We have finally arrived to the topic of my most beloved subject - can you guess? If you said food, maybe because I've declared my passion for food multiple times before, congratulations! Welcome to Part I: the Savory. Of course, I don't claim to be an expert nor do I claim this is an holistic list of Turkish cuisine but these are some of my personal favorites!
Pide and Lahmacun
As someone who spent a lot of time on the Karadeniz (the Black Sea), I have high standards for pide, the closest thing to pizza you'll find here. Pide is essentially thin, crispy bread in the shape of a flattened out football (açık - open) or closed in an elongated roll (kapalı - closed) topped/filled with any combination of cheese and meat (and if you're doing it right - an egg!) that's been loving crafted, stuck in a super hot wood burning oven, and then topped with butter. Pide is a Karadeniz specialty so that's where you'll get what I consider the best pide - Turan Usta in Bafra is famous throughout Turkey. Near the IES apartment is a very good place called Efes 2, which also serves lahmacun. Lahmacun can sound very similar to pide in description, but these thin crispy oven baked lovelies are only ever topped with a ground meat/tomato/pepper combo and are served in whatever denomination you desire. When you're eating them, stick some salad inside and squirt lemon on top for an ~authentic~ experience.
İskender is named after Alexander the Great which is probably his greatest achievement. We are talking soft, chewy bread topped with thin slices of doner meat, topped with a tomato sauce, topped with butter and served with yogurt. You know you're in a legit place if the server comes around with a pot of butter to pour over your iskender as you look upon with awe and delight. There's usually grilled tomato and green pepper on the side because we care about vegetables and a well-rounded meal here.
Dürüm and Döner
Ah, the iconic spinning hunk of meat in front of an open flame attended by a dude brandishing a huge knife and slicing off delicious delicious morsels. The spinning hunk is caled doner (from dönmek - to turn), whose meat is used in a variety of dishes. The most famous of these is of course the dürüm (from dürmek - to roll), which is a soft piece of flatbread filled with doner meat, fries, onions, peppers, lettuce, and SAUCE. I haven't actually had a dürüm yet in Istanbul which I know is a travesty, but I've heard there's a place on the way back from the metro called Döner Evi that is very good.
Every culture seems to have its own form of ravioli and this is the Turkish version - teeny tiny doughs usually filled with a combination of beef and lamb and topped with a spicy buttery tomato sauce and garlic yogurt. If you're in Sinop, you'll also get to experience the whole thing with the addition of walnuts and if you go to Kayseri, where it's the most famous, the manti will be teeny tinier and come in more of a tomato soup. Mantı is easily bought from the pazar right by the apartments from a very kind lady who makes them by hand and made at home when you're feeling lazy. It's pasta! We're college students! But it's also cultural!
Ev Yemekleri (Home Foods)
This is some of my favorite Turkish foods - the kind that you get when you're visiting a Turkish family. The range of ev yemekleri goes from simple - buttery rice, kofte and potatoes in a tomato sauce, lentil soup, white bean and lamb stew - to the elaborate: İmam Bayıldı, a whole eggplant deep fried then topped with garlic yogurt and sauce made from tomato, onions, garlic, and pepper; Yaprak Sarma, grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice; İçli Pilav, a fragrantly spiced rice dish with cinnamon, chinese 7-spice, whole chestnuts, and raisins. The simpler stuff is easily (and cheaply!) found all around Istanbul but the fancier things might require a fancier restaurant... or a willing Turkish family to invite you into their home!
Can't talk about Turkish food without talking about Köfte and Kebab! Both are usually served with bread, yogurt, and some grilled vegetables and both are delicious delicious hunks of meat. Köfte, which usually comes in groups of 4-5, is deliciously spiced lamb/beef and soft - usually a safe pick anywhere you go. Kebab comes in a couple different varieties - there's chicken kebab, çöp şiş (literally "trash sis" which is not literal trash and more just the odds and ends of chicken meat), and Adana Kebab, which is spicy and lamby and hails from the southern city of Adana, just to name a few.
The fish in Turkey is excellent if you're in the right season. Winter is for hamsi, big anchovies, that is usually fried and served in groups of 8-10. You can get balik ekmek (fish bread) along the Bosphorous but be careful in your choice because there's no guarantee of freshness from those vendors. Fish is usually served alongside roka (arugula), lemon, a hunk of onion and traditionally is eaten with raki, the beloved anise seed-flavored liquor of Turkey (which I hate). The best fish I've had here thus far was from a place in Bursa right by the ferry station. The place is super unassuming and totally delicious. Another amazing place for fish is right by Galata Tower where you can get fish durums, possibly one of the most amazing things I've ever put in my mouth. A popular street/late night/drunk food is midye dolmasi, mussels stuffed with rice. I've personally only had these once because I'm skeeved out and want to avoid food poisoning as much as possible, but I have friends here who love them and haven't gotten sick once!
The tapas of Turkey! Meze restaurants are also usually fish restaurants (since eating fish out is a fancy occassion) but the range of available mezes - from the cold ones: sundried garlicky olive oily tomatos, roasted eggplant and peppers, seaweed in yogurt; to the hot ones: roasted octopus, hummus with sucuk, fish and sea vegetables in a tumeric/garlic sauce - is incredible. An amazing place in Istanbul is called Meze by Lemon Tree which is on the pricier side, making it the place to try with your parents who come visit you (Hi mom & dad!). A very good place in Izmir is called Yargici but don't let Lonely Planet fool you - it is also definitely higher end.
So there you have part one! As I'm writing I keep thinking about more and more foods that I have been unable to fit into my word limit so we will have to see if there will be more than three parts. While I figure that out, be on the lookout for Part II: The Baked and the Sweet.