Everywhere you turn in Turkey there is something delicious to eat, including streetfood such as bread rings covered in sesame seeds; deep fried mussels with a garlic rich sauce; warm roasted almonds and pistachio nuts; pastries bathed in syrup; divine milky desserts and chewy ice creams.
In the many restaurants and street cafés you can dine in style eggplants stuffed, grilled or fried in endless ways; tangy salads and yoghurt dips strongly flavoured with garlic.
Every town and city has a market where you will find a wealth of fresh seasonal produce, such as plump olives and crunchy pickles, fresh figs, ruby red pomegranates, juicy ripe peaches, pungent spices, and fresh leafy herbs, which are sold like bunches of flowers.
ISTANBUL, THE CULINARY CENTER
THE OTTOMAN PERIOD
OTTOMAN CUISINE from Rachel Laudan's Cuisine & Empire
In 1453,the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II took Constantinople from the Byzantine Christians. Mehmet encouraged wealthy Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish merchants the latter expelled from Spain, to settle in the city ,which later became known as Istanbul. By the following century, Istanbul had a million people,more than any European city ,40 percent of them non -Muslims. The Ottoman Empire stretched across North Africa,Egypt,Syria,Mesopotamia,Greece and the Balkans.
Ottoman Cuisine, refined in the kitchens of the Topkapı Palace ,almost certainly incorporated certain elements of Byzantine cuisine, such as confections and stuffed vegetables though this is yet to be investigated. The enormous kitchens were divided in to those that prepared food for the sultan,for his mother and high ranking ladies in the Harem, for the rest of the Harem, and for the rest of the palace household. The kitchen staff,which grew from 150 in 1480 to around 1500 by 1670, included specialists in baking, desserts, halvah, pickles and yogurt.
Soups were prepared in great variety from lamb, noodles, yogurt, grains and pulses thickened with flour or with an emulsion of lemon and egg yolk (terbiye). Meat dishes included kebabs;balls of finely ground and pounded meat (kofte) steamed and stuffed dumplings ( manti) salted,spiced meat,or pastrami( pastırma); fricassees or ragouts( yahni).Pilaf was held in high regard. Vegetable dishes,fried, braised and layered,stuffed, or combined with onions and chopped meat were one of the glories of the cuisine.Compared to Perso-Islamic cuisine, Ottoman cuisine tended to separate salt and sour tastes from sweet ones, used fewer fruits and less sugar and vinegar in savory dishes, and reduced the spices, even though Istanbul remained a key node in the spice trade.
Wheat- flour preparations continued to evolve.Deep- fried doughs of flour and water ,some yeast raised,some with eggs beaten into dough ( a kind of choux fritter),often soaked in syrup were popular. Phyllo was used in both savory and sweet dishes,rolled or folded,stuffed with ground meat,fresh cheese,or vegetables in little pies ( borek) or stuffed with chopped nuts,baked and soaked in syrup ( baklava and related pastries). A novelty was a sponge cake ( revani) made from semolina( coarse ground wheat), eggs and sugar and soaked in syrup.
Many other sweet dishes had a long history ,including rice puddings,sweetened puddings of starch and milk, and halvahs. A sweetened dish of mixed grains of great antiquity,asure, was eaten in remembrance of the martyrdom of the grandson of Muhammed. Drinks included sherbets of pomegranate,cherry, tamarind,violet and countless other flavors as well as buttermilk or yogurt and water ( ayran).
Ottoman high cuisine spread beyond the palace kitchens to the households of high ranking nobles,officials and merchants, Jewish and Christian as well as Muslim, in Cities such as Cairo, Alexandria, Damascus, Aleppo, Athens, Sofia, Baghdad, and Budapest. In Istanbul, so fine was the cuisine in the thousand mansions that entertained regularly that even the sultan accepted invitations to dine.Guilds of butchers,pastırma makers,sherbet makers,snow and ice merchants and fishermen served the households.
In the sixthteen century,coffee drinking created a new social venue- the coffeehouse- marking a transition from the spiritual to the secular realm, as had happened earlier with tea in China.In these establishments the literati discussed their work, payed chess,danced ,sang and talked politics.
Ottoman Cuisine depended on and stimulated commerce and agrilture. In the midth seventeenth century two thousand ships a year docked in Istanbul laden with wheat , rice , sugar , and spices from Egypt;livestock , grain , fats,honey, and fish from North of the Black Sea;and wine from the Aegean Islands. In conquered territories, the Ottomans set up market gardens to provide fresh vegetables for Turkish garrisons.
The gardeners sold green beans,onions,chile peppers,cucumbers, and cabbage to the towns people on the side. In the Balkans, the Ottomans introduced improved grape varieties for eating and for drying as currants and sultanas, as well as okra, filbertsi spearmint,flat leaved parsley, eggplants, durum wheat, improved forms of chickpeas, and the aromatic Damask rose for petals for jam and rose water.
American plants entered the Ottoman Empire as fast as or faster than they did Spain ,perhaps because networks of Sephardic Jews expelled from Iberia streched from the Ottoman Empire to the Americas.Beans, squashes and chiles came in to use. Maize became an alternative food for the humble.
Ottoman cuisine continued to evolve until the break up of the empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.The cuisines of Turkey, the Levant, Egypt, the Balkans, and North Africa still show its influence. Its borders with the Christian cuisines were permeable;traces of Ottoman cuisine can be found along the Northern Mediterranean and in Central Europe.
TURKISH CUISINE by courtesy of Filiz Hösükoğlu
The two thousand years between about 4500 and 2500 B.C witnessed the birth of civilization in three centers in the same general area, namely West Asia –North Africa; the next two thousand years witnessed the further spread of civilization in these areas and its development in Europe and East Asia, 1500 B.C
According to the historians, Turks had been in the North Eastern of Asia. They started migrating from the Syberian forests to the southern plains. People lived for tens of thousands of years in food- gathering societies and hunting and then farming societies.Turks did not practice agriculture but lived off great herds and cattle and horses, they constantly roamed with their herds from territory to territory in search of pasture, the men travelled on horseback.The merchants carried chiefly luxurious goods, such as articles of clothing and food, which could not be procured everywhere with equal ease. Salt, fish (dried undoubtedly), furs, and silk are named as articles of trade.Nomadic Turks always moving from one place to the other, and meeting with new people/ information; contributed to their culinary world all across Eurasia.
The fertile lands of the lower Euphrates and Tigris were united to give the kingdom of many civilizations, the people continued, and the great estates continued- although sometimes under new management. In fact the people inhabiting West Asia today presumably the descendents of the Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, Persians and so on.When Turks came to Anatolia with their nomadic culinary culture there was already a settled culinary culture belonging to the inhabitants there. Mutual influences of different culture continued. After Turks accepting Islam, they were in concentrated relationship with Arab culture.And inevitably culinary influences flowed in every direction.That is why Turkish Cuisine is based on Central Asia, Iranian, Anatolian and Mediterranean influences.
Turkish Cuisine is divided into two groups; first Palace/ Classical Turkish Cuisine based in Istanbul, imperial capital of the Ottomans. It is refined – sophisticated; and uses the best ingredients wherever they are, sometimes need more working hours in the kitchen. And second; Anatolian / Turkish Folk cuisine spread in all Anatolian provinces and is humble, easy to prepare; uses what ingredient is available. The aim of the folkcuisine is to feed people as in the former to please / entertain them. Anatolian Cusine shows regional differences; depending on the ingredients used which the nature and soil offer, and the cooking techniques applied which all were inherited from the previous inhabitants.
There is also diffrence in restaurant and home cooking. That is why someone visiting Turkey hardly gets the chance of meeting home cooking unless he has some local contact.
The dishes in Turkish Cuisine roughly can be classifed as follows;
The products we mostly use which are common to all the Mediterranean countries are;
Olive oil, olives, cheese, fish, tomato, pepper, eggplant, zucchini, pine nuts, walnuts,
basil, parsley, coriander, paste, noddles, sausages, orange, lemon, honey legumes, grains
I will give the recipe of the bread salad locally called ‘Omac’ that mostly reflects the Mediterranean influence, similiar to Italian bread salad ‘ panzanella’.The ingredients are Mediterranean, easy to prepare, filling and nutritious; that is fitting to Mediterranean diet perfectly.
2 cups crushed flat bread, or any other kind of bread broken into ½ inch pieces
3 ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ cup choopped parsley
½ cup mint, optional
2/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled; or mozzarella cheese, gretad
3 tablespouns virgin olive oil
1 scallion, chopped
Salt, and paprika to taste
First rub scallion with salt and the other remaining ingredients.Knead gently till mixed properly.Taste for salt. You can either serve in this form.Or pinch off walmut size pieces of the mixture, and shape each into a small oval.
Serve with ayran-diluted yogurt drink, cucumber sticks, or with pickles.
Afiyet olsun-bon appetite
Turkish Saffron is an imitation saffron made from wild flowers in te southeast of Turkey. It looks similar but doesn’t have a great deal of flavour.It is mainly used for its color in a few rice dishes and in hot yogurt soup.
SESAME SEEDS ( Susam) Sesame seeds are pounded into a thick oily paste,tahin,which is used in sauces and fillings and is spread on bread when sweetened and lubricated with pekmez(grape molasses). The seeds are also sprinkled on simit-bread rings.
SUMAC( Sumak) A deep red condiment, sumac is made by crushing and grinding the dried berries of a wild bush that grows in Anatolia and parts of the Middle East. The ground spice has a fruity,sour taste and is used sprinkled liberally over grilled meats,fish and salads.
Long before the arrival of lemons in Turkey and the Middle East, sumac was used as one of the principal souring agents ,along with juice of sour pomegranates, to season,flavor and preserve a variety of foods. When eating in Turkey today, particularly in a kebab house or a specialist lokanta(small restaurant) for grilled chicken, fish, pastries and lahmacun( Anatolian pizza),small bowls of ground sumac,are often placed on the table as a principal condiment, with dried oregano and kırmızı biber.
KÖFTE SPICE -(Meat ball spice) Ground sweet red pepper, ground hot red pepper,ground black red pepper, ground cumin,dried oregano, dried mint
In the winter, one of the traditional drinks is Boza a thick mixture made from fermented bulgurwheat and sprinkled cinnamon.
A popular drink in the cold months of the winter is Salep made from ground orchid root. Thick, milky and sweet,dusted with a little cinnamon, it is warming and nourishing.
The favourite alcoholic drink in Turkey is the aniseed- flavoured drink rakı,which turns cloudy when water is added and is often referred to as “lion’s milk”.It is traditionally a man’s drink although many women enjoy it tooand it is the preferred drink to go with meze and fish.