Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Food and Drink in Turkey

In many of the restaurants in Turkey, the menus have a picture for each item. I suppose that the idea is that this allows people who do not speak Turkish to know what they're eating. The pictures were generally so small, though, that they weren't very informative--try looking at a page full of pictures of different types of pide and figuring out which ones are topped with meat.

Pide is called "Turkish pizza" by some, but some Turks take offense at this--they see pide as a distinct type of food. I agree with them. Pide is an oblong piece of flat bread with melted cheese and various toppings. The cheese normally used is called kaşar; I think it's a little sweeter and less salty than mozzarella and with a firmer consistency. Pide is personal-size, and is served cut into inch-wide sections; this makes it easier to eat, I think. It's not very crusty and there is no tomato sauce, so I don't think it's like pizza; the only thing in common is melted cheese on bread.

Pide and kebap shops are considered the bottom-tier of dining, analogous to American fast food, I suppose. However, the food is served on real dishes, and soup and salad are included in the meal.

I like to eat terrible instant pasta made by Knorr; this is one of my favorite post-all-nighter comfort foods. In Turkey, the only Knorr products are terrible instant soup.

Turks are very proud of their salad, which normally consists of lettuce, red cabbage, carrot, cucumber, and tomato, and is dressed with olive oil or a wedge of orange or lemon. Sometimes one big plate of salad is brought for the whole table and everyone eats together and doesn't worry about mouth germs.

The milk sold in grocery stores is not refrigerated; it's super-pasteurized.

I only had one cup of drip coffee while I was in Turkey. In Turkey, instant coffee is drunk instead; it is exclusively known as NesCafe through brand generalization. I found this magical cup of drip coffee at church; evidently, coffee is a sacrament uniting Christians globally.

I drank out of so many cups exactly identical to the one shown. They hold 200 mL. They are made of thinner plastic than a plastic Dixie bathroom cup. This is the sort of cup that would be at a water cooler. I drank out of these cups on inter-city busses and in cyber cafes. Hot drinks like NesCafe are sometimes served in them.

Sugar packets are long and skinny, as are creamer packets. NesCafe even comes in single-serving packets, sometimes with the sugar and creamer included.

The soda cans hold 330 mL, which is a little less than the 12 oz I'm used to, so they look funny to me.

Turks also have Turkish coffee, which is like espresso in that it's very dark and strong. Turks normally drink it with plenty of sugar, unless mourning. Turkish coffee is brewed in a little urn called a cezve on low heat. When done properly, it makes a foam from the proteins in the coffee. Milk is never added. The coffee is unfiltered, so one must wait for the grinds to settle before drinking. Turkish coffee is not drunk to get wired; it's more often used as a sign of hospitality. Paul and I were served it when we visited some scientists at a university.

Due to coffee shortages from World War I, Ataturk suggested that the Turks switch to drinking tea; before this, coffee was the main hot beverage in Turkey. Now, Turks are the number one per-capita consumers of tea in the world, at 2.5 kg/year; the UK is in second at 2.1 kg/year--not even close. Turkish tea is brewed in a pot on top of another pot, full of boiling water. This controls the temperature of the tea, keeping it around 170-180ºF, which, I think, releases fewer tannins. It is typically steeped for 15 minutes, three times as long as black tea is normally steeped when brewed in boiling water. It has no astringent aftertaste.

The concentrated tea brewed in the top pot is diluted with the boiling water from the bottom pot; even after dilution, Turkish tea is still stronger than the tea normally served in the States. Turkish tea is served in a small tulip-shaped glass; this makes it easier to dilute correctly and allows appreciation of the color of the tea. The tea is served in small vessels so it stays hotter while drunk; guests are given seconds and thirds and fourths...

Rakı is Turkey's national liquor, made from distilled fermented grapes and flavored with anise. (Greeks call it ouzo, and Iranians call it arak.) Rakı is drunk diluted. It is clear, but, because of magic, turns cloudy when water is added. Once, I was served rakı in a bar, and I added water, but it was already diluted, so the Turks I was with were able to tell that I'm sort of a poseur sometimes. Turks are very good sports when foreigners mess up their customs.

In Turkey, the carrots are shorter and fatter than the ones here. Celery was nowhere to be found. Bell peppers are called "American peppers"; the peppers that are popular in Turkey are more bitter than the ones I'm used to.

Mayonnaise and ketchup are popular condiments and are eaten with pizza. When I told Hassan, one of my hosts in Izmir, that Americans think eating pizza with ketchup and mayonnaise is peculiar, he said that while he doesn't eat pizza with mayonnaise, and agrees this is a little strange, "with pizza, ketchup is a necessity."

Ayran is a salt yogurt drink; it's very popular.

Tofu is almost impossible to find. I met some Koreans in Turkey who import their own freeze-dried tofu, which they say is passable if you only need soft tofu.

French fries are sometimes eaten with a fork; I get the sense that other foods that I would regard as finger foods would be eaten with a fork in Turkey.

At the McDonalds restaurants in Turkey, in addition to the menu I'm used to from the States, there is the McTürko, which is beef patties served on flatbread with a special sauce; Matthew says it's basically the same as a McArabia, but the sauce is a little sweeter.

When I told Turks about how I'm used to refrigerated milk and drip coffee, they were surprised.


  1. 3 food facts from my biennual travels:

    1 - Bulgarians have the best tomatoes I've ever had. The flavor is stronger.
    2 - Ukrainians have strong coffee, and eat more Russianly as you go East (they become more Russian as you go East, too)
    3 - People in Pittsburgh call soda "pop" and have never heard of Old Bay.

  2. Carrots are also short and fat in Taiwan.

    Also, Asian people need to pick up the tea slack. They're letting the white and slightly tan man get away with being tea kings.

    Never eat pizza in a place where you are fairly sure no one Italian has been. This includes Pizza Paradise in Arbutus, some Korean "pizzeria" in Foggy Bottom, and Taiwan.

    By the way, the Turkish flatbread is totally not a pizza.

  3. you might imagine you can get good coffee cheap in ecuador. According to my parents, all their coffee is instant, much like you describe.

    I couldn't live in that world

  4. Instant coffee serves one purpose: to get the job done.