Turkish Cuisine

Do not dismiss the dish saying that it is just food. The blessed thing is an entire civilization in itself!” (Abdulhak Sinasi)    The variety of dishes that make up the Turkish cuisine, the ways they all come together in feast-like meals, and the evident intricacy of each craft involved offer enough material for lifelong study and enjoyment. […] One can only conclude that the evolution of this glorious cuisine was not an accident, but rather, as with the other grand cuisines of the world, it was a result of the combination of three key elements, a nurturing environment, the imperial kitchen, and a long social tradition. […] Turkeyis known for an abundance and diversity of foodstuff due to its rich flora, fauna and regional differentiation. […] The Palace Kitchen, supported by a complex social organization, a vibrant urban life, specialization of labour, worldwide trade, and total control of the Spice Road, all reflected the culmination of wealth and the flourishing of culture in the capital of a mighty Empire. […] Turkish cuisine has the added privilege of being at the crossroads of the Far East and the Mediterranean, resulting in a long and complex history of Turkish migration from the steppes of Central Asia to Europe. […] The cuisine is also an integral aspect of the culture. It is a part of the rituals of everyday life. […] 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. […] Stuffing not only the pastry, but also all kinds of vegetables was common practice, and still is, as evidenced by dozens of different types of dolma. […] Anatolia 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 has plenty to export. […] 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. […] In 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. […] The hear-land 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. […] Towards the west, one eventually reaches warm, fertile valleys between cultivated mountainsides, and the lacelike shores of the Aegean where nature is friendly and life has always been easy-going. Fruits and vegetables of all kinds are abundant, including, best of all, see food! Here, olive oil becomes a staple and is used both in hot and cold dishes. The temperate zone of the Blank See Coast, to the north, is protected by the high Caucasian Mountains and abounds in hazelnuts, corn and tea. The Black See people are fishermen and identify themselves with their ecological companion, the shimmering hamsi, a small fish similar to the anchovy. […] The south-eastern part ofTurkey is hot and desert-like offering the greatest variety of kebabs and sweet pastries. […] The culinary centre of the country is the Marmara Region, includingThrace, with Istanbul as itsQueenCity. This temperate, fertile region boasts a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as the most delicately flavoured lamb. […] and even now, the best chefs in the country come from Bolu. […] The importance of food has also been evident in the structure of the Ottoman military elite, known as the Janissaries. […] The Spice Road, the most important factor in culinary history, was under the full control of the Sultan. Only the best ingredients were allowed to be traded under the strict standards established by the courts. […] All dishes can be conveniently categorized into grain-based, grilled meats, vegetables, seafood, desserts and beverages. […] The foundation of the cuisine is based on grains (rice and wheat) and vegetables. [...] Turks are purists in their culinary taste, that is, the dishes are supposed to bring out the flavour of the main ingredient rather than hiding it under sauces or spices. […] spices and herbs are used very simply and sparingly […] For the Turks, the setting is as important as the food itself. […] the most famous market is the Spice Market in Istanbul. […] One way to 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. […] Besides ekmek (ordinary white bread), pide (flat bread), simit (sesame seed rings), and manti (similar to ravioli), a whole family of food made up of this sheets of a pastry called borek falls into this category. The bakers of the Ottoman period believed that after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam, the Patron Saint of Bakers, learned how to make bread from the Archangel Gabriel. […] Every neighbourhood has a bread bakery that produces the golden, crisp loaves twice a day, morning and afternoon, filling the streets with their irresistible and wholesome aroma. […] Ekmek, pide and simit are meant to be eaten the same day they are baked, as they usually are. The leftover ekmek goes into a variety of dishes, becomes chicken feed, or is mixed with milk for the neighbourhood cats. Manti, small dumplings of dough filled with a special meat mix, are eaten with generous servings of garlic yogurt and a dash of melted butter with paprika. […] Borek is a dish for special occasions and requires great skill and patience. [...] The sheets are then layered or folded into various shapes before being filled with cheese or meat mixes and baked or fried. […] Along with bread, pilav is another staple of the Turkish kitchen. The most common versions are the cracked-wheat pilaf  and the rice pilaf. A good creacked-wheat pilaf made with whole onions, sliced tomatoes, green peppers sautéed in butter, and boiled in beef stock is a meal in itself. Many versions of the rice pilaf accompany vegetable and meat dishes. […] The most common dessert after a meal is fresh seasonal fruit that acquires its unique taste from an abundance of sun and old-fashioned ways of cultivation. […] The most wonderful contribution of Turkish cuisine are the milk dessert – the muhallebi family. These are among the rare types of guilt-free puddings made with starch and rice flour, and, originally without any eggs or butter. […] The milk desserts include a variety of puddings, ranging from the very light and subtle rose-water variety to the milk pudding laced with strands of chicken breast. […] The baked pastries can also be referred to as the baklava family. These are paper-thin pastry sheets that are brushed with butter and folded, layered, or rolled after being filled with ground pistachios, walnuts or heavy cream,  and then baked, after which a syrup is poured over them. […] Helva is made by pan-sauteeing flour or semolina and pine nuts in butter before adding sugar and milk or water, then briefly cooking until these are absorbed. […] People are invited for “helva conversation to pass the long winter nights. […] Another dessert that should be mentioned is a piece of special bread cooked in syrup, topped with lots of walnuts and heavy cream. This is possibly the queen of all desserts. […] further more marzipans made of almonds and pistachios. The best marzipan is sold at a tiny, unassuming shop in Bebek inIstanbul … candied chestnuts, a speciality ofBursa, are among the most wonderful nutty desserts. (selection form the book “Turkish Cuisine”, Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, General Directorate of Information, Text by Prof. Dr. Fahriye Sancar, Photos Archive of the Ministry, Ankara 2007)