Most meals in Turkey begin with a meze which is a mixture of appetizers which many of you would probably regard as sufficient for an entire meal. This consists mainly of vegetables such as braised artichokes, vine leaves stuffed with rice, broad beans, pine nuts, beet salads, eggplant in several different forms, tomato and cucumber salad, fried aubergine and various other Turkish specialties. And, as if all of this wasn’t enough, they also throw in some seafood and heaps of yoghurt for good measure.
Entrees or main courses are generally meat or fish kebabs but these kebabs vary much more than anybody from the west could ever comprehend. The method in which they are cooked, the spices used to flavour the meats and the types of meat and fish used in the kebabs differs greatly from region to region. Among the most popular are the doner kebab which is made from meat which has been packed onto a vertical skewer and then sliced off from the outside in, a sis kebab is made from cubes of meat which have been grilled on a skewer, urfa kebabs are served with lots of onions and black pepper, iskender kebabs are served with tomato sauce and yoghurt and adana kebabs are hot and spicy. When referring to kebabs, however, the Turks also include other meat and vegetable dishes too including sac kavurma which consists of meat that has been stir fried in a flat bottomed pan, guvec is made from meat stewed with vegetables in a clay pot and kofte is minced meat which is made into meat balls and grilled.
Seafood in Turkey is quite a special treat. It is of superb quality, and while it can be quite expensive if not in season, it is certainly worth sampling. Between March and June, the fish of the season are turbot (kalkan), mackerel (uskumru) and anchovies (hamsi). From July to the middle of August fish is much harder to come by as it is the peak of spawning season and fishing for many types of fish is strictly prohibited. If you are looking for seafood during this period keep your eye out for bluefish (cinakop for small or lufer for medium), goatfish (tekir) or red mullet (barbunya). Also look out for the traditional Turkish favourite of balik e met, or fish and bread. Regarded by many as the fish and chips of Turkey, this is made whatever fish is available. This is grilled or fired and put on small rolls with fired onions and washed down with pickle water – the juice from various pickles including beets, cabbage and cucumber – might not sound that good but it does taste rather delicious.
And, for those of you who have any room left for desert after all of the above, this is also something which Turkish chefs don’t treat lightly. Fresh seasonal fruits are the most popular and are definitely worth trying. Almonds and plums are top of the list in spring while strawberries arrive in May, cherries in June, melons in July and August, apples and pears in autumn and citrus fruits and bananas in winter. As well as this wonderful selection of fruits, however, there are a host of traditional Turkish deserts including the renowned Turkish delight, sutlac which is a form of rice pudding, baklava, kadayif, halfa and ausre.