Adana kebap, a skewer of minced meat spiced with chili and topped with pide bread, a speciality of Adana
Turkish cuisine combines Mediterranean, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Arabic influences, and is extremely rich. Beef is the most important meat (lamb is also common but pork is very hard to find although not illegal), and eggplant (aubergine), onion, lentil, bean, tomato, garlic, and cucumber are the primary vegetables. An abundance of spices is also used. The main staples are rice (pilav), bulgur wheat and bread, and dishes are typically cooked in vegetable oil or sometimes butter.
There are many kinds of specialized restaurants to choose from, since most do not prepare or serve other kinds of food. Traditional Turkish restaurants serve meals daily prepared and stored in a bain-marie. The meals are at the entrance so you can easily see and choose. Kebapçis are restaurants specialized in many kinds of kebab. Some Kebab restaurants serve alcohol while others don’t. There are subtypes like ciğerci, Adana kebapçısı or İskender kebapçısı. Fish restaurants typically serve meze (cold olive oil dishes) and Rakı or wine. Dönerci’s are prevalent through country and serve döner kebap as a fast food. Köfeci’s are restaurants with meatballs (Köfte) served as main dish. Kokoreçci, midyeci, tantunici, mantıcı, gözlemeci, lahmacuncu, pideci, çiğ köfteci, etsiz çiğ köfteci are other kinds of local restaurants found in Turkey which specialization in one food.
A full Turkish meal at Kebab restaurant starts with a soup, often lentil soup (mercimek çorbasi), and a set of meze appetizers featuring olives, cheese, pickles and a wide variety of small dishes. Meze can easily be made into a full meal, especially if they are consumed along with rakı. The main course is usually meat: a common dish type and Turkey’s best known culinary export is kebab (kebap), grilled meat in various forms including the famous döner kebap (thin slices of meat shaved from a giant rotating spit) and şişkebab (skewered meat), and a lot more others. Köfte (meatball) is a variation of the kebab. There are hundreds of kinds of köfte throughout Anatolia, but only about 10 to 12 of them are known to the residents of the larger cities, kike İnegöl köfte, Dalyan köfte, sulu köfte etc.
Eating on the cheap is mostly done at Kebab stands, which can be found everywhere in Istanbul and other major cities. For the equivalent of a couple dollars, you get a full loaf of bread sliced down the middle, filled with broiled meat, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. For North Americans familiar with donairs wrapped in pita bread or wraps, you should look for the word “Dürüm” or “Dürümcü” on the windows of the kebab stands and ask for your donair kebab to be wrapped in a dürüm or lavaş bread depending on the region.
If you want to really taste the real Turkish food and have time, try to go where the locals go. Usually, restaurants where crowded touristic places and serving to the tourists are lower in quality and taste compared to the places when locals go. So if you have the opportunity ask locals where to go for a good meal. You may not be able to find alcoholic beverages in most of them if not in all but it is also most likely to taste much better quality and tasty food.
Vegetarian restaurants are not common, and can be found only in very central parts of big cities and some of the tourist spots. However, every good restaurant offers vegetable dishes, and some of the restaurants offering traditional “ev yemeği” (“home food”) have olive-oil specialities which are vegetarian in content. A vegetarian would be very happy in the Aegean region, where all kinds of wild herbs are eaten as main meals, either cooked or raw, dressed with olive oil. But a vegetarian would have real difficulty in searching for food especially in Southeastern region, where a dish without meat is not considered a dish. At such a place, supermarkets may help with their shelves full of canned vegetables, or even canned cooked olive-oil courses and fresh fruits. If you are a vegetarian and going to visit rural areas of Southeastern region, better take your canned food with you, as there will be no supermarkets to rescue you.