Gothamist's obsession with Greek food has been well documented, but some New Yorkers may not know that Turkish food offers culinary delights that are similar to Greek food yet in many ways distinct.
For 400 years, Greece was a part of the Ottoman Empire; one would imagine that during this time plenty of culinary influences were traded back and forth. Unfortunately, even today it can be difficult to parse out who influenced whom, and that's when you can get either side to admit to the connection in the first place.
But for those New Yorkers more familiar with Greek food than Turkish, it's easy and fun to give Turkish food a try. If you're already familiar with popular Greek dishes such as stuffed grape leaves, spinach pie, and souvlaki, you'll find equivalents at most Turkish restaurants. Same goes for the classic Greek spreads of tzatziki (yogurt-garlic), melintzanosalata (eggplant), and taramosalata (fish roe). Even the pita bread is almost the same, but this time more pillowy, with a sprinkling of black cumin (nigella sativa) across the top.
Two very different Turkish restaurants that Gothamist frequents are the Lower East Side's open-all-night Bereket and the Theater District's fancier Dervish.
At Bereket, you won't find fancy atmosphere or a huge selection of food, but they offer a good inexpensive intro to Turkish food, even (or especially?) if it's 3am and you've been drinking all night. Be sure to try the red lentil soup, which is made from the lesser-known tiny red lentils that are cooked down into a mush. (It's tastier than it sounds, promise.) Add to this soup a squeeze of the lemon wedge they provide and don't forget the hot sauce. Turkish hot sauce is powerful stuff, so be sure to add a little at a time. Bereket's specialty is kebabs, with chicken and lamb options. They also serve a good falafel and rice pudding. While Greek rice pudding differs from Turkish in consistency (you won't find grains of rice in the Turkish version), both are wonderful for those fond of simple, straightforward sweetness in their desserts.
Dervish is a great lunch place for those who work in midtown and a perfect dinner spot for those on their way to see a Broadway show. Dervish offers a fuller range of classic Turkish foods, serving everything from grilled octopus salad to iskender kebab (similar to the lamb of Greek gyro, but in a spicy tomato sauce with thick, tangy yogurt and toasted pita). Their grilled octopus salad differs from the traditional Greek preparation in that the skin is peeled off after the charring, revealing the meaty flesh underneath--there's still a smokiness, but subtler than usual. You'll also find dishes like eggplant spread, fish roe spread, and grape leaves that taste much like what you would find in any authentic Greek restaurant.
When trying Turkish food for the first time, it's fun to compare the dishes to the Greek versions you already know and find the subtle differences. Sometimes you'll prefer one over the other; other times, you'll like each for how they differ. That's part of the culinary adventure.
Dervish146 W 47th St., (212) 997-0070
Bereket Turkish Kebab House187 E Houston St., (212) 475-7700