Turkish Cuisine

Turkish cuisine is supposed to be one of the three great cuisines in the world, the others being French and Chinese.

Turkish cuisine travelled from continent to continent until it reached Anatolia, the crossroads of many civilizations. During its long travels over the centuries, the Turkish cuisine traded culinary habits and recipes with other civilizations that it encountered. Therefore it is rich in variety, tasty to different palates and very healthy. It is reputed to be a most balanced cuisine. All these characteristics rightly put the Turkish cuisine on the pedestal it deserves.

The Turkish cuisine originated in Central Asia. Unfortunately, little is known about the culinary habits of the nomadic pre-Islamic Turks. Their diets probably consisted of milk products and meat. Kebab is a word that has figured prominently in the Turkish cuisine for more than ten centuries. Every region in Turkey has a great variety of kebabs. Turks love meat. Meat is cooked in infinite varieties: baked, broiled, grilled, stewed, fried, kebabs, köftes (minced meat, bread crumbs, herbs and spices mixture) with superlative taste and should definitely be tasted, cubed meat or minced meat cooked with vegetables or legumes, dolmas (a variety of vegetables stuffed with minced meat, rice, herbs and chopped onion mixtures.) Lamb is supposed to be the national meat, and it tastes better in Turkey than anywhere else in the world because of the fragrance of the variety of herbs the lamb eats.

The recorded history of the Turkish cuisine is supposed to begin about the 10th century when Turks came into contact with the Irano-Islamic culture of Western Asia. They entered the orbit of the Islamic region, civilization and cuisine. Turks learned Pilaf (rice dishes) from the Iranians and they created a great variety of their own rice dishes such as Pilaf with mussels, anchovies, meat, eggplant, chicken, tomatoes, cinnamon and vermicelli. In return they taught Iranians how to cook Bulgur (the cracked wheat which is popular in the USA as a healthy dish.) Although pilaf is traditionally a course in its own right, it is now widely used as a side dish. If you come across İç Pilaf (Oriental Rice), don't miss tasting it.
Börek, a mainstay of the Turkish culinary system, travelled from Eastern Turkistan to the West to occupy a high place in the Turco-Iranian cuisine as a rival to pilaf.
Another part of the pre-Anatolian legacy of the Turkish cuisine is the Güveç, a vegetable stew cooked in earthenware pots.

According to history, the Seljuk dynasty, the earliest Islamic Turks in Anatolia, were cooking kebabs, pilafs, zerde (rice pudding with saffron - a typical wedding dish), Kalye (meatless vegetables), leafy vegetables such as spinach served with garlic and yoghurt and the sweet Halva.

During the formative period of the Turkish - Islamic culture in Anatolia there were exchanges of food between Turks and Greeks. The Turks learned about the Seafood from the Greeks while Greeks took over a great variety of dishes from the Turks.

Anatolia has been part of the olive oil belt of the world. Now that many people in the world know the value of the olive oil for health they should not wonder about the strength and good health of the Turks. In Anatolia Turks gained access to new types of food: olives, fruits, vegetables and seafood. Fish has become a top culinary delight in the Turkish cuisine.
The Turkish cuisine is the most extensively internationalized one. For 600 years the Ottoman Empire spread from the Danube to the tip of the Arabian Peninsula and into North Africa. The further south one travels, the spicier becomes the taste. Anatolia is a food paradise, as well as a paradise of herbs and spices. The Turkish cuisine requires a variety of fresh herbs.
The fullest and most elaborate development of the Turkish cuisine in the Ottoman period took place in the Palaces of the Sultans.

Coffee has an important place in Turkish hospitality. The way Turks cook coffee is supposed to be the healthiest. The English word coffee is derived from the Turkish word kahve. Although the coffee bean is a native of Ethiopia it was brought to Europe in the 16th century from Istanbul.
Food has been related to every social event and followed man from his cradle to his deathbed. When a child was born a sweet drink called Lohusa Şerbeti is served to the guests. Zerde (rice pudding with saffron) is the highlight of the circumcision party and wedding menus. When one dies, on the same night and also 40 days after, the sweets called Lokma and Halva are distributed to friends, relatives, and the poor so that many people pray for the soul of deceased. Religious festivities are also related to food. Güllaç is a special Ramadan (the month of fasting) dessert. The month of Muharrem (which changes every year like Ramadan) is the month for Aşure (Noah's Pudding), the most famous ritual dish. The overwhelming significance of the day for Muslims is the martyrdom of the Imam Hüssein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohamed. The cooking and eating of Aşure has become a commemoration of that event.

Turks cook more with feeling than with precise measurements. But perhaps that's true of the work of all genuine artists.