It may be difficult to talk about Turkish cuisine and its various aspects before thoroughly studying Turkey, the cradle for one of the oldest civilisations of the world and a bridge between the continents of Asia and Europe.

Börek - Turkish dish

It may be difficult to talk about Turkish cuisine and its various aspects before thoroughly studying Turkey, the cradle for one of the oldest civilisations of the world and a bridge between the continents of Asia and Europe.

Therefore, we should take a brief bird’s view glance at Anatolia, the Asia Minor bearing the core of the world’s history of civilization.

Big empires, while coming to this land with their original cultures and heritages, certainly brought along their culinary cultures, too. The Mongolian troops that repeatedly came to Anatolia from Asia, Romans’ and Crusaders’ campaigns from Europe brought their cultures and customs. Meanwhile, the Turkish tribes from Asia, moving first to Anatolia and then to the Balkans, contributed to integrate all of the aforesaid old civilizations.

In addition to this historical change and development was the geography of Anatolia. This unique Anatolian culture and geography undoubtedly had a great influence in the forming of the nature of Turkish Cuisine.

Another special endowment of this land is the privilege of simultaneously having regions with all the four seasons. This enriches the land with all kinds of fruit and vegetables requiring different seasons, throughout the year. Also big lakes and rivers of the land contribute to this abundance.

Essentials of Turkish Cuisine

These three factors below form the foundation of the Turkish cuisine:

•  The historical heritage and diversity

•  The geographical richness and variety

•  Different seas and fishes

We can now study several aspects of the Turkish cuisine in the light of three-faceted order.

We should immediately mention that the Turkish cuisine has also represented the social order just as it has developed in parallel to the Turkish history. That is, it has developed not only as a household cuisine, but also as ceremonial and communal ones. In social life among Turks, communal meals such as those in the military, in religions units like tekke and dergah, in commercial units like guilds (=lonca), and in educational units (in the Medrese’s), are very important in forming the qualities of this cuisine.

Until recently, Turks habitually ate two times a day. The first being the brunch called kuşluk; and the second dinner.

Sultans would generally eat alone, or if they wished so, together with their family. In private homes, the father would preside over the table called sofra.

Examples of Turkish Dishes

Often the starter is a soup (çorba). It is brought to the table in copper or porcelain casserole. Following the prayer said by the head of the family, they eat the soup with spoons. The spoons are almost always works of art. They are hand-carved out of ebony or ivory. Some are made of silver or gold. Some are decorated with coral or mother-of-pearl.

The soup enriched by water in which meat, poultry, or fish has been boiled, and by adding yoghurt, rice, bulgur or different vegetables, have an important function in preparing the stomach for the oncoming dishes. They are digestives and they are rightfully considered healthy for they dissolve lipids and cholesterol.

Except for the festivals and holidays, soup was the main course on the meals given at military installations, boarding schools and religious institutions. Thus, it was suppressed to be nutritive. The presence of several hundred kinds of soup helps to prove this. However, the most widely-known ones that are eaten in every region in Turkey are said to be: “düğün çorbası” (wedding soup), yoğurtlu yayla çorbası (mountain soup with yoghurt), şehriye çorbası (chicken noodle), flour soup, lentil soup and various vegetable soups.

Several different kinds of meat dishes are always main courses in Turkish cuisine. Veal, mutton, and beef are considered red meat; fish, chicken, turkey, goose, other kinds of poultry, and game are called white meat.

Red meat dishes are kebabs, köftes, yahnis, pirzola and külbastı as well as sauce-pan dishes such as fumed meat and stewed meat. Kebab in particular, has many regional varieties.

As for fish, the Black Sea provides us with kalkan and hamsi; the Aegean Sea with çipura and Marmara Sea with lüfer, levrek, barbunya, palamut, kırlangıç, kılıç, tekir, dil, mercan and istavrit. Other seafood dishes consist of stuffed mussels, pan-fried mussels, shrimp on skewers, earthenware-cooked shrimp, shrimp salad, crab, lobsters, and stews, salads and salted preserves of these and other crustaceans.

The main property of the so-called saucepan-corked dishes, which are essentially combinations of vegetables and meat, are the delightful combination and their richness on proteins and vitamins.

Turkish pilafs generally accompany kebabs and grills and there are many varieties of pilafs. Pilafs in Turkey are made not only of rice but also of bulgur and kuskus. Among some eighty kinds of pilafs there are those made with tomatoes, almonds, peanuts, pine-cone kernels, raisins, anbergines, shrimps, hamsi’s, dough flakes, meat, etc.

Dolmas and sarmas are important too. There is a great variety of dolmas made with ground beef and eaten warm. The cover, in which the ingredients are stuffed, is sometimes a vine leaf, sometimes a pazı leaf, and sometimes an aubergine, a green pepper or a tomato. Dolma and sarma are exclusively Turkish dishes.