Food Trotter – Laying the Groundwork – Basics for Turkish Cuisine

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Let’s talk about Turkish Cuisine!

Welcome to the first post on the Food Trotter Series! As promised, this series will explore my bucket list through food around the world. Really, it is just an excuse for me to cook and eat food from all over the world. In the process, if I learn something about the culinary history or culture, hey that’s just an added bonus! I’m picking the countries in no particular order, so if you want to learn more about a particular country, comment below!

The first country I will be exploring is Turkey!

Exploring Turkey and Turkish Cuisine - Hot Air Balloons

Turkey has been on my bucket list for a very long time, so is fitting to start this series with Turkey! There are just so many things I’d want to explore! (Also, lately I’ve seen a lot of people going to Turkey, and I’ve been quite jealous, so I thought I’d do my own exploring!)

My top picks for things I’d want to do in Turkey would be:

  • Roam the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul
  • Enjoy a Turkish coffee and baklava at a cafĂ©
  • Ride the hot air Balloons in Cappadocia
  • Visit the Hagia Sophia Cathedral
  • Bask in the architecture of the Blue Mosque
  • Experience a Turkish Bath

Turkey is fascinating because its rich in history and culture! Turkish cuisine is delicious: with lots of kababs, flavourful vegetables, pilafs, some decadent desserts, and who hasn’t heard of Turkish Coffee!

Exploring turkey cuisine - Turkish Coffee

Ironically, the bird we eat at Thanksgiving in North America, also called the turkey, is not a part of traditional Turkish cuisine, nor is it from Turkey. (You can learn more about that here).

History and Turkish Cuisine

From a historical perspective, the country we know of as Turkey today has seen many settlers and conquerors. From the Greeks and Alexander the Great to the Roman Empire and more “recently,” the Ottoman Empire (the 1300s to 1923)  before it liberated after the end of World War I and became the country we know of today.

Istanbul, one of the most popular cities in Turkey, has had so many names in history – Byzantine, Constantinople, and of course Istanbul today. When it was Constantinope, it was the base of the Ottoman Empire.  Of course you can already tell how much history the city has seen!

Geography & Turkish Cuisine

Geographically, Turkey is in the middle – where Asia and Europe meet.

Exploring Turkey - Turkish Cuisine

The silk road crossed over from Asia to Europe through present-day Turkey (specifically the region of Anatolia). Silk, paper, spices, and jewels were transported between Asia and Europe through the Silk Road. It is an important part of history as it also encouraged a cultural exchange of sorts. More history can be found here!

You can see a blend of influences from both continents in the architecture, culture and of course the food! Culinary culture in Turkey (and surrounding countries) have so many influences from those that lived and visited Turkey! I definitely can’t do it justice, but you’ll notice how there are similarities in foods from Turkey and many other Mediterranean, Asian and European countries!

Culinary Culture and Influence

Explore Turkish cuisine - Turkish dessert

These influences are apparent in the foods and ingredients in Turkish food!

  • Central / Western Asian: Turkish people are descendants of the nomadic tribes of Mongolia, and western Asia – which influenced a popular dish called manti, which is similar to dumplings (or ravioli).
  • Persian influences: From the Persians, they learned about cooking with rice, nuts, and meat.
  • Indian / Silk Road: As a result of the silk road, they had access to spices from India and China!
  • Greek: Olive oil, feta, eggplants, and lamb are all ingredients commonly found in many dishes in both cultures!  

I of course in no way could not do justice to its entire history with this primer, but I am excited to be able to cook some Turkish food!

Turkish Cuisine – the Ingredients

So what do you need? From the brief history above, I’m sure you can tell there’s lots of spices, nuts, meats, and olive oil! Of course, this list is not an exhaustive. But I think it should be a good start in the culinary adventure of Turksih cuisine. The basic dishes use many of these ingredients, so it’s time to stock our pantry!

Here are the top 15 ingredients you need in your pantry to make Turkish food!

Top 15 Ingredients in Turkish Cuisine:

Herbs & Spices:

Ingredients for Turkish Cuisine - Exploring Turkish Cuisine

The commonly used spices include:

  1. Cumin – A common spice in many Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines as well! Cumin is made from ground parsley seeds and adds a nutty, peppery, warm flavor; also known for its health benefits in aiding digestion!
  2. Sumac   – A deep red-colored spice made from grinding berries from the Sumac bush from the Middle East, with a tart, sour flavor.
  3. Mint – This herb offers a refreshing flavor. It is often added to yogurt to make dips and sauces or garnish meats and vegetables. Dried mint combined with browned butter is used as a dressing for soups!
  4. Parsley – This herb adds a clean, bright flavor to many meat dishes or makes an appearance in salads.
  5. Cloves – Cloves are the unopened flower buds of the tropical evergreen clove tree, native to Indonesia, This fragrant spice is used in many spice blends across India, Middle East, and African cuisines. Cloves add warm flavor, complementing meats, savory dishes, and sweets!
  6. Allspice – this spice comes from a berry, that looks like a peppercorn. It is a warm, pungent spice that flavors meats, stews. Allspice is popular in many other cuisines across the world, such as Jamaica, North Africa, and the Middle East!
  7. Za’atar: a spice blend, popular in Southern Turkey and other Middle Eastern cuisines, made from a blend of thyme, oregano, and marjoram. This spice blend on its own is a powerful flavor which adds a nutty, herbal taste to potatoes or meats.
  8. Tahini – Paste made of sesame seeds; very popular in all Middle Eastern cooking, but it is a trendy ingredient in many dishes today! The sesame seeds add a nutty flavor. Tahini is often in the sauces or even added as an ingredien. It is one of the main ingredients in hummus!

Other ingredients:

Turkish cuisine has a lot of spices and here, but there are several other ingredients that make repeated appearances in Turkish cuisine:

  1. Garlic – Well, who doesn’t love garlic, it’s used in a LOT of cuisines and packs quite a punch, so it’s no surprise it makes an appearance in Turkish Cuisine.
  2. Tomatoes – Used in a lot of dishes in Turkish cuisine, from meats to soups. Tomatoes are preserved and incorporated into dishes with the consistency of tomato paste rather than fresh tomatoes.
  3. Lamb – Lamb is the most popular meat in Turkish cuisine – even more popular than chicken and beef; meat dishes include stews, kababs, and koftas (using ground meat).
  4. Yogurt – Served with essentially every Turkish meal; Turkish yogurt is typically thicker in consistency than Greek Yogurt and known to be tart.
  5. Olive Oil – A staple used in many dishes, similar to many Mediterranean countries. It is used to cook, fry, sautee, and in seasonings, dressings, and marinades.
  6. Bulgar and Rice – Bulgar is cracked wheat. In Turkish cuisine, it is used to make pilafs and added to salads. Rice is also used in many dishes especially Pilafs.
  7. Yufka – Yufka is a dough similar to filo pastry in Greek food made of flour, salt, and water. It is used to make sweets such as baklava, and savory pastries such as borek.
Ingredients for Turkish Food - Exploring Turkish Cuisine


  • Ozlem's Turkish Table January 25, 2019 at 11:57 AM

    Lovely post on Turkish cuisine, thank you for linking to my blog!

    • Anum H January 29, 2019 at 3:37 PM

      thank you! love your website!

  • […] So, we talked about the ingredients you need to make Turkish food. […]

  • […] while back, I talked about stocking your pantry with the ingredients needed for Turkish food! Now it’s time to talk about what to do with […]

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