Traditional Food in Southeast Turkey

I do not normally focus on food while traveling. I have a love / hate relationship with it and mostly eat more out of necessity rather than desire.  My visit to Gaziantep, Mardin and Urfa changed that though. When comparing the region to the west, I recognized a huge difference in culture, traditions, and even languages spoken daily in the street. I figured that with all these differences, eating traditional food in Southeast Turkey had to be done.

Kebab seller

Gaziantep and Paça Beyran Soup

Everywhere I went in Gaziantep, there were sheep’s heads staring out of restaurant windows. I found this a quirky way of advertising local delicacies however am quite sure that if a KFC branch in the USA or UK, started displaying severed chicken heads in their windows, restaurants would soon be emptied of all customers.

Sheeps heads

As it was the early hours of the morning, my stomach could not handle a sheep’s head for breakfast. Instead, the recommendation that came from the waiter was Paça Beyran Corba, which was actually a nice surprise. Served in a silver plate, it is a mixture of rice, broth, and lambs leg. I also had the option of adding garlic sauce or chili peppers. Accompanied with fresh bread, it was a tasty alternative and I can see why the locals of Gaziantep often eat it for breakfast.

paca beyran soup

Watching cooks prepare the soup on a gas burner is also entertaining and I was so lucky because I managed to find a cook who did not permanently have a cigarette dangling out of his mouth.

cook

Dalak – Lambs Spleen in Urfa

The adventurous plan to introduce my palette to new tastes also led to an overwhelming fondness for lamb’s spleen. I soon found that throughout the south east, the most popular budget food is kebabs.

Mixed kebabs

However, by the time I got to Urfa, I was sick and tired of kebabs. Beef, chicken, or liver, the thought of eating another kebab made me want to stab myself in the eye with the skewer. I asked the waiter for a recommendation and Dalek is what he duly served it to the table, well-cooked as I requested. I loved the crispy barbeque taste but after numerous translations including a joke among the staff that I was eating cow’s bollocks, no one could actually tell me what Dalak was.

Traditional Food in Southeast Turkey

It was down to the power of Google, to discover that my favorite food is now grilled lambs spleen. Having dismembered numerous sheep carcasses at the time of Ramadan in Turkey, I am no longer surprised at the culinary delights, that a Turk can conjure up from any animal body part but have I spent the last 11 years walking around Turkey with my eyes shut?

Why did I never know about Dalak and the gorgeous taste before?

Stuffed lambs ribs in Mardin – Kaburga Dolmasi

By the time I got to Mardin, I had already read the guidebook from front to back and knew the local dishes that I had to try. Kaburga dolmasi was first on the list. Translated as lambs ribs stuffed with rice, the actual dish served to me appeared nothing like the picture. Nonetheless, I decided to dig in and can now firmly state that the cook should be sacked and internationally barred from ever cooking food for the general public again.

kaburga

The dish was vile but it was not the ingredients at fault, just the way it was cooked. The rice was cold and soggy; the lamb was tough and had the potential to crack every new filling and crown that I had paid my dentist hundreds of lira to construct for me.

Even in my culinary disasters that I have created in the kitchen, there is no way I would serve that dish to anyone! My quest to introduce my palette to new flavors had suffered a setback. The reason I paid for the dish is because the restaurant was the only one in town serving alcohol and I did not want them to bar me.

Traditional Food in Southeast Turkey

When it comes to regional cuisine and local dishes of the south east of Turkey, I just scratched the surface. It has taken me 11 years to get bored of Turkish food on the west coast of Turkey, but in the south east, there are completely different attitudes for cooking and unusual recipes for local foods. I think that learning about traditional food in Southeast Turkey is going to take me another decade at least.

PS : I never saw a Burger King or McDonalds in the south east of Turkey, and have to confess that as soon as I arrived back in the west and got off the bus, the first stop was Burger King for a hamburger meal? Am I bad?

Food shop

Further Reading

Soup for breakfast in Gaziantep

More food from Antep

Recipe for Beyran soup

Gaziantep Cuisine

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Hi. I'm Natalie, a freelance travel blogger and writer specializing in the country of Turkey. I love hot summer days, historical sites and coffee.

30 Responses

  1. Murat Demir
    |

    Visit ?ANLIURFA for your taste….

  2. Nat
    |

    Heidee – I’m confused as to why you smell better. Tell me more!

  3. Heidee
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    Gross, I would stay away, far away from that food. Thank God I am vegetarian. Not only do I smell good but less animals suffer because of unselfish people like me.

  4. I probably wouldn’t have thought to try the lamb’s spleen, but might have to now. And, yes, something sure got lost in translation on those ribs. Can’t wait to get to turkey and try the food!

  5. I would agree as well. so fresh and tasty. Definitely healthy eating

  6. The best food I had in Turkey was in the South East!

  7. Edirne is on my list of places to go Cari – good to know you recommend the cuisine there

  8. Cari
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    We’ve only been to two cities that have actually had excellent and different cuisine: Edirne, and Cunda Adas?/Ayval?k. We’ve yet to visit farther east than Kapadokya, so we have only heard of the fabled lands of kebab. I have semi-high hopes because I know I love paça çorbas?, and Beyran is great as well. But I try to go to Edirne once a year for some great food fixes and there is no trouble finding a beer!

  9. Exactly NT- just seen your frogs legs recipe – seems it is the day for unusual foods!

  10. I like it more than now and again though Jack!!

  11. “sheep’s head for breakfast”?! he’s a whole new meaning to Breakfast of Champions! ;D

    – Maria Alexandra

  12. You’re not bad at all. A little junk food now and again is a treat we all deserve.

  13. Will try and find it in Altinkum Di and let you know where.

  14. phil + Di marina gateway
    |

    we like to try different foods when we go away the spleen thing looks like something i,d like to try i like crispy meat

  15. Glad you liked it Alan – hope you will also enjoy the rest of the posts from the south east

  16. I remember the poor mans meat from the UK Johnny, it was called spam. Not sure if you have the equivalent in the USA?

  17. You are so right Ozlem about food being a good introduction to the culture and traditions. When I was in Antep, I visited the culinary museum and it was actually quite interesting

  18. Now you are talking mike – The fresh fish is one of my favourite dishes and I will never turn that down

  19. Never been to Iran Alex but I imagine the cuisine to be closely related to Turkish

  20. Yes, it seems we have a fondness for junk food Jemma!

  21. In the UK, we would never dream of having soup for breakfast would we? Obviously Turkish life and ways are rubbing off on us

  22. Glad to have inspired you Fiona but I always think your photos of food look very tempting and well done. There is an art to taking photos of food which I struggle with

  23. Alan
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    . . . loved this one Natalie – getting down and dirty! 😉

  24. HobbitTR
    |

    Sorry Natalie, but we vegetarians avoid any places which “specialize” in meat, poultry or even fish when possible.When we moved to a small Turkish village not far from Ka?, we discovered that our village neighbours, for the most part, are vegetarians for most of the year. A cow or sheep or goat, for most of them, is expensive and used for its milk and the “cow patties” and “goat pellets” for fertilizer. The same was true in the UK and Europe for centuries, only rich people could afford to eat meat (the upper class was also susceptible to the gout because they ate so much meat). As the middle class grew, more people started eating meat, hence junk food from McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, etc.

    Our village neighbors cannot understand the concept of decorative vegetation, anything they cannot eat (which is almost everything) they consider as a weed.

  25. Lovely post Natalie, you sure did try some ‘regional delicasies : ) ‘ they are not everyone’s cup of tea and i can understand that, some very unisual ones! Being a foodie, the regional food is a big part when I travel to a new destination, it is also fascinating how much you can learn thru the food , culinary heritage of that destination – love trying new dishes whenever I can : ) Many thanks giving my Antep post a link!

  26. Mike Horrell
    |

    My wife and I eagerly try new dishes as we travel and consider food to be an important part of our life. We live in the American Desert so when traveling in Turkey last year, we took every opportunity to enjoy fresh fish.

    We will definitely try Paça Beyran and Dalak on our next visit.

  27. Alex
    |

    Wow, nice post. Really missing Turkish food here in SEA.
    We actually managed to eat a sheep’s head for breakfast but not in Turkey, in Iran.
    You can see pics here – http://www.travelphotoreport.com/2012/10/20/tpr-travel-tip-boiled-sheep-head-breakfast/

  28. The soup and dalek sound really good! But like you, I crave a good old fashioned hamburger from time to time. And a good burger can be tough to find in Italy!

  29. Paça’s Barry’s favoured soup should we find ourselves on a soup fest after an evening out. Soup for breakfast? Yep, I could go for that. 🙂
    Julia

  30. I started writing about restaurants and food, so, when I extended the blog to include travel it was was natural to focus on food. I’m trying to write a bit more about architecture and art – partly inspired by some of your fabulous pictures of Turkey…but my photography isn’t there yet!

    Onward and upward as they say!