Turkish Cuisine

Welcome to the world of pleasure. Turkish cuisine is one of the three of the world cuisines along with French and Chinese cuisines. If you are vegetarian, just like seafood, meat lower, in fond of soup, pleased with salads and fresh fruits and adore sweets, you are most welcome to taste and enjoy Turkish food. Turkish cuisine is a dream of an Epicurean and it will remind you that the pleasure of eating has no limit.

How comes! It is because of the fertile soil of Turkey. Turkey grows a big amount and a large variety of vegetables and fruits. Turkey breeds cattle, sheep and chicken. In addition, there are natural and farming fishes from the streams, rivers, straits an seas that surrounds the country: Mediterranean, Aegean, Dardanelle, Marmara, Bosphorus and Black Sea.

Turkey is divided by high mountains. That is why we have different climates in each region. In addition, we have many deep valleys, high plateaus and deltas of the river ends. These create interesting microclimates too.

It is not just climate and soil but also people: People in different regions created various dishes. They used local ingredients and this created their style of food, taste of food and culture of food. 

We can tell that Turkey is one country with many cultures. We can find in different regions completely different dishes and in big cities all of them and many more because of urbanization.

Another aspect that enriches Turkish cuisine is our history. Istanbul was the capital of Ottoman Empire and before that it was the capital of Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire. Turkey has the heritage of this more than 1700 years’ old imperial culture. Empires did not mean just royal families. Many different ethnic and religious groups lived under their rule and they all had their various food cultures. People with different ethnic and religious backgrounds were living in the same villages or towns. They certainly exchanged their culture with each other and created Turkish cuisine.

As a start, we can tell that bread is the main food in Turkey. As well as having loafs of breads, there are several types of pita breads as well.  Regular bread is white loaf bread made of wheat flour. In addition, whole-wheat bread and rye bread are widely made by bakeries. In eastern Black Sea coast region, corn bread is widely consumed. Some bakeries try to make tastier breads by adding walnut or olive pieces in it.

According to the season, food is varied. In wintertime, soup is a certain starter to warm up. Pulses, vegetables, meat, fish yogurt and flours are used to make soup. Lentil soup, yogurt soup (with rise and mint in it), chicken soup and ezogelin (ezo the bride) soup (with lentil, bulgur, rise and thyme in it) are common soups.

I summertime vegetable dishes are the starter and to many people that is it. There are various options among the vegetable dishes:

Dolma is a name for many stuffed vegetable dishes. It is stuffed any vegetable with rice, currants, pine nuts and mint. Pepper, eggplant, zucchini, onion, tomato, wine leaves, cabbage and chard leaves are prepared as dolma. In countryside, cherry leaves and zucchini flowers are also made dolma. Dolma is cooked with olive oil and served as cold dish. It is just perfect for hot summer days. If you add minced meat into filling, it is served warm. You can serve it with yogurt.

Even you can prepare dolma of chicken, lamb or mackerel. Just you have to take the intestines out and put the filling in and sew or use tooth sticks to close it.

There are vegetable dishes cooked in olive oil: Fresh green bean, okra, leek, fresh broad bean, celery, spinach and eggplant dishes. They are all served cold. They could be cooked with meat peaces or minced meat. Therefore, they are served warm. There is an eggplant dish called imam bayıldı (imam has fainted). It is prepared with chopped onion, tomato, continental parsley filling. If it is included minced meat it is called karnıyarık (belly has been cut). This dark color vegetable seemed to be imam probably. Turks have such strange thoughts on imam!

In summertime, many people eat fries. Fried potatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant became one dish. It is served with either tomato or yogurt sauce that have mashed garlic in it. Fried meatballs are a delicacy with it.

Dry beans, chick peas, lentils are cooked as dish as well. Because they are watery, that is why according to foreigners they are in the category of soups but to the Turks they are main dish. They can be cooked with meat, minced meat or pastrami. These types of dishes are served with rice, pickles, red chilly peppers, onions and yogurt. There are some restaurants specialized on this kind of dishes.

People like fish in Turkey especially in seaside settlements. There is a season for each type of fish. Blue fish is called the sultan of the fishes in Turkey. Then anchovy is the worker! It is plenty and cheap and can be cooked with many styles. Bonito, mackerel and sardines are other common sea fishes. Trout, bass and bream are common farming fishes. They can be served any time. Fish is cooked as grill, fry or stew. There is a delicious stew called papaz yahnisi (stew of priest). Probably one priest was pretty good on fish dishes! Shrimp, squid and octopus consumption is rare but mussels are very common.

Lamb, chicken and beef are all widely consumed in Turkey as main dish. Majority of the Turks love meat barbeque. At summer weekends, outer towns are full of people making barbeque picnic. Traditionally lamb was the main meat but today beef is common.

Shish kebab is most famous Turkish dish. It could be pieces of chicken, lamb or beef put on a shish (skewer). Bay laurel leaves or onion, tomato, pepper type of vegetables even eggplant pieces are put on skewer to make the meat tastier.

Kebab dishes are many. It could be shish kofte as well. That is minced meat on a skewer. It is also called Urfa kebab. If it is hot, it is called Adana kebab. If it is with garlic, it is called Beyti kebab. Turkey has many minced meat dishes called kofte (meat balls). However, it is not necessarily in a ball shape. There is a meat dish called Ali Nazik Kebab that means kebab of the Ali the kind.

If the meat is put on a huge skewer and that is why it is grilled usually vertically not horizontally. Because it is very big piece of meat, it is served with cut thin slices. This dish is called döner kebab. If it is served on slices of pita bread with tomato and butter sauces and yogurt it is called Iskender kebab, which is a specialty of Bursa. 

Offal of the sheep and cattle are consumed too. They are usually served in specialized restaurants. Tripe soup and trotter soup are believed to be medicinal. In big cities, many drunken people go to tripe soup restaurants to get sober. They say it helps. If they are still hungry, they order kelle that is roasted head of a sheep on a platter with eyes on sides. One has to be drunk to enjoy it!

Hearts kidneys, balls are eaten traditionally in Turkish homes by grilling and livers grilled, stew or fried. Capable cooks can prepare sheep brain salad with chopped parsley, olive oil and lemon juice dressing.

When we talk about sheep brain salad and fried liver (that is called Albanian liver) we already entered into the territory of meze, appetizers. Turks, who love their rakı, certainly adore meze. Best mezes of rakı are full fat white sheep cheese and a slice of sweet melon. Eggplant salads, Circasian chicken (chicken mashed with walnut),  barbunya pilaki (bean stew with onion and tomato), pickles, pastrami, tarator (mashed walnut and garlic with tomato paste and olive oil), humus (mashed chickpeas and garlic with sesame paste), fava ( mashed broad beans with olive oil), fried mussels, mussel dolma, shrimp stew with onion and tomato and many more… Nevertheless, to please a rakı drinker is not that difficult all the time. Slices of good quince or sour apple with lemon juice dressing or just sour green plums are more than enough for a rakı drinker.

It is difficult to get away from the meze. Rolled pastries are nice with rakı too. However, these pastries go nicely with tea as well. Cheese rolls are the most common one. Cheese and chopped continental parsley is rolled in a very thin layer of dough. You replace cheese with minced beef, pastrami or potatoes, even seafood. Turkey has many pastries and pies. Some of their names are even identical with some ethnicities: Laz pie, Kürt pie and Tatar pie. Gözleme is also common. It is similar to crepe. Just like rolls, you can put anything in it: Including honey. 

Then finally, we can start to talk about palace of pleasure: Deserts.   

There is a large variety of deserts in Turkish cuisine. They can be classified according to main ingredients.

Turks love puddings especially in summer time. These sweets are light and cool. Milk pudding and rise pudding are very common. Keşkül (milk pudding with ground almond) and zerde (rise pudding with rose water and saffron) are served in many places too. Tavuk göğsü (chicken breast) is boiled chicken breast in milk and mashed with sugar, rice flour and starch. Similar desert is kazandibi (bottom of the cauldron). Is a little bit burned tavuk göğsü.These two go exceptionally well with ice cream. Güllaç is a Ramadan month desert made of starch wafer, milk rose water, groundnuts and if it is season decorated with pomegranate seeds. Aşure is called Noah’s soup in English. It is prepared in Muharrem month of the Islamic calendar and part of the religious folk culture. People prepare it and distribute it to the neighbors. It is a kind of fertility pudding and believed to be made first by Noah the Prophet. In addition, it is believed to be made in memory of martyrdom of Hussein grandson of Prophet Mohammed. It is a sweet pudding with walnut, hazelnut, almond, pistachio, dried fig, sultana raisin, beans, wheat, chickpeas, millet and starch. It is decorated with groundnuts, currants and if is season with pomegranate seeds.  

Sweet pastries cover big part of Turkish deserts. Baklava is the most famous one. People take baklava where they visit; especially during Ramadan Festival. That is why this festival is called also Sweet Festival in Turkey. It has many thin layers of dough. These layers should be very thin. There is ground walnut, pistachio or cream (mixture of milk and semolina) between layers. It is sweetened by spreading of syrup. There are similar deserts with funny names: Şöbiyet, bülbül yuvası (nightingale’s nest), sarığı burma (twisted turban), sütlü Nuriye (milky Nuriye that is a female name). You must use your imagination!

There are some pastry deserts that they are left to swim in syrup for a short while. They are called lokma in general. It is made on Kandil nights (Islamic holy nights) specially to distribute to the poor and neighbors. There is tulumba tatlısı (pump desert) got its name from a pump like device that pastry goes through. There are similar pastry deserts with funny names again: Hanım göbeği (lady’s belly), Dilber dudağı (darling’s lips), vezir parmağı (vizier’s finger).

Tel kadayıf (little pieces of wire looking pastry desert), ekmek kadayıfı (bread looking pastry desert), künefe (tel kadayıf with cheese in the middle), şekerpare (piece of sugar) and revani (name derived from Yerevan) are other regular and delicious deserts in Turkish cuisine.

Helva (Halva) is another famous desert of Turkish cuisine. There are several types of halva. Tahini halva is made with crushed sesame seeds. Flour halva and semolina halva are made on religiously important days and after the funeral ceremonies. Summer halva is made with almond, walnut and dried fruits. Cotton halva and floss halva are other delicacies.

Before ending the talk of desert certainly, we must mention deserts made with vetables and fruits. Pumpkin desert is easy and common. It symbolizes fertility. Anyway, this is the only way that people cook pumpkin in Turkey. A bit difficult but worthwhile desert is quince desert. We also should not forget to mention dried apricot desert. These are served with cream of yogurt.  

Almost all of the deserts and confections are sweetened today with sugar, which is made of sugar beets. In Ottoman period, sugar was expensive article that is why mainly honey and pekmez are used. Pekmez is thick syrup made by boiled grape juice. However, some of the pekmez are not liquid at all. As well as grape pekmez, there are fig, mulberry and carob pekmez too. Mixture of tahini (crushed sesame seeds) and pekmez is still a delight of the Turks especially for winter breakfasts.

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