Posted with permission from LuxuryWeb.com
Turkey's cuisine has its origins in the 6th century AD, when the Turks - who were nomads in Central Asia - mainly relied on a diet consisting of meat, dairy products and a few fruits and vegetables brought from their camps fetched.
During the 11th century, Turkoman nomads settled in Anatolia, also known as the Eastern Country, along with Greeks, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and other ethnic groups of the region. Meanwhile, most of the Seljuk Turks settled in Palestine, the Red Sea coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, Isfahan, and the area near modern Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 1453, the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II, now known as Istanbul, marked the end of the Byzantine Empire and the beginning of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire as the preeminent Muslim power in the region. The Ottomans expanded their empire, conquering the Balkans and parts of Eastern Europe, reaching west to the outskirts of Vienna and south to the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.
The Ottoman Turks placed great emphasis on luxurious and extravagant food. The kitchens of Topkapi, the palace of the sultan, were located under ten domes. By the mid-16th century, these kitchens employed more than 1,200 people and served up to 8,000 people daily. The kitchen staff was organized with specialist chefs, each assigned a specific job under the direction of a chef, similar to a modern chef.
This organizational system predates Escoffier's kitchen setup at the Savoy in London and laid the foundation for the way modern restaurant kitchens function today, with individuals specializing in specific tasks such as making salads, preparing soup, grilling, roasting, poaching, making sauce and desserts. preparation. .
Turkish cuisine was influenced by various culinary traditions from the countries surrounding the Ottoman Empire, as well as travelers along the Silk Road. Istanbul served as the starting and ending point of one of the side branches of the Silk Road. When Mustapha Kemal, also known as Atatürk or the Father of Turkey, established the modern Republic of Turkey, the local cuisine began to incorporate influences from even more distant ethnic groups. Yet the classic dishes I grew up with still hold a special place in the kitchens of the average Turkish family.
Turkish cuisine is incredibly diverse, healthy and regional, although relatively lesser known compared to other world cuisines. In the Eastern Mediterranean, it is still highly revered today, as it was in the past.
Let's start with my favorite breakfast dish, Menemen.
Menemen is a dish originating from Anatolia, prepared with fresh eggs, tomatoes, onions and a combination of hot green pepper and red pepper (paprika). During my visit to a hotel in Ürgüp, Cappadocia in 2011, the chef prepared Menemen every morning. They roasted skinless sweet tomatoes, thinly sliced red and white onions, spring onion rings, and red pepper flakes in a mixture of butter and olive oil until the vegetables were almost a paste.
Then the eggs were cracked on top and the vegetable sauce was placed under the broiler to harden the eggs. Sometimes crumbled white cheese, similar to feta or ricotta salad, was mixed in with the vegetables.
You can also enjoy this dish in the evening, but with a slightly different preparation. The eggs are beaten and the cooked vegetables are mixed in, less tomatoes and more mixture of onion and hot pepper. The dish is then cooked like a frittata and sprinkled with dried oregano.
Street food is ubiquitous in Turkey, a tradition that dates back to a time when nomads could not predict where or when their next meal would be. In larger cities, street vendors offer a variety of street food, such as simit (thin round bread covered with toasted sesame or poppy seeds), roasted chestnuts in winter, roasted corn in summer and autumn, freshly peeled almonds or walnuts preserved in ice water, dondurma (ice cream in a cone), caramels on a stick and many other delicacies. Even pickles (turşu) are sold from carts.
There are counters specializing in takeaway options including ice cream, baklava or kadaif pastries, doner kebab or shish kebab with salad in pita bread, ayran (diluted yogurt drink), kokoreç (charcoal grilled and heavily seasoned lamb offal wrapped in giblets on skewers ) and many other snacks. In Turkey, wherever you are, you will never go hungry.
Restaurants in Turkey often specialize in certain types of food and are usually categorized by the food they serve. Kebapçı, restaurants specializing in roast beef, lamb or goat, can be found everywhere. In Istanbul, along the banks of the Bosphorus or under the Galata Bridge, there are Balıkçı restaurants that offer fish and seafood prepared in countless varieties.
There are also restaurants that mainly serve cooked vegetables or vegetable dishes poached in oil. Many of these vegetables are filled with a mixture of rice, finely chopped onion, garlic, parsley or dill, tomato juice and spices. Tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, peppers, vine or cabbage leaves are stuffed with rice mixture and baked in the oven.
Mussels and large squid or cuttlefish are also stuffed with rice and an aromatic mixture and baked in the oven.
Delicious stews and stewed vegetables
In some cases, the vegetables are filled with a different mixture of minced meat, rice, chopped onions and dill. They are cooked in a combination of water and olive oil until all the liquid is absorbed, leaving only olive oil with a little vegetable juice. The remaining liquid is then made into an egg-lemon sauce in which the vegetables are bathed.
One particular vegetable dish that stands out to me is Imam Bayildi, which translates to "The priest fainted". It tastes even better the second or third day after baking, although it's pretty hard to resist eating it right away.
Another vegetable stew I love is Türlü or Briam, the Turkish version of ratatouille. Made in the summer in a clay pot, it consists of diced fresh vegetables, grated tomatoes, onions and aromatic herbs. This dish will delight vegetarians and omnivores alike, as a main dish or as a side dish.
Among the delicious Ottoman specialties, Hünkar Beğendi or Sultan's delight stands out. It consists of pieces of lamb or beef in a mild herb-tomato sauce, seasoned with sweet paprika and served on roasted skinless aubergines mixed with béchamel sauce. The resulting dish is truly fit for royalty.
The origin of this dish is shrouded in mystery, with an apocryphal story suggesting it was the result of a relationship between Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, and Sultan Abdulaziz. However, since the meat is very similar to traditional goulash, I believe it is a Central European transplant adapted with available meats and flavors found in Turkish kitchens. Regardless, it remains a favorite specialty found in many restaurants in larger cities, much to the delight of traditionalists.
As I said, whether you wander in a city, village or countryside in Turkey, you will never go hungry. The culinary landscape offers a multitude of tastes, from street food to specialty restaurants, with a variety of tastes and preferences.
Turkish cuisine is a treasure trove of flavors and combines the influences of different cultures and regions. It reflects the rich history and vibrant culinary heritage of the Turkish people. Whether enjoying a traditional breakfast dish like Menemen, indulging in the delights of street food, or exploring the depths of Ottoman specialties, Turkey's diverse and delicious cuisine is sure to please everyone's palate.
So if you get the chance to experience Turkish cuisine firsthand, I highly recommend embarking on a culinary adventure that will leave you with a deep appreciation for the flavours, traditions and hospitality that define Turkish cuisine.
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