Tourists would be forgiven for thinking that Turkey’s only offering is the kebab. Turkish cuisine has a selection of various dishes that’ll please both carnivores and vegans, and the Turkish mezes are only one of them.
Like Spanish Tapas, there are both hot and cold appetizers to whet one’s appetite. That said, the meze is a colorful display of the various ethnic groups that have come together in modern Turkey. The variety in tastes and ingredients will make your stomach rumble; however, the Mediterranean style of preparation will have your gut thanking you.
A healthy alternative to snacking, the mezes are typically served before food as a starter in restaurants. Another place where you’ll find these small dishes are in Turkish taverns (meyhanes) where they’re paired with wine or even the national Turkish alcohol: rakı.
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In Turkey, mezze can include olives, fried vegetables, dips prepared with nuts, olive oil, drizzled feta cheese, stuffed mussels, marinated fish, cured & seasoned meat, and so on. It is also eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
A symbol of friendship, bonding, and good times, Turkish meze is made for sharing. If you’ve found yourself amongst newly formed Turkish friends, looking for some new recipes, want to introduce your friends to something new, or want to navigate the world of mezes, this blog post will teach you about the 12 most popular mezes that Turks love eating together.
The 12 Best Turkish Mezes:
1. Fava (Bean puree)
Although high in protein and nutrients, the only way to become fervent about the fava bean is to taste it meze-style. The velvety delicate, yet nutty flavor is combined with a hint of fresh olive oil and the enticing taste of onions.
The hummus-like dish is not only incredibly nutritious but high in fiber also unbelievably delicious. Low in fat, high in omega-3s, magnesium, B-vitamins, zinc, and various other minerals that’ll help fight fatigue. Not to mention that it pairs perfectly with fish and seafood.
Related content: Turkish Fava Bean Puree Appetizer Recipe
2. Mercimek köftesi (Red lentil patties)
Interest, these spicy lentil ‘meatballs’ are meat-free and vegan friendly. The main ingredients are protein-packed lentils and bulgur, making this grains-based food the best friend of a vegan lifter. Although the lentils and bulgur are boiled, this dish is not cooked, and it’s usually served cold.
This is a communal dish that’s considered to be finger food. Each köfte is wrapped in a vibrant green lettuce jacket before being popped into one’s mouth. Incredibly moreish and low in calories, this picnic-friendly food will have you rooting around in the fridge late at night, scavenging for leftovers.
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3. Deniz börülcesi (Samphire salad)
On the cusp of a culinary revival, the Turks are harboring a culinary secret. The ‘sea samphire’ is usually found off the beaten track because its main ingredient, the samphire, is largely unknown in the anglosphere despite its originating in the Eurasian coastline.
Also known as pickleweed or glasswort, this highly nutritious species contains iodine for those with thyroid issues and is chockful of iron for the anaemics. Usually wild, and thus organic, grown in the sea, this summer dish pairs excellently with fish and seafood. The olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic really bring out the snazzy taste if you can find it.
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4. Muhammara (Roasted red pepper and walnut dip)
The femme fatale of the meze, this spicy red dip is borrowed from Turkey’s neighbor, Syria. Hence, it is more easily found in restaurants that serve southwestern Turkish cuisine. A mix of Aleppo pepper, ground walnuts, breadcrumbs, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pomegranate molasses, you may find a version with lemon juice and even spices like cumin.
This vibrant, burgundy dip is spicy, tangy, and sweet. If you don’t want to eat it as a meze, it can be reimagined as a dip for your chips or nachos.
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5. Babagannuş (Pureed eggplant and tahini dip)
Spoil yourself with the dish that’s translated to mean ‘spoilt dad.’ The smoky taste derived from baking the eggplants over an open flame gives this creamy meze a unique touch. The eggplant is then peeled to expose the soft pulp to olive oil, lemon juice, tomatoes, onions, and sometimes pepper.
If you’re lucky, you may even find a richer version with tahini drizzled in. A flavor unique to Hatay cuisine, this cold appetizer is available in all corners of Turkey.
Related content: Babagannuş Recipe
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6. Haydari (Garlic yogurt dip)
Those that believe mayo goes well with everything are probably naïve about this magical dish. Like the cacık, this dish is yogurt-based. The cacık is a fresh-tasting, watery yogurt dish. The Haydari, however, packs a powerful punch with its more savory, acidic taste combined with the viscosity of the strained yogurt.
Usually accompanied by pita bread, this formidable dip would pair well with sandwiches as a healthier alternative to mayonnaise. Plus, the garlic and fresh herbs like dill, basil, mint, or even oregano will freshen up that boring chicken mayo.
7. Havuç Tarator (Carrot yogurt dip)
If you’re the kind of person who hates spicy food but eats it anyway, to show off perhaps, you’ll also be the kind of person to fall in love with this dish. Similar to the Tzatziki or the cacık, but made with carrots instead of cucumber, this is a lifesaver that will soothe your stomach after a particularly grueling chili session.
With a combination of water, yogurt, garlic, carrots, and walnuts, you may even find the kind of herbs that give this a fresh flavor. Popular during the summer months, if you’re feeling brave, you can ask for it to be served with ice.
Related content: Vegan Turkish Carrot Dip: Havuç Tarator Recipe
8. Humus (Creamy chickpea and tahini dip)
Smash some chickpeas with tahini, blend in lemon juice and garlic, and there you’ll have the shining star of the Middle Eastern world. While you’ll find this velvety dip placed on a plate, garnished with olive oil, a few chickpeas, parsley, or paprika, an experienced chef will tell you how invaluable this is to transform sandwiches too.
The luxurious flavor doesn’t seem to manifest itself quite so well in commercially produced versions. Although there’s a reason why this famous dish is caught up in a love triangle between Israel and Lebanon, the Turkish version is no less a heavyweight.
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9. Ezme (Spicy tomato salad)
This bright scarlet-colored, spunky dish is so good that it’s not atypical for it to be served as a starter in nearly every Turkish restaurant. Ironically, despite being called ‘mashed’, in Turkish language, the ingredients are not mashed or crushed together. Instead, the tomato, onion, garlic, parsley, and spicy red peppers are finely chopped.
Although every restaurant has its own style, this dish is nothing without the ruby-colored pepper paste and as much chili as you can handle. Lavish versions with whippings of lemon juice and a hint of tart pomegranate sauce may send your tastebuds on a culinary adventure.
Just like the world-renowned salsa, this crimson, spicy dish is a beautiful accompaniment to red meat.
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10. Kısır (Bulgur salad)
“Please, sir, can I have some more?”
If what you’re eating is kısır, the answer is absolutely yes, you may. Made from nutritious but inexpensive ingredients, this high-fiber bulgur salad is a communal dish.
A symbol of friendship and bonding, each person has their favorite version: from the north-eastern version with lemon juice to the southwestern version with tart pomegranate juice, this salad has varying amounts of onions, spices, and herbs.
What doesn’t vary from the festively orange-colored dish is usually served cold and brimming with nutrition—a healthy, low-calorie way of getting in some whole grains.
Related content: Spicy Bulgur Wheat Salad (Kısır) Recipe. With pomegranate molasses
11. Şakşuka (Sauteed vegetables)
Back in 2004, an ode was written lamenting that the singer couldn’t eat this famous dip. Watch the fun video clip for the famous song here.
Although the eggplant takes center stage here, this is a dish with various sauteed vegetables nestled in a thick, garlicky tomato sauce. The ultimate way of hitting that 5-a-day, you’ll find zucchini, onions, and peppers hidden away in the taste. In fact, this can be made with any of the seasonable vegetables so long as you don’t neglect the aubergine. The puckery, tangy dip can be served hot or cold.
Although it’s a fantastic addition to meat dishes, it also has that special quality that makes it excellent with crackers or even just paired white plain, white rice. In the world of the mezes, this is a celebrity.
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12. Tarama (Red caviar)
It’s easy to be prejudicial against this pink meze. That said, you will find yourself to be a convert upon tasting it. A simple paste of fish roe, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice, tarama is a majestic alternative to mayo for those suffering from an egg allergy. But it is far more than just an alternative. This is an elegant dish that has that sophisticated Parisian vibe.
Completely at home at a chic party, this is perfect as an hors d’oeuvre when it is paired with a humble cracker and a crisp white wine. Although caviar is infamous for its price, this spread can be made with inexpensive cod roe. Despite the lower cost, it still packs a nutritional punch.
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The Turkish mezes we’ve covered in this article are some of the most popular dishes in Turkey, and they’re all easy to make at home. You can find links to recipes for each one so you can start cooking! Maybe next time your friends come over or family visit, you’ll have a delicious meal waiting for them that will impress everyone.
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