food where baked potatoes are stuffed with vegetables, sauces and even meat.

Pide Beef (top), Cured Meat (middle) and Pide shop in Cappadocia

Turkish are fond of the local pizzas – called Pide or Lahmacun here. The pides are long flatbreads and can have toppings such as beef, cheese, or vegetables. In Cappadocia, we went to a village-style pide shop and witnessed how they make the pide. The pides in this area are very long and cut into pieces before they are served. One pide, good enough for a couple of people cost Lira 50 (Indian Rs 225).


In Antalya, very near the Duden waterfalls, we tried Gozleme, meat mince stuffed parathas very similar to our Moglai Paratha or Baida Roti. The preparation is also like these except for a little olive oil used instead of oil, and the mince is almost bereft of spices.

Baklava (top) and Baklava varieties in a shop in Taksim

Regarding sweets, everyone knows about Baklava. The usual baklavas found on street corners are simple and without any toppings. But the main shops have many variants of baklava with different shapes and toppings. More popular is Turkish Delight, a slightly chewy sweet from Ottoman heritage available in many variants. Istiklal Street near Taksim Square has the best baklava and Turkish Delight shops, having more than a dozen of each delicacy. But the prices are the most expensive here. 

Turkish Ice cream is popular, not just because of its taste, but also for the theatrics of the ice cream vendor as he serves them. I had experienced it in one of the Turkish festivals in Hyderabad, and again went for it in the busy Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. Dondurma as it is known has a special resin named Mastik added to it, which gives a hard and thick texture.

Turkish Tea

The Turkish love their tea and coffee served in all restaurants including lunch and dinner places. The coffee is extremely flavourful often a little bitter. Some places serve a small piece of chocolate to chew with the coffee. This is one thing that one needs to pick up for bringing it to India.

Also Read: Turkey Travelogue

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Go Turkey: Cappadocia, the Land of Fairy Chimneys

If I was given the option of just visiting one place in Turkey, my answer would have been Cappadocia. You would have not seen this kind of landscape anywhere in the world, a large number of rock formations resembling chimneys caused by weathered volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.

We approached the region from Konya in the evening, a journey of about three hours. As we entered the main city of Nevsehir, we could see statues of horses all over the town. It was here that we came to know that the word Cappadocia means “Land of beautiful horses”. Over the next few days, we could see many horse ranches spread all over the region.

Cappadocia is known for its caves and hotels that are located inside caves. Our hotel Demisos Cave Hotel, located at Mustafapasha was one of them. The climb to the hotel was quite steep, but once inside we found a completely stunning experience altogether. Each of our rooms was actually a cave, with all facilities like an attached bathroom and modern amenities. Since there were no windows, initially we felt a bit claustrophobic, but soon got accustomed to the place. The hotel run by a lady had about ten rooms and had a coffee shop outside to cater to the guest. 

The next morning was balloon time. Cappadocia is known for hot air balloon rides to watch the sunrise. I am not too comfortable with heights and adventure sports so opted out of this experience. My wife along with my niece left at 4 am for the hot air balloon experience, which costs around Rs 18000 per head in Indian currency. 

The team returned around 8 am when we were having breakfast in our cave hotel. The balloon experience starts just before sunrise, as you see the first rays of the sun lighting up the Cappadocia chimneys. There are about one thousand balloons that go up every day for a short ride of around one hour. About a dozen persons are huddled in a basket that is attached to the balloon. The overall experience is exquisite.

However, the ride is not without risks. A week before we reached, a hot air balloon crashed while landing killing three of its passengers – all Spanish tourists. 

After a sumptuous homemade breakfast at our hotel, we were ready to explore Cappadocia. Our guide was a young lad just out of college, and he showed great enthusiasm in showing us around. The region has a number of valleys, and each has its own style of fairy chimneys. The volcanic eruptions had resulted in soft rock formations in the region, and wind and rains washed away part of these deposits with the harder part protruding out to the extent of even a hundred feet. These rocks were malleable and easy to carve out, so persecuted groups in many periods found it convenient to carve out homes, churches, and even stables for their horses inside these chimneys. Entire underground cities also came up to protect them from the enemy, and the larger ones even had ten stories below the ground level.

Cappadocia is known for its rocky valleys. Our first stop was the Love Valley, where it was our first look at the phallic natural structures. Next was the Fairy Chimney Valley, where the structures were different, looking like mushrooms. In fact, the local police station was housed in one of the mushroom-shaped structures. 

Cappadocia also has a couple of castles built out of the rocks, and Uchisar is perhaps the most famous of these. A huge rock structure with windows like pigeon holes used to house a few hundred people. After visiting one of the palaces our last stop for the day was Goreme Open Air Museum. The museum houses the large monasteries that were cut out from the tuff or soft rocks. We took a walk around the structures and visited a church located in one of them. The Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire had taken refuge at Cappadocia, and thus there are many multi-storied sites with religious inscriptions in the caves and the chimneys. There was a large community dining room and kitchens too. The structures are as old as 1800 BC. 

In the evening we visited a local café in Mustafapasha for dinner. He assembled very tasty and fresh local sandwiches which we enjoyed with Turkish coffee.

The last day at Cappadocia took us to Rose Valley. The valley is thus named because the chimneys here are colored rose. There is a long trek that we attended but as it was too steep, none of us except our niece could handle it. We visited the Avanos pottery town as well as a pottery workshop. Avanos has had a tradition of making pottery since the BC period, and even now the locals are continuing it. Some of the products are very intricate and can be compared to the best in the world. 

We were pining for Pide, the Turkish pizza ever since we landed in the country. Our guide took us to a village pide place, where we could try cheese and beef pides. The specialty of pides of this region is that it is extra long. The preparation of the pide was also shown to us.

Our final visit was to the Underground City at Kaymakli. There are many underground cities in Cappadocia, most built by Greeks to protect them from attacks by Persians. Later during Ottoman rule, refugees used to still live in these cities. Kaymakli has eight floors all underground, and one can only reach up to five. Some of the pathways and narrow and low, in some places you have to crawl. You can be privy to an entire city with stables, churches, oil factories, kitchens, storage places, and wine factories. 

We spent two days in Cappadocia but actually, you can definitely spend a couple of days more. There are many walks, treks, horseback viewing, and exploring the caves that you can do. Many people visit Turkey just to visit Cappadocia. 

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Go Turkey: Antalya

While the entire trip to Turkey keeps you engrossed with the rich history of the nation, the geographic divergence in this country is noteworthy too. At the end of a trip to this country, there will be a realization that no two locations are similar. Also, usually the western and central parts of Turkey is part of the itinerary whereas the east is avoided, I was told that though there are beautiful spots in the eastern region too, they are not deemed too safe for international tourists.

Also Read: The City of Istanbul

From Pamukkale, our destination was Antalya, a commercial city on the Mediterranean Sea. Antalya is among the five largest cities in the country, known for its deep blue sea, waterfalls, and greenery. After a journey of about five hours, our tourist bus dropped us at Ring Downtown Hotel located at the centre of the city. The area was buzzing with restaurants, and foreign exchange dealers and looked like a shopping destination. 

We wanted to get to the seafront and asked people for directions. By now we were familiar with Turkish words like “Su”, “Durum” etc., and a new addition was “Deniz” the Turkish for sea. The seafront was a longish walk away. At the end of the road, there was a park from where we could see the sea from the top. There was a multi-level restaurant a distance away that attracted our attention. Boats of all shapes and sizes were visible too. At sunset, the Mediterranean looked fascinating with a myriad of lights from the shore as well as the boats.

On our way back we stopped for dinner at a Turkish roadside eatery.   Durum or shawarma roll (also known as Doner) is one of the most popular foods on the streets. There were two variants, Et (Beef) and Tavuk (Chicken). You can also have the bread and meat separately as Durum Sade. In this case, you can ask for some rice or bulgur instead of the bread too. Typically, doners cost 30-80 Liras (Rs 120 to 320) and can serve as a complete meal along with some tea or coffee. The durum here had some tahini provided with it, which added to the taste.

While walking back to our hotel from our dinner, we were stopped by the police to check our passports. Unlike many countries, you have to have your passport on you all the time in Turkey, you cannot leave it at the hotel.

The next day, we started early for the sights of Antalya. Our guide first took us to Tunektepe, the highest point in the city which you need to reach via a cable car. The top has a small café serving short eats and beverages. The views from both the car and the top are breathtaking, you can see a large stretch of sea, the harbor, and the city. We spent an hour here before moving to the next destination, Duden Falls.

There are actually two Duden Falls in Antalya. The Upper Duden Falls is located inside a park at the outskirts of the city. The location is nice, though it is not a novelty as we can see many such huge falls in our own country. The way to the fall is a little steep as you need to travel through a few caves. There are food stalls and shops just outside the entrance, and here we got to taste Gozleme, the stuffed Turkish paratha, the making of which resembles our Moglai Parota and Baida Roti closely.

The Lower Duden Falls, half an hour away was a unique place, as the Duden River falls over a cliff into the sea. It is a fantastic view, and for me perhaps the best site in Antalya.

Our last but significant stop was at Kaleici, the old Roman city of Antalya. The place is 2200 years old though most of the area has been modernized. Hadrian’s Gate, the entrance to this area is one of the few remains of the olden times. However, a new Antalya awaits you in the narrow alleys flanked by curio shops, stores, hotels, restaurants, and bars. The offerings in the shops are very interesting, and we witnessed intense bargaining by some of the locals. 

The main artery ends on the seafront where you can have a view of Hidirlik Tower, another old Roman structure. We were unanimous that this area is the best to stay in Antalya, though the boutique hotels on inquiry turned out to be pretty expensive. 

We enjoyed our stay in this city but were looking forward to the next destination too. It was a two-hour stopover at Konya en route to Cappadocia, where we wished to visit the Mevlana Museum and Mausoleum of Jalaluddin Rumi, the Sufi scholar many of us are familiar with.  

The museum located in a large compound in the centre of the city was thronging with visitors when we reached there in the afternoon. Rumi is considered a Saint in Turkey, and his mausoleum is a holy place. A large number of artifacts belonging to the Mevlana order which his father had founded can be seen in the small cells leading to the mausoleum where the dervishes used to live. To enter the mausoleum, you have to cover your shoes with plastic shoe covers which are kept there. Inside, you can find the tomb or Rumi as well as other dervishes of the contemporary period. In the museum, you can see a few models of contemporary times. In the evenings the famous Whirling Dervish programs are held here, though we could not experience them as we were proceeding to Cappadocia.

Konya is about three hours from Antalya and can be done in a day trip. It is halfway to Cappadocia our next destination, so instead of travelling to Cappadocia by flight, we started from Antalya in the morning, visited the mausoleum, and reached Cappadocia in the evening.

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