Turkey's rich culinary heritage is a tantalizing treasure trove of flavors, textures, and traditions waiting to be discovered by expats living in this vibrant country. From hearty kebabs and delicate mezes to sweet baklava and robust Turkish coffee, Turkey's diverse dishes and dining customs offer a unique opportunity for expats to immerse themselves in the local culture truly. 

One of the most striking aspects of Turkish cuisine is its regional diversity, with dishes unique to various parts of the country. As expats navigate their Turkish culinary adventure, our guide will introduce them to the flavors and ingredients that define Turkey's regional specialties. From the coastal dishes flavored with olive oil in the Aegean region to the hearty kebabs and stews of eastern Anatolia, expats will appreciate the vast array of flavors that grace the Turkish palate.

By exploring Turkey's rich and varied culinary heritage, expats living in this captivating country can deepen their connection to its culture and people. Armed with the knowledge and enthusiasm provided by our guide, expats can embark on a culinary adventure that will enrich their time in Turkey and create delicious memories that last a lifetime.

Regional Specialties: A Tapestry of Flavours

Turkey's regional diversity is beautifully reflected in its cuisine, with dishes unique to various parts of the country. As you navigate your culinary adventure in Turkey, explore the flavors and ingredients that define these regional specialties:

  1. Aegean Region: Known for its abundant use of olive oil and fresh ingredients, Aegean cuisine features a variety of seafood dishes and mezes such as zeytinyağlı dolma (stuffed vegetables in olive oil) and cacık (thick yogurt with cucumber, garlic, and mint).
  2. Southeast Anatolia: Famous for its rich and spicy flavors, this region's popular dishes include lahmacun (thin-crust Turkish pizza with minced meat), içli köfte (stuffed bulgur wheat balls) and baklava (layered pastry with nuts and syrup).
  3. Eastern Anatolia: Known for hearty, meat-based dishes, this region boasts dishes such as çiğ köfte (spicy raw meatballs made with bulgur wheat) and kars gravyer peyniri (a local cheese similar to Swiss Gruyère).

Essential Turkish Dishes: A Delicious Introduction

Sampling the essential dishes of Turkish cuisine is an unmissable experience for anyone in Turkey. Here are eight must-try dishes to introduce you to the country's culinary delights:

  1. İskender Kebap: Thinly sliced pieces of grilled meat (usually lamb or beef) served over pita bread, topped with tomato sauce, yogurt, and melted butter.
  2. Simit: A circular, sesame seed-covered bread that is often referred to as the Turkish bagel. It can be enjoyed for breakfast or as a snack throughout the day.
  3. Mantı: Turkish dumplings typically filled with minced meat, onions, and spices, served with yogurt and tomato sauce.
  4. Köfte: Seasoned and spiced meatballs made from minced meat (usually lamb or beef); they can be grilled, fried, or baked.
  5. Pide: Boat-shaped flatbread topped with a variety of ingredients, such as minced meat, cheese, spinach, or eggs. Often referred to as Turkish pizza.
  6. Meze: A selection of small dishes served as appetizers, often including hummus, çerkez tavuğu (Circassian chicken), patlıcan salatası (eggplant salad), and beyaz peynir (white cheese).
  7. Döner Kebap: Seasoned, marinated meat (usually lamb or chicken) roasted on a vertical spit and thinly sliced off, often served in a pita, wrap, or over rice.
  8. Ayran: A popular Turkish yogurt drink typically served alongside meals, which aids digestion and provides a refreshing contrast to the dish's flavors.

Vegetarian Delights: Healthful Options Abound

Turkish cuisine offers a wealth of vegetarian dishes, making it easy for health-conscious and vegetarian expats to enjoy the country's culinary delights. Some popular vegetarian options include:

  1. Dolma: Stuffed vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, or vine leaves filled with a mixture of rice, herbs, and spices.
  2. Imam Bayıldı: Fried eggplant stuffed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spices, cooked in olive oil and served cold.
  3. Mercimek Çorbası: A comforting red lentil soup often prepared with onion, tomato paste, and spices, served with a squeeze of lemon.

Turkish Desserts and Beverages: Sweet Treats and Bold Brews

Desserts and beverages play a vital role in Turkish culture, with sweet treats like baklava and gentle, aromatic teas and coffees boasting deep historical roots. The following are some must-try options for expats to enjoy:

  1. Baklava: A rich, sweet pastry made from layers of filo dough filled with chopped nuts, syrup, or honey, baklava is Turkey's most renowned dessert.
  2. Künefe: A cheese-based dessert made from thin, crispy strands of pastry, often soaked in syrup and garnished with crushed pistachios.
  3. Turkish Tea (Çay): Strong, black tea served in small tulip-shaped glasses, çay is an integral part of Turkish social culture.
  4. Turkish Coffee: Finely ground coffee brewed in a cezve, a small, long-handled pot, accompanied by a glass of water and a piece of Turkish delight.

Local Market Shopping: Discover Fresh Ingredients

Visiting local markets, or 'pazars', offers expats an opportunity to immerse themselves in the local shopping experience while discovering fresh ingredients and regional specialties. Keep an eye out for seasonal and regional produce, olives, cheeses, bread, spices, and various street food stalls serving tempting dishes.

Dining Etiquette: Social Customs and Table Manners

Expats should familiarise themselves with Turkish dining etiquette to navigate social and professional gatherings confidently. Essential customs include waiting for the group's oldest or most respected member to begin eating, using bread to scoop up food, and offering fellow diners second helpings as a sign of hospitality. Avoid displaying your left hand while eating, as it is considered impolite.


Embracing Turkey's rich culinary heritage offers expats a uniquely immersive experience, enabling connections with the local culture and people. By exploring the diverse flavors, dishes, and dining customs, expats living in Turkey can truly savor their time in this captivating country and create delicious memories that last a lifetime.

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