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those who travel to engage in culinary pursuits, the Turkish Cuisine is worthy
of exploration. The variety of dishes that make up the cuisine, the ways they
all come together in feast-like meals, and the evident intricacy of each craft
involved offer enough material for life-long study and enjoyment. It is not easy
to discern a basic element or a single dominant feature, like the Italian
"pasta" or the French "sauce". Whether in a humble home, at
a famous restaurant, or at dinner in a Bey's mansion, familiar patterns of this
rich and diverse cuisine are always present. It is a rare art which satisfies
the senses while reconfirming the higher order of society, community and culture.
A practically-minded child watching Mother cook "cabbage dolma" on a
lazy, grey winter day is bound to wonder: "Who on earth discovered this
peculiar combination of sautéed rice, pine-nuts, currants, spices, herbs and
all tightly wrapped in translucent leaves of cabbage, each roll exactly half an
inch thick and stacked up on an oval serving, plate decorated with lemon wedges?
How was it possible to transform this humble vegetable to such heights of
fashion and delicacy with so few additional ingredients? And, how can such a
yummy dish also possibly be good for you?" The modern mind, in a moment of
contemplation, has similar thoughts upon entering a modest sweets shop where
"baklava" is the generic cousin of a dozen or so sophisticated sweet
pastries with names like: twisted turban, sultan, saray (palace), lady's navel,
nightingale's nest... The same experience awaits you at a muhallebici" (pudding
shop) with a dozen different types of milk puddings. One can only conclude that
the evolution of this glorious cuisine was not an accident, but rather, as with
the other grand cuisine of the world, it was a result of the combination of
three key elements.
Time is of the essence, as Ibn'i Haldun wrote, "The
religion of the King, in time, becomes that of the people," which also
holds for the King's food. Thus, the 600-year reign of the Ottoman
Dynasty and a seamless cultural transition into the present day of modern Turkey
led to the evolution of a grand cuisine through differentiation, the refinement
and perfection of dishes, and the sequence and combination of the meals in which
they are found. It is quite rare when all three of the above conditions are met,
as they are in French, Chinese and Turkish Cuisine. Turkish cuisine has the
added privilege of being at the cross-roads of the Far East and the
Mediterranean, resulting in a long, and complex history of Turkish migration
from the steppes of Central Asia (where they mingled with the Chinese) to Europe
(where their influence was felt all the way to Vienna).
unique characteristics and extensive history have bestowed upon Turkish cuisine
a rich selection of dishes all of which can be prepared and combined with others
to create meals of almost infinite variety, but always in a non-arbitrary way.
This led to a cuisine that is open to improvisation through development of
regional styles, while retaining its deep structure, as all create works of art
do. The cuisine is also an integral aspect of the Culture. IL is a part of the
rituals of everyday life. it reflects spirituality, in forms that are specific
to it, through symbolism and practice. Anyone who visits Turkey or has a meal in
a Turkish home, regardless of the success of the particular cook, is sure to
notice the uniqueness of the cuisine. Our intention here is to help the
uninitiated employ Turkish food by achieving a more detailed understanding of
the repertoire of dishes and their related cultural practices as well as their
Early historical documents show that the basic structure of Turkish cuisine was ,already established during the Nomadic Period and in the first settled Turkish States of Asia. Culinary attitudes towards meat, dairy products, vegetables and grains that characterized this early period still make up the core of Turkish thinking. Early Turks cultivated wheat and used it liberally), in several types of leavened and unleavened breads either baked in clay ovens, fried on a griddle, or buried in embers. "Manti", (dumpling), and "Bugra," (the ancestor of "börek," or filled pastries, named for Bugra Khan of Türkestan) were already among the much-coveted dishes of this time. Stuffing not only the pastry, but also all kinds of vegetables was common practice, and still is, as evidenced bv dozens of different types of "dolma". Skewering meat as well as other ways of grilling, later known to us as varieties of "kebab," and dairy products, such as cheeses and yogurt, were convenient staples of the pastoral Turks. They introduced these attitudes and practices to Anatolia in the 11th century. In return they met rice, the fruits and vegetables native to the region, and hundreds of varieties of fish in the three seas surrounding the Anatolian Peninsula. These new and wonderful ingredients were assimilated into the basic cuisine in the millennium that followed.
is the region known as the "bread basket of the world." Turkey, even
now, is one of the seven countries in the world which produces enough food to
feed its own populace and still his plenty to export. The Turkish landscape
encompasses such a wide variety of geographic zones, that for every two to four
hours of driving, you will find yourself in a different zone amid all the
accompanying changes in scenery, temperature, altitude, humidity, vegetation and
weather. The Turkish landscape has the combined characteristics of the three
oldest continents of the world (Europe, Africa, and Asia) and an ecological
diversity surpassing any other country along the 40th latitude. Thus, the
diversity of the cuisine has taken on that of the landscape with its regional
the eastern region, you will encounter rugged, snow-capped mountains where the
winters are long and cold, along with the highlands where the spring season with
its rich wild flowers and rushing creeks extends into the long and cool summer.
Livestock farming is prevalent. Butter, yogurt, cheese, honey, meat and cereals
are the local food. Long winters are best endured with the help of yogurt soup
and meatballs flavored with aromatic herbs found in the mountains, followed by
endless servings of tea. The heartland is dry steppe with rolling hills, and
endless stretches of wheat fields and barren bedrock that take on the most
incredible shades of gold, violet, and cool and warm greys, as the sun travels
the sky. Along the trade rotates were ancient cities with lush cultivated
Orchards and gardens. Among these, Konya, the capital of the Selcuk Empire (the
first Turkish State in Anatolia), distinguished itself as the center of a
culture that attracted scholars, mystics, and poets from all over the world
during the 13th century.
Towards the west, one eventually reaches warm fertile walleys between cultivated mountainsides, and the lace-like shores of the Aegean where nature is friendly and life has alwavs been easygoing, Fruits and Vegetables of all kinds are abundant, including, best of all, sea food! Here, olive oil becomes a staple and is used both in hot and cold dishes.
The temperate zone of the Black Sea Coast, to the north, is protected by the high Caucasian Mountains and abounds in hazelnuts, corn and tea. The Black Sea people are fishermen and identity themselves with their ecological companion, the shimmering "hamsi" a small fish similar to the anchovy, There are at least forty different dishes made with hamsi, including desserts! Many poems, anecdotes and foIk dances are inspired by this delicious fish.
The southeastern part of Turkey, is hot and desert-like offering the greatest variety of kebabs and sweet pastries. Dishes here are spicier compared to all other regions, possibly to retard spoilage in hot weather or as the natives say, to equalize the heat inside the body to that outside!
The culinary center of the
country is the Marmara Region, including Thrace, with Istanbul as its Queen City.
This temperate, fertile religion boasts a wide variety of fruits and vegetables,
as well as the most delicately flavored lamb. The variety of fish that travel
the Bosphorus surpasses that of other seas. Bolu, a city on the mountains,
supplied the greatest cooks for the Sultan's Palace, and even now, the best
chef's in the country come From Bolu. Since Istanbul is the epicenter of the
cuisine, a survey of the Sultan's kitchen is required to understand it...
Guilds played an important role in the development and sustenance of the cuisine. These included hunters, fishermen, cooks, kebab cooks, bakers, butchers, cheese makers and yogurt merchants, pastry chefs, pickle makers, and sausage merchants. All of the principal trades were believed to be sacred and each guild traced its patronage to the saints. The guilds set price and quality controls. They displayed their products and talents in spectacular parades through Istanbul streets on special occasions, such as the circumcision festivities for the Crown Prince or religious holidays.
Following the example of the
Palace, all of the grand Ottoman houses boasted elaborate kitchens and competed
in preparing feasts for each other as well as for the general public. In fact,
in each neighborhood, at least one household would open its doors to anyone who
happened to stop by for dinner during the holy month of Ramadan, or during other
festive occasions. This is how the traditional cuisine evolved and spread, even
to the most modest corners of the country.
the Turks, the setting is as important as the food itself. Therefore, food-related
places need to be considered, as well as the dining protocol. Among the "great-food
places" where you can find ingredients for the cuisine are the weekly
neighborhood markets ("pazar") and the permanent markets. The most
famous one of the latter type is the Spice Market in Istanbul. This is a place
where every conceivable type of food item can be found, as it has been since pre-Ottoman
times. This is a truly exotic place, with hundreds of scents rising from stalls
located within an ancient domed building, which was the terminus for the Spice
Road. More modest markets can be found in every city center, with permanent
stalls for fish and vegetables. The weekly markets are where sleepy
neighborhoods come to life, with the villagers setting up their stalls before
dawn in a designated area to sell their products. On these days, handicrafts,
textiles, glassware and other household items are also among the displays at the
most affordable prices. What makes these places unique is the cacophony of
sounds, sights, smells and activity, as well as the high quality of fresh food,
which can only be obtained at the pazar. There is plenty of haggling and
jostling as people make their way through the narrow isles while vendors compete
for their attention. One way Lo purify body and soul would be to rent an
inexpensive flat by the seaside for a month every year and live on fresh fruit
and vegetables from the pazar. However, since the more likely scenario is
restaurant-hopping, here are some tips to learn the proper terminology so that
you can navigate through the cuisine (just in case you get the urge to cook a la
Turca) as well as the streets of Turkish cities, where it is just as important
to locate the eating places as it is the museums and the archaeological wonders.
*Source : Ministery of Tourism