Turkish delight and traditional sweets in a market in Istanbul

3 Underrated Places for Foodies in 2020: Turkey, Georgia & Azerbaijan

This story was created in partnership with: Fez Travel 

If you’re anything like me — someone who travels to eat — I’m guessing your 2020 travel wish list is filled with top culinary hotspots. Maybe you’re dreaming of making a gastronomic pilgrimage to Naples in search of the perfect pizza or feasting on flavour-packed street food in Bangkok.

Countries like Italy and Thailand will make all of your wildest culinary dreams come true, but I’m here to tell you why you need to take your taste buds on a trip to three more fascinating (and completely underrated) foodie destinations: Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

Each of these countries has its own deliciously distinct cuisine, and if you visit them all in one go, you’ll find yourself in the ultimate foodie heaven.

If you’ve let classic, mainstream destinations shape your travels up to this point, now’s your chance to do something different! Lucky for you, we’re teaming up with Fez Travel to cover all the reasons why you need to consider Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan for your next holiday. (Your taste buds won’t regret it — we promise!)

Turkey

With landscapes that range from towering mountains to idyllic coastlines and vibrant cities, Turkey is a place that truly has it all. It’s tough to decide where to travel within this bewitching country, but one place you certainly can’t miss is Istanbul — and thankfully, it’s incredibly easy to work up an appetite in this sprawling metropolis.  

Start by scoping out the city’s most magnificent architectural masterpieces — Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque — and then head underground to explore the Basilica Cistern, a breathtaking subterranean structure that dates back to 532.

After all that sightseeing you’ll be more than ready to tuck into the country’s fresh and flavoursome dishes! 

Why you’ll love Turkish cuisine

When you think of Turkish food, your mind probably conjures an image of kebabs or baklava, but this country’s cuisine goes far beyond charcoal-grilled meats and decadent sweets.

Given its east-meets-west location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it’s no surprise that Turkish cuisine is incredibly diverse. Whenever you tuck into a meal here, you’ll notice a combination of flavours and influences from several neighbouring regions, including the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Balkans. 

A mosque located near the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul’s grand mosques will leave you in awe | © Michael Parulava/Unsplash

Three dishes you need to try in Turkey

1. Manti

Manti is almost like a Turkish version of ravioli — and it’s just as delicious as its much-loved Italian counterpart. Consisting of tiny beef-stuffed dumplings drizzled with garlicky yogurt and topped with melted butter and sumac, this dish seamlessly blends a whole host of contrasting flavours and textures.

The combination of melt-in-your-mouth dumplings, creamy yogurt sauce, and aromatic spices is divine and surprisingly irresistible.

2. Turkish breakfast

Forget bagels and cereal — Turkey takes breakfast to a whole new level. A typical kahvalti (AKA Turkish breakfast) spread typically includes a smorgasbord of small sharing dishes that are all delicious in their own right.

While the food may vary depending by region, there are a few staples that almost always make the cut: beyaz peynir (a white sheep’s milk cheese), simit (doughy, sesame-seed-coated rings), and menemen (scrambled eggs with bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions), along with lashings of fresh butter, honey, jams, and preserves.

3. Lahmacun

At first glance, lahmacun looks a bit like Turkish-style pizza, but it’s actually flatbread topped with a layer of minced meat, tomatoes, onions, and flavour-packed herbs like parsley and cumin. Before you eat it, remember to top it with salad and a squeeze of lemon (both of which are served on the side), roll it up like a burrito, and enjoy!

Different types of baklava available for purchase in Istanbul, Turkey
Get your fill of freshly made baklava in Turkey and the Caucasus | © Engin Akyurt/Pixabay

Georgia

Food is a major highlight when you travel to Georgia, but there are so many other compelling reasons to visit this emerging destination.

No matter where you travel — whether it’s Tbilisi, Kutaisi, or Mtskheta — you’ll find yourself constantly in awe of the country’s striking mountainous landscapes, medieval monasteries, and phenomenally hospitable locals. 

Best of all, Georgia is an incredibly budget-friendly destination, so you can eat to your heart’s content without breaking the bank!

Why you’ll love Georgian cuisine

Much like Turkey, Georgian cuisine brilliantly fuses both Eastern and Western flavours, drawing influences from the Greeks, Turks, Arabs, and Mongols. Most dishes are on the heavy side; bread and cheese are two mainstays of Georgian cuisine, along with hallmark ingredients like walnuts, cilantro, and pomegranate. 

Sitting down for a meal here is more than just a necessity — it’s a lengthy, sit-down affair with hearty dishes that are made for sharing.

A monastery perched on a hill beside a large mountain in Georgia
Georgia’s striking landscapes will blow you away | © Iman Gozal/Unsplash

Three dishes you need to try in Georgia

1. Adjaruli Khachapuri

Adjaruli khachapuri — one of the country’s staple dishes — is, quite possibly, the best comfort food you’ve never had.

This savoury pastry is shaped like a boat, stuffed with melted cheese, and topped with a freshly cracked egg and a generous helping of butter. When the warm, bubbling mass is placed in front of you, that’s your cue to mix everything together, tear off a corner of the bread, and dunk it into the ultra-decadent cheese-egg-butter mixture. 

2. Khinkali

Khinkali, or Georgian soup dumplings, are ubiquitous across the country — and once you taste one, you’ll understand why. 

These hearty balls of dough are stuffed with meat (usually pork or beef) and boiled until they’re soft and pillowy. The meaty filling produces a rich broth once they’re fully cooked, so every bite delivers a hit of juicy, savoury goodness.

If you want to eat khinkali like a local, grab the dumpling by its topknot with your fingers, bite a small hole into the side, and slurp out the broth. Then, devour the rest of the dumpling and repeat!

3. Shkmeruli

Shkmeruli only has a handful of ingredients, but don’t let that fool you — even the most simple dishes in Georgia will blow you away with their outrageously delicious flavours. 

This garlic-heavy meal is made with crispy browned chicken slow-cooked in milk and — you guessed it — lots and lots of garlic.

The traditional dish of Adjaruli Khachapuri in Georgia
Adjaruli Khachapuri, one of the most delicious dishes in Georgia | © Marco Verch/Flickr

Azerbaijan

Intriguing history, untouched natural wonders, ultra-modern architecture, and grand palaces — you’ll find all this and so much more in Azerbaijan.

There’s no shortage of impressive attractions in this country, and yet, it’s still somehow overlooked by so many travellers. Once you visit, you’ll start asking yourself the same question every visitor has when they arrive in Azerbaijan: why isn’t this place packed with tourists?

Why you’ll love Azerbaijani cuisine

Commanding a significant location along Silk Road routes and boasting a culinary heritage that dates back more than 2,000 years, food in Azerbaijan pays homage to the traders that passed through this region for centuries. Whenever you sit down for a meal here, you’re essentially taking a big bite out of the country’s history.

There are some similarities between Azerbaijani cuisine and the country’s Caucasus neighbours, but Azerbaijani food manages to stay steadfastly true to itself.

Futuristic architecture at the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku
Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku | © Chris Holgersson/Unsplash

Three dishes you need to try in Azerbaijan

1. Plov

One of the most famous Azerbaijani staples is plov, saffron-flavoured rice cooked with dried fruits, nuts, and aromatic herbs — everything from cinnamon to apricots, dates or chestnuts. The rice is typically served with meats like mutton and lamb as well, which are two of the most common flavour combinations.

2. Qutab

Made with lavash (a thin flatbread), qutab is a thick, savoury pancake that’s filled with minced meat, cheese, or vegetables, along with spices like cilantro and sumac. Once assembled, it’s folded into a moon shape and fried on a flat pan until the centre is soft and the edges are golden brown and crispy.

3. Baliq

If you love seafood, you’ll love baliq! Fresh sturgeon from the Capsian Sea is grilled on a skewer and served with a sour plum sauce. It may sound simple but it’s remarkably delicious; the fish is marinated with lemon, dill, and salt — a combination that amplifies all the flavours and creates a perfectly crispy finish.

Traditional dish of Plov made with rice, meat, currants, and spices
There are more than 40 variations of Plov in Azerbaijan | © Mizu Basyo/Wikimedia Commons

Of course, food is only one of many reasons to visit these three countries. Along with all the unbelievably delicious eats mentioned above, a trip to this region promises jaw-dropping scenery, ancient architectural wonders, and extraordinary sights galore.

And, since Georgia and Azerbaijan are still flying relatively under the radar, you can leave the tourist crowds behind and explore these up-and-coming destinations before the rest of the world gets there.

Houses perched on a hillside in Tbilisi, Georgia
Tbilisi, Georgia’s picturesque capital city | © Mostafa Meraji/Pixabay

If you’re keen to visit Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan but you’re not quite sure where to start, leave the planning and logistics to the experts at Fez Travel!

Their expertly crafted Constantinople to Yerevan and Constantinople to Tbilisi tours will show you the best of this utterly fascinating part of the world (and their knowledgeable local guides will give you the lowdown on all the best places to eat, of course). 

Their small group tours are designed to take you to the heart of these countries, so you can experience each destination in the most authentic way: like a local.


Ashley is a Content Editor at TourRadar. When she’s not writing, travelling, or obsessively checking flight prices on Skyscanner, you can find her attempting to fine-tune her photography skills or watching a shark documentary.

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