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Turkish Food and how to find it in Puget Sound
Turkish Cuisine in Turkey
Turkish Ingredients in Puget Sound
Turkish Restaurants in Puget Sound

Turkish Cuisine in Turkey

In Turkey, the vehicle accident rate is among the worst in the world, the hospital system is shockingly bad, and the Turks have the same life expectancy as we do in the USA.  I don't know why this is true, but if I were to take a guess, part of the answer would be Turkish food (other factors would include physical activity).

Turkish cuisine is different from "normal US" cuisine in so many ways.  It was one of the better highlights of our trip, so much so that we had to recreate some of it after we arrived home, but more about that further down....

Turkish food is simple food and some of the differences in our cuisines can be subtle.  It wasn't until we returned home that we noticed how tasteless our cucumbers are (we already knew about our tomatoes).  Turkish food is local and fresh.  It must be.  Turkey is not a country of big supermarket chains nor cargo transportation.  Even in cities, it is most likely that the tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and onions you are eating at a restaurant were grown by the owners, or their neighbors, or cousins, and picked today or yesterday.  There are greenhouses everywhere, many are small, many small and large ones are obviously homemade.  Instead of being hybridized and treated for packaging and shelf appeal, produce is optimized for hardiness and production in its particular locale, as well as taste.  Instead of being picked green and shipped in refrigerated railcars, the fruits and vegetables were picked within a couple of days of consumption and may never have been refrigerated and rarely frozen. 

In addition to starting out fresh, produce is also prepared within an hour or two of its consumption.  If you enter a restaurant at a time other than a designated meal time, the only food they might have available is soup or bread.  Salads are not premade in bulk and served soggy with dressing.  Dressing is extremely light and applied at the last minute before serving.

The disadvantages to this system are obvious.  Fresh produce is only available when it is in the extended season that the greenhouses allow.  Outside of the very large cities or seaports, it is impossible to find food specialty stores or imports.  Although there are several different ways to prepare (and preserve) foods (soups, pickles, canning, jams, lots of different pastries, many ways to prepare fish and meat), most fresh produce is eaten daily when available and the menu lacks the variety that living in an import-based refrigerator container enabled country provides.

On the other hand, there are some nutritionists who say this is a healthier way to eat and while in Turkey, my digestion was better than it usually is in the USA.

There are many customs associated with Turkish food.  Unlike Turkish breakfast, which seems to be known along the coasts but not inland, the ritual of tea is practiced all over.  I didn't really understand what the "ritual" part was until I went to a tourist place where the hawkers approached me just about everywhere I walked.  But NONE of them came anywhere near me when I sat down at an outside cafe and had "chai" (tea).  Tea is an honored break time and everyone engages in it once or several times daily.  Establishments that serve food also serve chai and it is not unusual for people to go to restaurants only for tea.

When you ask for tea, all over Turkey (with the exception of Olu Deniz) you get the same thing.  The tea arrives in a delicate small glass with a little saucer, two sugar cubes and a tiny spoon to stir (that is, if you have asked for it with sugar).  Refills are free.  The tea leaves all come from the same harvesting area in Turkey and they are brewed in a double chambered tea maker.  The bottom chamber contains only water and it is boiled.  The top chamber has water and tea and it is warmed by the bottom chamber.  The tea is ready for drinking when the leaves in the top chamber have fallen to the bottom of the top pot.  When the tea is served, it is mixed, half steeped tea and half boiled water in that one little glass.

Meals are served at specific times.  Breakfast is early and is cleared away by 9:00am.  Lunch is over by 2:00pm.  Dinner times are extended late in the tourist areas only.  Traditional Turkish dinner is over by 7:30pm.  Most nutritionists agree that an early dinner is better for digestion. 

Soup is an acceptable choice at every meal, including breakfast.  In the places that do serve "Turkish breakfast" it includes hard or soft boiled egg (never fried), easily digestable "white cheese" (barrel aged feta), seasonal produce (melons, figs, tomatoes, cucumber), bread and pastries (with sweet condiments: jam, butter, honey), and olives.  The olives may seem like a strange choice until you reflect that bacon is from a pig and therefore not acceptable food according to the rules of Halal and that olives have about the same fat and salt content and are similarly satisfying.
   Turkish Breakfast

Turkish bread (ekmek) resembles French bread (made from flour, water, yeast, salt, nothing else).  It is made fresh every 12 hours and any bread more than 12 hours old is discarded (or fed to cats).  I have a mild celiac disturbance but eating Turkish bread did not elicit my usual symptoms (not for the 2 weeks I ate it) which makes me wonder if the wheat they grow there is different from the wheat in the USA.  A big basket of bread pieces is included with most meals (the exceptions being meals of food that are already made with flour).

Eating meat might be a scary proposition in a less technologically advanced area, however, adherence to Halal food practices does ensure a certain degree of attention to cleanliness, although, after researching Halal rules, I was somewhat disappointed, finding them more lenient than Kosher rules.

It is possible to find some establishments that serve alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, liquor) in every large city and tourist area in Turkey.  Alcohol is Haram (not Halal).  Because of this, alcohol is not consumed on a par with its consumption in European countries (although it is still consumed).  Alcohol abuse and immoderate drinking is considered shameful.  Even establishments that make money from the sale of alcohol do not push it on customers.  Customers who do not drink alcohol and those who have only one glass are never considered "cheapskates" for their moderate practices.

One of the stranger things we noted was that all of our guidebooks advised us to drink only bottled water (not tap water nor water served in a pitcher).  It turns out that this advice is very good, but puzzling (we know from experience).  The puzzling part is that tea (which is made from tap water, half boiled water, half warmed steeped tea - not boiled), food cooked in tap water, and food washed with tap water (and then either dried or peeled) can usually be consumed without worry.  Whatever it is that causes "Sultan's revenge" is apparently easily destroyed by changes in temperature or osmotic pressure.  It was strange that something that could be made harmless so easily was not being addressed by any governmental department.  It is that lack of regulation in something so basic that made me wonder if I should agree with my cousin that Turkey is a "third world country".

The last item that we also found characteristic of Turkish cuisine and not necessarily palatable was beverages.  Most of what is called "juice" in Turkey is water plus sugar plus flavoring from a juice.  If you go to a stand that squeezes fresh orange juice (they are rare but they do exist) you have to watch that the person doing the juice extraction doesn't mix a little fresh juice (which you see him extract) with juice that has been sitting around for days that he has bottled in the icebox.

The beverage called ayran is salted yogurt and water.  The closest product in the USA is probably kefir.  The Turks say ayran keeps them healthy.  It is definitely an acquired taste.  Three weeks was not long enough to acquire that taste....  I suspect it might have taken a few years, I'll give it a few more tries.

Although the dining experience may be different from one place to the next, we found certain interesting practices regarding food service in Turkey.  For example, it is customary to be shown the actual food before you order it.  In many places, this means that after you are seated at your table, you are invited over to what looks like an enclosed and refrigerated glass deli counter so that you can make an informed selection.  After you select the food, it may be served as is, or cooked and prepared as required before it is served to you. 

You may not be shown every dish for selection, some food might be ordered off a menu or just ordered without a menu; it will depend on the restaurant.

In fancier restaurants, different dishes of food might be brought to your table so that you can make your selection there.  We went to a fish restaurant at the Black Sea where we selected from the 4 different types of catch of the day; and the actual fish we selected was taken into the kitchen where it was cooked to our specification before it was brought to us. 

We also occasionally noticed that as Turkish people left the restaurant, someone from the restaurant attended them with a pitcher of water and a bowl to wash their hands.  We suspect this may have been more ceremonial than practical.  Also there might have been some lemon juice or other ingredients added to the water.

Turkish Ingredients in Puget Sound

When Tom and I arrived home in Puget Sound we wanted to continue to eat Turkish style and we did our best to find authentic Turkish food and reasonable substitutes.  I purchased a hard boiled egg cooker so that I could have eggs any morning with a minimum of fuss.  Tom purchased a propane grill so that he could make shish with a minimum of fuss and he found some good recipes on the internet.  We are also about to purchase a slow cooker (crock pot) so that we can put together lentil soup in the morning and have it cook while we work and be ready by dinner time.

Whole Foods, Larry's Markets, Puget Consumer Coop (PCC), Manna Mills, and Central Market, all carry red lentils and good produce, including good tasting cucumbers.  We found English cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers (at the 99 Ranch Market), and Persian cucumbers (from Mexico), at Trader Joes to be closer in taste to Turkish cucumbers than the things that pass for cucumbers at a regular supermarket.  In a pinch, organic cucumbers will also work.  However, if you want absolutely authentic Karmizi (two undotted "i"s) Mercimek (c prounced like j) (red lentils) you can pick them up at Pita King in Everett or Byblos Deli in Bellevue.  Lobas brand lentils are imported from Turkey.

Turkish Breakfast   Of course, you can also grow your own... cucumbers, tomatoes, Italian parsley, onions....  For good tasting tomatoes, you might have to build a greenhouse and grow your own.  We've been using organic vine-ripened tomatoes or Romas, depending on the selection in the store.  Store-bought onions and parsley are still pretty good around here, although more fun in your own garden.

These days we purchase our olives, both black Gemlik Tipi (Marmarabirkik brand in a metal can - like a coffee can) and Turkish green table olives Yesil Zeytin, (Sera brand, cizik in a clear plastic package) from In Turkey, olives are never served with the pits removed. 

Occasionally we can find pistachio nuts from the Dikili area at Trader Joes

There are two kinds of cheeses in Turkey.  There is "white cheese" which is barrel aged Feta cheese in a block (not crumbled).  In food specialty shops in Turkey you can buy it according to how long it has aged, if it is just from sheep's or goat and sheep's milk, and what kind of container it was aged in.  The second kind of cheese is a cheese that melts at a very high temperature, but when it finally does melt, it is stretchy like mozzarella.  You can buy both of these cheeses at Top Foods.  The grill cheese is called Halloumi and it is imported from Cyprus. 

In Seattle, the two cheeses that are easiest to find in Supermarkets and most like Turkish white cheese are Belfiore Feta Cheese in Brine from Berkeley California; and Mt Vikos barrel-aged Feta.

Of course it is possible to find similar cheeses in almost all the same shops I listed above for produce, including:  Goodies Mediterranean Market & Produce on Lake City Way in Seattle, Puget Consumer Coop (PCC), Whole Foods and HT Oaktree Market in Seattle on Aurora and 100th Street in their Mediterranean Isle. 

While at Top Foods buying cheese, also check out their bakery department for their lowest priced, paperbag clad, baked fresh daily "French Bread".  It is the closest bread we have found to Turkish ekmek.

Central Market, carries good lamb meat.  Many of the other stores probably do, too, but we haven't made it often enough to check around. 

Turkish Restaurants in Puget Sound

The only way to have a truely authentic Turkish dining-out experience, complete with authentic food, service, and customs is to go to Turkey.  It is possible to get little bits and pieces of some parts of the experience here in various restaurants and for their efforts, they deserve mention.

Alanya Cafe in downtown Kirkland near the marina
1 Lake Street
Kirkland, WA 98033
(425) 739-4747
Coffee shop, pastries and breads, luncheon.  Authentic Turkish cuisine (including Turkish tea and coffee).  They bake their own (fantastic) simit and baklava daily (like in Turkey).  The red lentil soup is a favorite.  The owners have been living here for 20 years and enjoy speaking in Turkish, but their American English is perfect, too.

Pasha Grill in Redmond Town Center
16556 NE 74th St  #C215
Redmond, WA 98052
(425) 861-4230
is very informal.  A fast-food type restaurant with authentic Turkish cuisine (including Turkish tea and coffee) and many Turkish customers, often talking with the owner in Turkish.

Petra Bistro and Petra Cafe two locations in downtown Seattle

Petra Bistro (a more leisurely dining experience, in the Belltown area)
2501 4th Ave
Seattle, WA 98121
(206) 728-5389
The Bistro is comfortable yet exotic and the food is uniquely delicious and digestable.  Ingredients include good quality produce and authentic Mediterranean spices.

Petra Cafe (gourmet but inexpensive fastfood luncheon on Westlake and Virginia)
1933 7th Ave
Seattle WA 98101
(206) 448-2604
The cafe has fantastic lentil soup.  Don't let the "fast food" atmosphere fool you, there is a real barrista here, great coffee, wonderful salads, fast service, good prices. 

Byblos Deli in Bellevue
14220 NE 20th St
Bellevue, WA 98004
(425) 455-4355
is a Mediterranean import market with a deli counter for take-out or dine-in.  It has the best selection of Turkish imported food I have found in Puget Sound so far.  I bought my Turkish teapot and tea leaves there.  Olives from Turkey.  Definitely worth the drive.

Mediterranean Kitchen
103 Bellevue Way NE
Bellevue WA 98004
(425) 462-5142
Gourmet Middle Eastern cuisine, mostly Lebanese.  The quality of the food matches the best we've had.  Arrive early or make reservations.  Wildly popular.  High quality food in a tiny space.  Reasonable prices (see website); each dish prepared to exacting standards, even on a Sunday night.

Pita King Bakery
2210 37th Street
Everett WA 98201
(425) 258-4040
a pita bread bakery, plus Mediterranean import market, plus a lunch deli counter for take-out or dine-in.  Not as Turkish as Pasha Grill or Byblos, but still good.

Ordering from the Web

Best Turkish Food
165 Prairie Lake Road
Suite G
East Dundee, IL 60118
(866) 969-FOOD
Tea, cheese, snacks, kitchenware, olives
Created:  January 18, 2005
Updated:  August 10, 2014