Turkish Cuisine

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Turkish Cuisine has the extra privilege of being at the crossroads of the Far-East & the Mediterranean, which mirrors a long & complex history of Turkish migration from the steppes of Central Asia (where they mingled with the Chinese) to Europe (where they exerted influence all the way to Vienna).

“Do not dismiss the dish saying that it is just, simply food. The blessed thing is an entire civilization in itself!”

Nutrition is a central fact of existence for all living things, it is something we must achieve in order to remain alive. We may approach the subject of nutrition in Turkey & Turkish cuisine, from a variety of standpoints. Here, we will examine it chiefly from the standpoint of social anthropology, & support statements both with examples from literature & observations. Different societies have different cultures & among these cultural differences is the element of eating habits. All people must eat to live. But what a person eats depends on both geographical conditions & upon his/her culture.

What a person chooses in the way of food, how he acquires it, how he cooks it & how, when & where he/she eats it, all change according to the habits of his/her society. Turkish society exhibits considerable differences from other cultures in terms of types of food & flavours.

Throughout our country, eating habits exhibit variety according to history, region, & even among various sections of society such as urban or village dwellers. In addition, we can speak of common features despite these differences. Here I would like to concentrate mostly on the common features. In other words, these common features are expressions of behavioral patterns. With a long history, the Turks have a rich culinary culture. This wealth is evident in the rich variety of foods. In addition, patterns of behavior have developed in relation to all foods & drinks.

To give a few examples of this culinary wealth: in the Black Sea region alone there are over twenty different dishes incorporating corn. Also in the Black Sea region the many different ways of preparing hamsi, a sardine-like fish, indicates the richness of our cuisine: Fried hamsi, hamsi bread, pilaf, kaygana (a sort of crepe), kofte, dible, boiled, grilled, in borek, steamed with onions & tomatoes…the list goes on.

In Kayseri, there are twenty different varieties of pastirma, the ancestor of the pastrami of the west. One writer says: Every one of the twenty varieties of pastirma has a separate character, a separate flavour. If we tell someone from Kayseri, ‘Count twenty kinds of pastirma,’ he will begin counting: Sirt, kusgomu, kenar mehle, egrice, omuz, dilme, sekerpare, kurek, kapak, dos, etek, bacak, orta bez, kavrama, meme, kelle, kanli bez, arka bas, tutunluk..”

We also have a great variety of eggplant dishes, salads & types of kebab (roast meats). Bildircin kebab覺, cevirme kebabi, kuzu cevirme, cop kebabi, cubuk kebabi, sis kebabi, deri kebabi, pideli kebap, Adana kebap, sac kebabi, tas kebabi & tandir kebabi are just a few of the many examples.

We observe that foods of Anatolia generally fall into three groups: plant/vegetables, meats, & bread/doughs. Most of these have been used since antiquity. There is actually a tie between civilization & types of food. Criteria such as the quality, number, type & array of tools used in food preparation, the materials cooked themselves, the way they are cooked & whether or not they are eaten directly as they occur in nature, all give an idea as to that country’s level of civilization & taste. In anthropological terms, eating habits comprise a cultural complex. In other words, the act of eating is a combination of several different cultural features. The kitchen is an indication of civilization. Generally we can characterize societies who do not use agricultural products & eat mostly meat & game as primitive. The Turks have made various types of food at various stages of civilization & each stage of civilization has had its effect on today’s eating habits.

In generally, we observe the following characteristics in Turkish foods:
•Nomadism & the agricultural economic structure have affected Turkish food.
•Foods exhibit variety according to our country’s geographical regions.
•Foods generally exhibit differentiation according to families’ socioeconomic level.
•The variety of foods is indicative of reciprocal influence with other cultures.
•Our cuisine is influenced by our religious structure, norms & values.
•Eating habits display a certain degree of differentiation according to gender.

One can only conclude that the evolution of this glorious Cuisine was not an accident. Similar to other grand Cuisines of the world, it is a result of the combination of three key elements. A nurturing environment is irreplaceable. Turey is known for an abundance & diversity of foodstuff due to its rich flora, fauna & regional differentiation. The legacy of an Imperial Kitchen is inescapable. Hundreds of cooks specializing in different types of dishes, all eager to please the royal palate, no doubt had their influence in perfecting the Cuisine as we know it today. The Palace Kitchen, supported by a complex social organization, a vibrant urban life, specialization of labour, trade & total control of the Spice Road, reflected the culmination of wealth & the flourishing of culture in the capital of a mighty Empire. The influence of the longevity of social organization should not be taken lightly either. Time is of the essence; as Ibn’i Haldun wrote, “the religion of the King, in time, becomes that of the People”, which also holds for the King’s food. Thus, the reign of the Ottoman Dynasty during 600 years & a seamless cultural transition into the present day of modern Turkiye, led to the evolution of a grand Cuisine through differentiation, refinement & perfection of dishes, as well as their sequence & combination of the meals.

It is quite rare that all the three conditions above are met, as they are in the French, the Chinese & the Turkish Cuisine. The Turkish Cuisine has the extra privilege of being at the cross-roads of the Far-East & the Mediterranean, which mirrors a long & complex history of Turkish migration from the steppes of Central Asia (where they mingled with the Chinese) to Europe (where they exerted influence all the way to Vienna).

The Turkish State of Anatolia is a millenium old & so, naturally, is the Cuisine

Eggplant stuffed with bulgur pilaf (Serves 4)

4 medium eggplant
1 1/2 cup bulgur (uncooked)
1 large onion
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves + 3 cardamom seeds, ground
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ras-el-hanout (Morrocan spices)
2 cups vegetable stock
3 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
3 tbsp sliced olives or raisins (or both)
Fresh mint (or cilantro)

Halve the eggplants & bake them until soft. Scoop the flesh out & dice it.
In a pan on medium heat, saute the onion in olive oil. Add spices & bulgur & mix well.
Gradually add the vegetable stock and cook until it has been absorbed.
Mix bulgur with pine nuts, olives (or/& raisins), eggplant flesh & chopped mint (or cilantro).
Stuff eggplants shell & put back in the oven until heated through.

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