What foods would you say are ‘must eats’ for first-time travellers to Turkey and why?
Gozleme - You’ll see them everywhere in small villages and markets, usually made by women in traditional costume, sitting at low tables rolling out yufka dough. The thin sheets of dough are then stuffed with all kinds of filling, from cheese, to minced meat or vegetables. The gozleme are then baked on a sac – a cast-iron, domed griddle. Hot and oozing with cheese, they are irresistible.
Balik ekmek (fish sandwiches) - On a chilly morning, it’s hard to beat a piece of spanking-fresh mackerel, straight from the sea, grilled and stuffed into a soft bread roll with a bit of lettuce and onion. This is not fancy food, but eating a hot fish sandwich is a culinary rite of passage that you just have to embrace. They are sold from brightly coloured boats and stalls moored on the waterfront of Istanbul’s Golden Horn, just below the Galata Bridge.
Kaymakli yoghurt - The Turks are a nation of yoghurt lovers and there are endless versions (thick, thin, strained) made from cow, goat, sheep or even water-buffalo. My favourite is called kaymakli yoghurt, which has a thick layer of clotted cream on the surface. It’s sold in special dairy shops or you’ll find it is often served in hotels for breakfast. It is wickedly rich and creamy and is delicious with a drizzle of local honey or a spoonful of sweet preserves.
Braised wild greens - Vegetables are a stalwart of Turkish cuisine and I especially love the olive oil-braised vegetable ‘salads’ that are served as mezze. Some of the best of these are made from wild greens and most are foraged from the countryside and so will be very specific to a region.
Dondurma - This is Turkey’s famous pounded ice-cream. It has a wonderful smooth, elastic texture and a subtly addictive flavour. The best dondurma is said to come from Maras, but you will find it everywhere, sold from ice-cream shops and street sellers.