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Story and culture of Turkish food

The Turkish Cuisine is a very curious kind for traveler of almost all countries. The variety of dishes, the ways they all come together, and the evident intricacy of each craft offer enough material for life-long study and enjoyment. Whether in a regular home or at a famous restaurant familiar patterns of this rich and diverse cuisine are aways apparent, It is a rare art which satisfıes the senses while reconfınming the higher order of society, community and culture.

Turkey is known for an abundance and diversity of foodstuff due to its rich flora, fauna and regional differentiation. The
Turkish State of Anatolia is a millennium old and so is the cuisine. The reign of the Ottoman Dynasty during 600 years, and a seamess cultural transition into the present day of modern Turkey, led to the evolution of a grand cuisine through differentiation, refinement and perfection of dishes, as well as their sequence and combination of the meals.

It is quite rare that all the three conditions above are met, as they are in the French, the Chinese and the Turkish cuisine. The Turkish cuisine has the extra privilege of being at the crossroads of the Far East and the Mediterranean, which mirrors a long and 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),

All these unique characteristics and history have bestowed upon the Turkish Cuisine a rich and varied numberof dishes, which can be prepaned and combined with other dishes in meals of almost infinite variety, but always in a non-arbitrary way. Anyone who visits Turkey or has had a meal in a Turkish home, regardless of the success of the particular cook, is sure to notice how unique the cuisine is.

Turks cuftivated wheat and used it liberaily in several types of leavened and unleavened breads baked in clay ovens, on the griddle, or buried in ember. “Manti” (dumpling), and “bugra” (attributed to Bugra Khan of Turkistan, the ancestor of “borek” or dough with fıllings), were already among the much-coveted dishes at this time. Stuffing the pasta, as well as all kinds of vegetables, was also common practice, and still is, as evidenced by dozens of different types of “dolma”.

Skewering meat as well as other ways of grilling, later known as varieties of “kebap” and dairy products such as cheeses and yoghurt were convenient and staple foods of the pastoral Turks. They introduced these attitudes and practices to Anatolia in the 11th century. In return they were introduced to rice, the fruits and the vegetables native to the Region, and the hundreds varieties of fish in the three seas surrounding the Anatolian Peninsua. These new and wonderful ingredients were assimilated into the basic Cuisine in the millennia that followed.

Anatolia is a region considered as the “bread basket of the world”, Turkey, even now, is one of the seven sef-sufficient countries in the world for the food industry. In the Eastern Anatolia, you will encounter the rugged, snow-capped mountains where the winters are long and cold and the highlands where the spring season with its rich wild flowers and rushing creeks extends into the long and cool summer. Live stockfarming is prevalent. Butter, yoghurt, cheeses, honey, meat and cereals are the local food. Long winters are best endured with the help of yoghurt soup and meatballs flavored with aromatic herbs found in the mountains, and endless servings of tea.

The lavish Cuisine that is enjoyed in Konya today, with its clay-oven (tandir) kebaps, boreks, meat and vegetable dishes and halva desserts, dates back to the feasts given by Sultan Alaaddin Keykubad in 1237 A.D.

The temperature zone of the Black Sea Coast, well-protected by the high Caucasian Mountains, is abundant with hazelnuts, com and tea. The Black Sea people are fishermen and identify themselves with their ecological companion, the shimmering “hamsi”, a small fish similar to anchovy. There are at least forty different dishes made with hamsi! Many poems, anecdotes and folk dances are inspired by this delicious fish.

The southeastern part of  Turkey is hot and desert-like and offers the greatest variety of kebabs and sweet pastries, Dishes here are spicier compared to all other regions, possibly to retard spoilage in hot weather, or as the navites say, to equalize the heat inside the body to that of the outside!

The culinary center of the country is the Marmara Region which incudes Thrace, with Istanbul as its queen city. This temperate, fertile region boasts a wide vanety of fruits, vegetables, and the most delicately flavored lamb. The vanety of fish that travel the Bosphorus surpasses those in other seas. Bolu, a city on the mountains, supplied the greatest cooks for the Sultan’s Palace, and even now, the best chefs in the country come from Bolu.

Grilled Meats

“Kebap” is another category of food which, like the borek, is typically Turkish dating back to the times when the nomadic Turks learned to grill and roast their meat over their camp fires . Given the numerous types of kebabs, it helps to realize that you categorize them by the way the meat is cooked. The Western World knows the “shish kebab” and the “doner” introduced to them mostly by Greek entrepreneurs, who have a good nose for what will seli! Sis kebab is grilled cubes of skewered meat. Doner kebab is made by stacking alternating layers of ground meat and sliced leg of lamb on a large upright skewer, which i slowly rotated in front of a vertical grills. As the outer layer of the meat is roasted, thin slices are shaved to be served.

Tere are numerous other gnilled kebabs beside those cooked in a clay oven. It should be noted that the unique taste of kebabs are due more to the breeds of sheep and cattle, which are raised in open pastures by loving shepherds, than to special marinades and a way of cooking. There fore, you should stop at a kebab restaurant in Turkey to taste the authentic item. “Kebabci” is by far the most common and the least expensive type of restaurant, ranging from a hole in the wall to large and lavish establishments. Kebab is the traditional Turkish response to fast food that is at the same time not especially bad for you. A generic kebabci will have “lahmacun” (meat pide) and “Adana” (spicy skewered ground meat, named-after the southem city where the the dish was born) , salad greens with red onions and baklava to top it all off. Beyond that the menu will tell you the specialty of the kebabci. The best pan is to seek out the well-known ones and to try the less spicy types if you are not used to kebab. Once you develop a taste for it, you can have in expensive feasts by going to the neighborhood kebabci anywhere in Anatolia.

Mixed grills are likely to include amb chops, “kofte”, or “shish” (seect cubes of meat). The way of preparing ground meat will  be the “kofte”. These are grilled, fried, oven-cooked or boiled, after being mixed with special spices, eggs, and grated onions and carefully shaped into bas, obongs, round or long patties. Another popular dish, inspired by the nomadic Turks who carried spiced, raw meat in their saddles, and known to Europeans as “steak Tartar”, is the raw kofte. Here, it is made of raw, double ground meat, by kneading it with thin bulgur and hot spices vigorousy for a few hours, Then bite-sized patties are made, and served with chiantro, known for its stomachprotecting qualities. Some restaurants specialize only in grilled meats, in which case they are called meat restaurants. The fare will be a constant stream of grilled meats served hot in portions off the grill, until you tell the warter that you are full.

Vegetables

Along with grains, vegetables are also consumed in large quantities in the Turkish diet. The simpest and most basic type of vegetable dish is prepared by slicing a main vegetable such as zucchini or eggplant, combining it with tomatoes, green peppers and onions, and cooking it sowly in butter and its own juices. Since the vegetables that are cultivated in Turkey are truy delicious, a simpe dish like this, eaten with a sizeable chunk of fresh bread, is a satisfying meal for many people . A whole class of vegetables is cooked in olive oil. These dishes would be third in a fıve course meal, folowing the soup and a main course such as rice or borek and vegetable meat, and before dessert and fruit. Practicaly all vegetables, such as fresh string beans, artichokes, root celery, eggplants, pinto beans, or zucchini can be cooked in olive oil, and are typically eaten at room temperature. So they are a staple part of the menu with variations depending on the season. Then there are the fried vegetables, such as eggplant, peppers or zucchinis that are eaten with a tomato or a yoghurt sauce.

Fish and other Sea-Food Four seas (the Black Sea, Marmara Sea, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean) surround the Turkish landscape, and residents of the coastal crties are experts in preparing their fish.

However, the best of the day’s catch is also immediately transported to Ankara, where some of the finest fish restaurants are located, Winter is the premium season for eating fish. That is the time when many species of fish migrate from the Black Sea to the warmer waters and when most fish reach their mature sizes. So, the lack of summer vegetables is compensated by the abundance of fish at this time. Every month has its own preferred fish along, with certain vegetables which complement the taste, For example, the best bonito is eaten with arugula and red onions, blue fish with lettuce, turbot with cos lettuce. Large bonito may be poached with celery root Mackerel is stuffed with chopped onion before grilling, and summer fish, which are younger and drier, will be poached with tomatoes and green peppers, orfried. Bay leaves always accompany both poached and grilled fish.

Grilling fish over charcoal, where the fish juices hit the embers and envelope the fish with the smoke, is perhaps the most delicious way of eating mature fish, since this method brings out the delicate flavor, This is also why the grilled fish and bread sold by vendors right on their boats are so testy. “Hamsi” is the prince of all fish known to Turks, the Black Sea people know forty one ways of making hamsi, including hamsi borek hamsi pilaf and hamsi dessert!

The Real Story of Sweets: Beyond the Baklava

The most well known sweets associated with the Turkish cuisine are the Turkish delight, and the “baklava”, giving the impression that these may be the typical desserts eaten after meals. This is not true. First, the family of desserts is much richer than these two. Secondly, these are not typical desserts as part of a main meal. For example, baklava and its relatives are eaten usually with coffee, as a snack or after a kebab dish. Let us now look at the main categories of sweets in the Turkish cuisine, Seasons by fruits or vice versa .

By far, the most common dessert after a mea is fresh seasonal fruit that acquire their unique taste from an abundance of sun and odfashioned ways of cuftivation and transportation. Spring will start with strawberries, followed by green cherries and apricots. Summer is marked by peaches, watermelons and meons; then, al  kinds of grapes ripen in late summer, followed by green and purple fıgs, plums, apples, pears and quince. Oranges, mandarin oranges, and bananas are among the winter fruits. For most of the spring and summer, fruit is eaten fresh, Later, it may be used fresh or dried, in compotes, or made into jams and preserves. Among the preserves, the unique ones to taste are the quince marmalade, the sour cherry preserve, and the rose preserve (made of rose petal).

The most wonderful contribution of the Turkish cuisine to the family of desserts that can easily be missed by casual explorers, are the milk desserts – 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. When the occasion cals for even a lighter dessert, the milk can also be lomitted; instead, the pudding may be flavored with citrus fruits, such as lemon and orange. The milk desserts include a variety of puddings, ranging from the very light and subtle pudding with rose water to the milk pudding with strands of chicken breast Grain-based desserts include baked pastries, fried yeast dough pastries and the pan-sauteed desserts. The baked pastries can also be referred to as the baklava family. These are paper-thin pastry sheets that are brushed with butter and foded, layered, or rolled after being fılled with ground pistachios, walnuts or heavy cream, and baked. Then syrup is poured over the baked pastries. The various types, such as the sultan, the nightingale’s nest, twisted turban differ according to the amount and placement of nuts, size and shape of the individual pieces, and the dryness of the final product.

The ‘lokma” family is made by frying soft pieces of yeast dough in oil and dipping them in a syrup. Lady’s lips, lady’s navel, vizier finger are fine examples. “Helva” is made by pan-sauteing flour or semolina and pine nuts in butter before adding sugar, milk or water, and briefly cooking until these are absorbed. The preparation of helva is conducive to communal cooking. People are invited for “helva conversations” to pass the long winter nights. The more familiar tahini helva is sold in bloks at a corner grocery shop.  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.

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