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[Turkish Cuisine: From Yesterday To Today]


With its centuries long history Turkish society has a rich culinary culture. Extensive history of Turkish migration from the steppes of Central Asia has bestowed upon Turkish cuisine a rich selection of dishes. Wood coal fire, copper saucepan, onion and lamb meat are the main elements of the culinary culture.

The variety of dishes that make up the cuisine is remarkably intensive. For example, only in the Black Sea region, the number of meals which are prepared from corn exceeds twenty. Everybody knows the variety of meals with anchovy. Turkish cuisine also has many specialties and variations of meals prepared with eggplant. Eggplant is the main ingredient of several meals, like salad, kebab, braised eggplant, Sultan’s delight, which is lamb stew served on mashed eggplant. Kayseri is famous with its, twenty different kinds of pastramis. It is possible to give many examples like these foods in terms of variety.

In Anatolia, meals are prepared by using three main ingredients, vegetables, meat and pastry. All of these ingredients have been used for centuries. Using a variety of ingredients in the kitchen is an indicator of civilization. Culinary culture of the societies which do not utilize vegetables and instead only fed with meat can be considered as primitive. Using the diversity of foodstuff from past to the present led to the evolution of a grand cuisine through differentiation, the refinement and perfection of dishes.

Variety of meals prepared in the traditional Turkish cuisine was collected in twelve main groups in a book named “Melceü't-tabbahin” which was published in 1844. This book contained soups, pastries and boreks (filled pastries), kebabs and stews, stuffed vegetables, pilafs, vegetable stews, milk puddings and dried fruits compotes. Salads, pickles and pre-coffee sweets were also included.

Nourishing habits in our country show dissimilarities in every region, in every province even in every village. If you pay a visit to Turkey, keep this in mind and be sure to taste different flavors wherever you go

Turkish cuisine has undergone radical changes until today. In the ancient times, kitchens were usually located outside the house. Fly proof food cupboards with wire screening (meat safe) were used instead of the refrigerators. Olive oiled and meat meals were kept in this cupboard, daily consumption amounts of olives and cheeses were taken into vessels from the tins and barrels and were stored in these meat safes.

Cooker was also another kitchen appliance which had undergone a change. Cooker which was formerly used with wood fire like tandoor, brazier, and kitchen stoves, later replaced by gas burner which is also called blowtorch. Pokers, metal bar or rod used in stirring the fire of coals, and shovel for lifting and throwing coal were found near the cooker.

Formerly, double handled blades were used to mince meat, armed ground meat machines were started to be used in the rich mansions. Later, this machine was used as a preferred kitchen appliance in the houses.

Dough pans, pasteboards and rolling pins were the common kitchen utensils in almost every Turkish house, where the pastries were among the favorite food. Today, only the rolling pin is used in the houses.

Cellar was an integrated part of the kitchen. During the Ottoman period, in the mansions there were two cellars; the coarse cellar and the fine cellar. Onion, garlic, bar hangs for dried vegetables and fruits, earthenware jars for olive oil, sugar, honey and pickles, storeroom with drawers for the legumes, barrels, bottles, earthenware jugs and flour storerooms were contained in the coarse cellar. In the fine cellar, all sorts of kitchen utensils like bowls, jars for jams were stored. It was men’s duty to make shopping.

Another change was related with the meals. In the old times, Turks used to have two meals a day, in the forenoon and the dinner at the sunset. The meals were eaten mostly on the low tables which were set near the cooker in the kitchen, and in the mansions and the rich houses there were separate places for men and women. The kitchen was located in the women’s section and the meals were transferred to male’s section through a shelved cupboard which was called a revolving cupboard. After the Administrative Reforms, when tables started to appear in the houses, the large kitchens were used as dining rooms.

The most important period in the Turkish kitchen is probably the Ramadan. The breaking of the Ramadan fast which is the evening meal during Ramadan, meal before dawn during Ramadan and then the perpetrations for the feast comes. During the Ramadan which is also known as the Sultan of the eleven months, two meals are eaten, as the evening meal and the meal before dawn. During the Ottoman period, the varieties of the foods were increased for the public, in the palace and in the soup kitchen for the poor. Flat bread which is called pide is the specific bread of Ramadan and gullac which is made of starch wafers filled with wallnuts in milky syrup and rose water is the sweet speciality of Ramadan. Soup is preferred as a starter. Evening meal menu almost always include a soup.

During Ramadan, people usually woke up for the meal before dawn, by the drum and folkloric songs of the district’s watchman. This tradition still continues today. For the meal before dawn, on the contrary to the evening meals, light dishes and simple foods were preferred.

Before the feast, boreks, desserts, baklavas were cooked in trays. In addition to these, meat and olive oiled meals, syrups and sherbets were also prepared beforehand. Later such sort of foods were started to be sold in the stores. Today, in the rural areas traditional kitchen systems can still be encountered with in some villages although they are rare, whereas, the urban kitchens are considerably modern.