On a recent trip to Turkey I was hoping to find an adventure eater’s paradise. But alas, there was no goat head or fruit bat to be found. I did, however, discover three uniquely Turkish culinary delights that I can’t wait to share. Here are my favorite unique tastes of Turkey.
Salep (Also Saloop or Sahlep)
As my husband and I were walking around in Istanbul I spotted a street vendor selling something out of a beautiful golden urn. I could tell the contents were hot by the steam rising off the urn, and I surmised that it must be Turkish tea. The cost was just about $1 U.S., so I told the vendor I’d like a cup. What he handed me was a complete surprise, and ended up being my favorite taste of Turkey.
Salep is a thick, semi-sweet hot drink that to me tastes just like homemade hot custard. It reminds me of the custard from the banana pudding my mother used to make from scratch. I used to love to sneak it and eat/drink it hot, before it even had a chance to become pudding.
Salep is the name of the flour used to make the drink. It comes from the tubers of a certain species of wild orchid. I’ve read that the drink became so popular that it put the orchid’s survival at risk. In response the Turkish government banned the export of salep flour. In any event, I can say that salep is by far the tastiest hot drink I have ever had, far surpassing even the best coffee, hot chocolate or hot toddy. I searched the country over until I landed several packets of instant salep mix to bring home with me. It is no doubt one of the most unique tastes of Turkey.
This interesting snack incorporates three of Turkey’s most ubiquitous ingredients: yogurt, honey and poppy seeds. Our guide first mentioned it on our bus a day prior to us visiting a region of Turkey where they grow poppies to make opium. When he spoke of it, it didn’t sound all that unique – after all, we top our yogurt with all kinds of things here in the U.S. as well. But the next day when we arrived at the roadside station that sold it, I instantly became intrigued.
The yogurt was incredibly thick – similar to the consistency of soft serve ice cream. I questioned the lady who made it and found that it is just regular yogurt that is hung in a cheesecloth bag until most of the liquid drains from it.
The honey is local, and a product that Turkish bees produce a whole lot of. You can find honey and honeycomb for sale in all quantities in most of the roadside stops on Turkish highways.
To assemble to dish you simply put a (huge) portion of yogurt on a plate, spoon a generous amount of local honey in the middle, and then sprinkle the entire thing with poppy seeds. You mix it all together before you eat it and the result is a very uniquely sweet, yet slightly sour treat. But fair warning … although it is one of the unique tastes of Turkey, it is not at all a light snack!
We saw this on a few menus as we toured through Turkey. The dish gets its name from the clay pot – called a testi – in which it is cooked.
Testi kabob consists of a Turkish beef stew that is placed inside a natural clay pot and sealed with bread dough. It is baked for several hours at a very low temperature. When served in a restaurant, the guest is given a large knife/clever and permitted to do the honors of chopping off the bread seal to revel the tender and tasty stew inside. Although the stew is good, it’s the uniqueness of the cooking and serving methods that make testi kabob one of the unique tastes of Turkey.