Cansu Çubukçu tracks down London’s best Turkish culinary indulgences.
Trailing along the streets of London and feeling quite homesick, I discovered a quick and easy solution: tasting my way back to Turkey. I was pleased and surprisingly proud to see such demand for Turkish food despite the abundance of cuisine options that London has to offer. Get ready for a cheat day as I provide a glimpse of London’s take on some favourite Turkish dishes.
Diyarbakır Restaurant – Menemen
The name comes from the district Menemen in the city of Izmir, where Cretan Turks first created the recipe. It is a breakfast dish, although often eaten as an alternative to a lazy Sunday dinner. The traditional Turkish breakfast is often complemented by tea, inside what is known by Turks as a “slim-waisted glass”.
Sofra – Adana Kebap
This is a lamb dish placed on an iron skewer called an “armour”. I was surprised to see it served with tomato sauce and yoghurt, because generally the meat sits on a very thin flatbread called lavaş, accompanied by grilled pepper and tomato, as well as bulgur, made from wheat.
Antalya Restaurant – Baklava
Often considered to be the most famous of all Turkish desserts, baklava is the signature taste of Gaziantep city. Although the main ingredient is pistachio, it can also be made with hazelnut or walnut: a frequent topic of contentious dinnertime debate.
Antalya Restaurant – İzmirköfte and pilav
This dish dates back to the days when Izmir was called Smyrna, and as such the Greeks still refer to the meal as “Symyrna meatballs”. It consists of spicy oblong köfte meatballs on top of a tomato sauce. It is most commonly served with pilav rice and baked potatoes.
Antalya Restaurant – Turkish coffee
Many have heard about the wonders of Turkish coffee fortune telling. Cooked instead of brewed, the coffee powder that sinks to the bottom of the cup is called telve. Flip the cup sideways and wait for the bottom of the cup to cool down, so that the telve starts to morph into shapes. It is from these figures that fortune-tellers interpret symbols and predict the future.
Antalya Restaurant – Trileçe
This elegant dessert is actually the Turkish adaptation of a Mexican dish. The name comes from the Spanish “tres leches”, as three types of milk are used in the making. It was popularised in the Balkans before being adopted by the Turks.
Pasha – Burma
This is considered similar to baklava, but unlike its better-known sibling, the nut is non-negotiable: walnut is a must. In baklava, the nut forms the base, like the crust of a cheesecake, whereas the nuts in burma are housed inside the sweet pastry.
Pasha – Fırın Sütlaç
This dessert is a unique take on rice pudding, baked inside a clay dish. Finely chopped nuts such as almonds or walnuts are added on serving.
Taş – Cacık
Also known as tzatziki in Greek, cacık is a cold mezze served as an appetizer. If watered down, it can be consumed as a cold soup. Practical because of its few ingredients, garlic yoghurt, cucumbers, mint, and olive oil, it is an irreplaceable dish of Raki sofrası.
Taşfırın Restaurant – Pide
Like börek, pide is tailored in various ways. It can replace bread at breakfast, accompany soup, be dipped in mezzes or eaten as a meal on its own. The fillings that are placed in the centre of the dough make it a main dish rather than a side, such as different types of meat and cheeses. It is most well known as an excellent hangover cure, and for the past couple of years, restaurants have started to change the savoury dish and turn it into a dessert for those with a sweet tooth.
Hala – Mantı
When you inquire as to their favourite food, most Turks answer mantı. It is commonly associated with ravioli because of its resemblance to stuffed pasta, but the way it is served and the execution is slightly different. The meat is seasoned with a variety of spices, placed in dough and cooked like pasta. It is then topped with smooth garlic yoghurt and a buttery tomato sauce. Mint, thyme and red pepper can be added according to taste.
The Turkish Deli – Lokum
Or should I say Turkish delight? It is known to be one of the oldest desserts in Turkish culture, and rumour has it that during the Ottoman era, one of the sultans didn’t like traditional hard sweets, so held a competition among the cooks to create a softened candy. The winner is not hard to guess.
Micky’s Fish Bar & Turkish Kebab Restaurant – Dürüm Döner
What started in the small town of Kastamonu has now branched out and made its way to behind the glass windows of Turkish restaurants all over the world. Made of either meat or chicken döner, it is wrapped inside the previously mentioned lavaş.
Gözleme House – Gözleme
Another dish that can be eaten at any meal of the day, it is challenging to get a gözleme right because the savoury pastry must be made thin with a rolling pin, somehow without falling apart. It is filled with cheese, meat or potatoes based on preference, then cooked on an iron sheet until the pastry becomes crispy.
Gözleme House – Muhallebi/Kazandibi
These two mild desserts are perfect after a heavy meal as they sweeten the palate without being too rich. The key ingredient is milk, and for the pudding muhallebi to become kazandibi, the consistency must become more akin to that of a cake. Once baked, it is poured into a tray so that the bottom caramelises, and once cooked, is flipped sideways to be bronze side up.
Discovering different Turkish tastes sprinkled all across London, witnessing the love that people have for my culture, talking to the people who work in the restaurants and listening to their stories reminded me that food overcomes the feeling of homesickness. Visit a Turkish restaurant for a delicious meal and the warmth of home.