Because I was silly enough to give Andy a choice about which aspect of Turkish cuisine to blog, I have been stuck with writing about savory foods in Turkey. Sigh.
It's not that Turkish food is bad, it's just kind of monotonous--at least when you're on a budget. There's just no way around it, you're going to end up eating a lot of chicken sandwiches.
OK, Other choices may include yogurt, eggplant, lamb, and parsley, though if you're Andy you hate all those things and will eat nothing but chicken and sweets. My diet was slightly more varied, but I have to admit that I'm not terribly sad to be leaving most Turkish food behind as we set out for India.
But, as always, there were a few gems. On to the pictures!
Here is the ubiquitous rotating hunk of tavuk (chicken) on a spit--the part that's close to the heat source cooks on the outside, then the server scrapes the cooked parts off with a huge knife and puts them on your ekmek (bread), dürum (wrap), or pide (naan-like bread) to make a döner kebap sandwich. This one is fun because it has carrots and other vegetables embedded in it, making it more colorful and nutritious than your usual hunk o'tavuk.
Like any good New Yorker, I love bagels, and sesame bagels are my favorites. Well, who knew there were sesame bagels sold on the street all over Turkey?? They are called simit, and are a bit less bready than NY-style bagels, but delicious just the same. No day in Turkey was complete without a simit or two in my tummy.
Kofte are Turkish meatballs, made out of lamb. This sandwich might have been OK if it had come with any sort of moistening condiment on it. This was our main complaint about many sandwiches we had in Turkey.
Pizza is a popular dish in Turkey, and unlike its Italian counterpart, it doesn't automatically come with cheese on it. The round, thin-crust version is called lahmacun, and is topped with ground lamb and various herbs and veggies. The slightly thicker-crusted version is called pide and costs about three times as much as lahmacun, even when it has the same toppings. That's a lahmacun on the left, pide on the right--we had to order both to compare value. Lahmacun won, and that's all we've ever ordered since.
In Selcuk, the town near Ephesus, we went out for dinner with our new friend Christine and got a tasty mixed mezze plate, which came with samples of five different appetizers of our choice. The hummus was the best, followed by the rice-and-raisin stuffed pepper, but the baba ghanoush, spicy cous cous, and fried zucchini weren't bad, either. You are now looking at what was probably the tastiest plate of savory food we had in all of Turkey.
At that same meal, Andy also ordered a chicken şis (shish) kebap, a.k.a. grilled chicken on a stick. It tasted pretty much how it looks--like chicken.
You know what the sight of all that melted cheese means: Neither Andy nor Tara ordered this dish! This is Christine's moussaka, an eggplant stew with ground meat. We tasted the stuff under the cheese and it was OK, not great.
Gözleme, or stuffed Turkish pancake, is one of Turkey's better savory creations. They are usually fairly cheap and vegetarian-friendly, too. This one has spinach and potato in it.
Turkey has a few flavored yogurts available, but plain still rules the supermarket fridge cases. Finding a single-serving size is very hard--a pint of yogurt was often the smallest container I could get. It is thick like Greek yogurt and very nice with honey or cherry jam mixed in.
But the real star of Turkey's yogurt scene is Ayran, a drink that was originally described to me as plain yogurt with water and salt added. I thought that sounded kind of gross and avoided it for a while, but since pretty much everyone in the country was drinking it with their kebab sandwiches except for me, I eventually broke down and got one with a lunch. It was much tastier (and less salty) than I expected, though I did later try a saltier brand which was kind of gross. I think its extreme popularity is directly linked to the lack of condiments on sandwiches--Turks need something to moisten their mouths which while they munch on so much bread!
Wow, this picture looks really vile, but trust me, this is the best kebap in Turkey: the Iskender Kebap! Invented and perfect in Bursa (where we tried it), it is thinly shaved beef served over bits of bread with tomato, browned butter, and a side of yogurt. Very delicious.
This might loosely be described as a casserole. Chicken, vegetables, and soupy stuff. They are fairly popular in much of Turkey. Andy says it didn't have much taste and needed a lot of salt and pepper.
Here you can see the contents of one of the better tavuk döner kebaps I had, this one in Gazi Antep (better known for its baklava). It's on fresh pide bread, which helps. The addition of French fries and pickles also help. And the meat was juicy, but also nicely browned. High marks, Antep.
Another lesser-known G. Antep specialty is pistachios. The few that escape being ground up and turned into baklava sometimes get sold by the kilo to hungry people like moi.
If you've ever dreamed of crowning yourself the king or queen of bagel-land, there is a bakery in Sanli Urfa, Turkey, just waiting to oblige you with a giant simit.
The typical Turkish breakfast definitely falls into the savory category. White cheese, olives, a hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, and cucumbers are all mainstays, and if you eat any less than two-thirds of a full loaf of bread with all this, you are a wuss.
Speaking of bread, Turks love it. When Andy and I stayed at a hotel with a breakfast buffet, we actually served ourselves less bread than we would get when a normal breakfast was served to us elsewhere!
It comes in many forms, too. Here are some plain pides we bought to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with when we got sick of kebaps. They are better when hot and fresh and don't have much flavor on their own...
Back in Istanbul at the end of our trip, we finally bit the bullet and got a kumpir, or massive baked potato stuffed with everything under the sun. Our reason for previous resistance had been price (they cost around $4 each), of course--we have no objections to topping a potato with lots of tasty stuff!
Here is an ayran fountain, which you can sometimes find on the street or in a restaurant. Its main function seems to be the frothing up of the yogurt-water-salt mixture known as ayran. I usually drank prepackaged ayran, but did have the fountain version once and found it weaker than the others I had tried. Who's watering down the ayran??
I leave you with a final shot of chicken on a spinning spit. I'm so sick of this stuff that I can't be bothered to keep a mental itinerary of all the different ones I've encountered, but Andy took this shot because he swears that this is the most massive hunk of chicken we've seen on a spit yet.
I imagine that this post may be somewhat controversial, since almost everyone we know who's been to Turkey raved about the terrific cuisine, and clearly we didn't agree, at least when it comes to the savory side of things. People will probably tell me that I cheaped out too much, or should have eaten more fish, or something. Eh, story of my life.
So I'll just close by saying that if I ever come back to Turkey, I plan to fill up my suitcase with food--it'll just be Tetra Paks of cherry juice, giant jars of cherry jam, and kilos of baklava, not chicken sandwiches! Please, lord, no more chicken sandwiches.