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Exploring the flavours of Turkish cuisine with food writer Ghillie Başan

From cosmopolitan Istanbul to rural Anatolia, Turkish cuisine is fresh, seasonal and abundant. Ghillie Başan shares some of the highlights.

Spicy, meat-filled manti dumplings, served with garlic yoghurt and topped with melted butter, pul biber and Turkish dried mint.

Photograph by Martin Brigdale
By Ghillie Başan
Published 23 Sept 2021, 11:30 BST

Ask a Turkish person about their favourite dishes, and they’ll chat animatedly for hours, describing fresh, crunchy salads scented with herbs; glorious, garlicky yogurt dips; vegetables stuffed with aromatic minced lamb and pine nuts; meat balls and kebabs; breads and savoury pastries; and sumptuous milk puddings and pastries packed with nuts.

Wherever you go in Turkey, there’s always something delicious to eat. Whether you’re in Istanbul, in a small village in Anatolia, on the slopes above Bursa or in a tourist resort in the Mediterranean, the aroma of grilling, baking and spices fills the air. You can try Ottoman puddings in Istanbul, apricots stuffed with rice in Cappadocia, anchovy pilaf on the Black Sea coast, fiery kebabs served on a sword in Adana, and honey in Kars, Eastern Anatolia.

Food and travel writer Ghillie Başan is the author of The Turkish Cookbook.

Photograph by Martin Brigdale

Every town and city has a market where you’ll find a wealth of fresh, seasonal produce such as olives and pickles, juicy figs, ruby-red pomegranates, ripe melons, strings of dried red chillies and leafy herbs. The beauty of Turkish food is that it’s seasonal and abundant. Traditional recipes have been handed down from generation to generation and modern chefs add their own twists. 

Read more: A culinary guide to Istanbul

To get a taste of Turkey, head to Istanbul. People have migrated here from the far-flung corners of Anatolia (the Asian part of Turkey), Europe, the Middle East and the Black Sea countries, bringing with them their own culinary traditions and flavours. The famous spice bazaar is called the ‘Egyptian Bazaar’; the ubiquitous red chillies are often linked to Aleppo; there are Jewish köfte, Arab kebabs and Lebanese kibbeh, Circassian chicken and Russian salad, sautéed liver from Albania and spicy dumplings from Mongolia. This unique city never fails to surprise and tantalise the taste buds — or the adventurous spirit. This is an edited extract from The Turkish Cookbook, by Ghillie Başan, published by Lorenz Books (£20).

Pul biber, a moderately hot, fruity, finely chopped dried chilli that’s found in every kitchen and often placed on the table as a condiment for soups, köfte and kebabs.

Photograph by Martin Brigdale

Three must-try Turkish dishes

Kuru patlican dolmasi: Just about anything that can be stuffed with aromatic rice and minced beef or lamb can become a dolma — peppers, tomatoes, even apples, mussels and squid. However, kuru patlican dolmasi (spicy stuffed dried aubergines) from southern Turkey, are pretty special.

Manti: Anatolian manti dumplings are stuffed noodle dough that’s been boiled or baked. Spicy, meat-filled manti are best served with garlic yoghurt and topped with melted butter, pul biber and Turkish dried mint.

Tavuk gögsu kazandibi: For a surprising dessert, try this classic Ottoman milk pudding, prepared with very fine threads of burnt chicken breast (for texture rather than flavour). The best place to enjoy it is at a specialist pudding shop.

Published in the October 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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