This is a list of things you may not be able to bring out of Turkey, but you should definitely try while there and most likely you’ll have the chance to do so at most restaurants. Be choosy with your restaurant choices, as not all will provide the highest quality ingredients- and when it comes to things like meats and dairy, I personally wouldn’t skimp.
*Note: No doubt you will have Turkish tea (çay) with a lot of the meals you try, so I’m not putting that on the list.
- Elma Çay (Apple Tea) I don’t know why, but at first I wasn’t too interested in trying this tea. I didn’t really think it would be a big deal, but once I tasted it, I was so happy I did. It was simply delightful. Fruity. Aromatic. Calming. Especially when I was there in the winter. Try it at Hafiz Mustafa cafes if you’re in Istanbul, but if you want to take any home, I recommend buying the all-natural dried apple without sugar, as some come in packets or boxes with sugar and I’m just not a fan of that.
- Sujuk (Turkish sausage) from Afyon.Turkey is known for the best sujuk and it doesn’t disappoint, but you really should get the one from Afyon, where it is said to be the best and doesn’t disappoint. If you’re passing through the town of Afyon, you’ll find signs where you can buy freshly made packs and they’ll even heat a few pieces on the grill so you can taste it cooked. This was the BEST sujuk I’ve ever had and it doesn’t look or taste processed like all the others (there should be some marbling on the meat, which means some fat has been added). If you can’t get to Afyon, wherever you do buy sucuk, look for ones that have been made there. You should find plenty of it in Istanbul. Just be sure to ask if it was made there and it’s not just the name on it.
- Kaymak, the clotted cream of Turkey. Since it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to take it out of the country, you must try it here. Your best chances of getting a taste are at a traditional Turkish breakfast, particularly a country-style one. Often times it’ll come with honey on top or honey on the side and you simply dip some bread into both- it’s divine that way. I could eat the whole serving myself, but then again I’m also in love with all creams…You can get this at a grocery store, too, by the way, if you want to eat it on your own. It will be in the refrigerated dairy section near the milk and yogurt.
- Butter from Trabzon. I have liked all the butter in Turkey, but in particular the one from the Black Sea area is the best, most specifically from Trabzon. The reason is that they’re famous for grazing their cows in the highlands (mostly in the Spring) where they get to chew on wildflowers specific to the region. The butter is a deep golden color, so you’ll know it when you see it. You may even get to taste it at a traditional Turkish breakfast, which seems to be when all the best food bits are served, anyway.
- Fresh and Frothy Ayran (Yogurt Drink). Yogurt is everywhere in Turkey, even in drinks. Ayran is a fermented yogurt drink that can be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, but I’m not talking about that version of ayran. You want the thick, whipped up version served fresh and icy cold (in copper cups, if possible). So good with dishes like lahmacun (ground meat pizza) or on its own. Particularly good for an upset stomach on a day when you’ve been eating way too much of everything else.
- Ice Cream You Eat with a Fork at Hafiz Mustafa in Istanbul. I couldn’t visualize the idea of eating ice cream with a fork when I was told about this, but you’ll understand when you see it. Ice cream is nicely frozen and cut in wedges, not scoops, and served on a plate- even in scorching summer heat. I loved the combination of pistachio, vanilla with goat’s milk, and chocolate, but you can get just one or two of them. They’ll be on the menu at Hafiz Mustafa, the only place where I would recommend trying it.
- Turkish Pide (Pizza) In Istanbul, I love Kuzine Pide. They make the dough fresh on the spot (like most pide places), but I loved this one for the presentation style and taste. Check out my Instagram post when I went there. If you can’t get to this place, wherever you are in Turkey, try a local neighborhood place, particularly those that are packed with locals. I’m sure it’ll be great and you must try it. My favorite pides are the ones with just mozzarella-like cheese (kasharli) or cheese and ground meat (kiymali). Sucuk is also a must-try. I guess you need to go a few times!
- Maras Dondurma (Ice Cream) on a Cone. If you’re visiting Turkey in the summer, you’ll be inundated with sweets options, especially for ice cream. Being a gelato aficionado myself, I’m not easily impressed with ice creams so I only recommend the ones that must be tried. I’ll be honest and say that I sorta turned up my nose at the initial gumminess of the Maras ice cream, but after trying several versions and several different vendors, I have learned to appreciate this all-natural ice cream made locally with fresh and seasonal ingredients. Ask for tastings before deciding on your flavor and be ready for some tricky stuff happening when the vendor hands over your cone- it’s fun!
- Balik Ekmek (Fish Sandwich) from the Eminou bridge, Istanbul or anywhere the fish is good. This is a must try, if you like fish. The sandwiches are good, but there are often times more bread than fish, so choose your vendor wisely. If you head to the Eminou bridge area, you’ll see dozens of boats where they sell the sandwiches so you do have a choice of where to go. Had I not felt so rushed the first time (lines are long), I would have done some more surveillance of each vendor to choose one that gave a better helping of fish. The fish, however, was really tasty.
- Gozleme (Savory Pancake). Gozleme is everywhere in Turkey, and most of them are all so very good. If there are at least one or two women rolling out the dough and stuffing the gozleme in the restaurant (even the tiniest of places will have this), you should take a peek inside and give it a go. Gozleme is stuffed with a lot of different things: cheese, ground meat, spinach, onions, sometimes a mixture of all of those. You choose your stuffing and wait for your gozleme to be made to order, which isn’t too long. Also, if you head to open markets in the southern part of the country, you’ll find Gozleme there, too, which is a really fun thing to do on market day before shopping.
So, that’s my list for now, based on my experience both as a traveler and as a resident. I’m sure there will be more to add to this list at some point, but I really try to keep it to things that you just can’t find back in the U.S. either- not just the stuff you can’t take back.
Anything else you would add?