The Two Most Important Words Tourists Will Want To Know For Ordering Food In Turkey

With its rich history, stunning storybook-worthy landscapes, and vibrant culture, Turkey is a prime destination for travelers looking to experience a whole new world of adventure. After all, it's not everyday that people get to travel to a country that's technically both in Europe and Asia at the same time, right? But beyond just simple geography, it's precisely the destination's unique charm that continues to draw in visitors — especially when it comes to food and tradition.

From kebabs to köfte, meze plates to kisir, and dolma to gozleme, traditional Turkish food is all about packing a punch in terms of ingredients, textures, and flavors. Whether you're hitting up the city of Van to have a taste of what's considered the best breakfast in the world or tasting your way through Istanbul's Grand Bazaar's more than 5,000 stores, you're bound to find something that'll satisfy pretty much any craving — and take you on a whirlwind journey of flavor.

However, trying new foods also comes with its own set of challenges and surprises — especially when it comes to ordering a meal you've potentially never had. So, what's one way to ensure that you're not disappointed when your food arrives? Brushing up on your vocabulary! Specifically in Turkey, getting it right all boils down to learning words like acili — pronounced ah-jee-lee, which means spicy — and acisiz — pronounced with a soft "s," meaning not spicy — before your trip. Once you've nailed those, the rest should be easy.

Understanding spice levels in Turkey

Although most typical Turkish cuisine isn't intolerably spicy, there are some dishes — like the Adana kebab, which is made using ground lamb and hot peppers — that can quickly turn things very hot for unsuspecting and spice-adverse travelers. That said, most other dishes you might order will typically come out reasonably seasoned, with the option of making them acili (again, the Turkish word for spicy) if you're so inclined. Alternatively a quick "acisiz" will also let your waiter know that you're not game to try and demolish your taste buds — and your food should come out just as you like it.

A word of advice, though: Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the classic sivri biber pepper that might pop up not-so-unexpectedly alongside most of your meat-based meals (especially lamb) in Turkey. Long and green, sivri biber peppers are traditionally grilled and added as a garnish to top off a plate. Lightly sweet but with spice levels similar to cayenne — and ranking up to 30,000 on the Scoville scale — the sivri biber isn't to be taken lightly ... especially if you're already worried about getting spiced out of a delicious meal.

Another popular pepper to watch out for while dining in Turkey is the pul biber, or Aleppo pepper. This pepper is similar to red chili flakes, but it's more mild and shouldn't hit too hard. If you really hate spice, though, be aware of it. The pepper is often chopped up with other ingredients or as a topping in salads or kebabs.

Other mealtime tips for your trip to Turkey

Keeping an eye out for spice isn't the only thing you should do while traveling through Turkey. In fact, there are several other mealtime traditions and customs that most locals embrace — and that, ideally, you'll want to embrace too while you're visiting. For starters, there's the importance that locals place on their tea, or çay. While you might associate tea with the morning or late afternoon, the Turkish people enjoy the drink all day, everyday — both on its own or with copious amounts of sugar and a side of cookies. Given this significance, it's worth noting that if a local offers you a glass of tea, you should always give them the honor of accepting it.

This same level of respect should be applied to pretty much any situation in which a local offers you — or, in some cases, simply serves you — something to eat. Whatever you do, don't refuse the food, as this can be taken as insulting. And do your best to try and enjoy some of what they've brought out. A good "sağol" (thank you) will also go a long way, especially if you're hoping to be a considerate tourist while visiting Turkey.