It is custom to have three “sit-down meals” a day. Breakfast or “kahvalti” (literally “foundation for coffee”), typically consists of bread, feta cheese, black olives and tea. Many work places have lunch served as a contractual fringe benefit. Dinner starts when all the family members get together and share the events of the day at the table. It is inconceivable for the household members to eat alone, raid the refrigerator, or eat on the “go”, while others are at home. The menu consists of three or more types of dishes that are eaten sequentially accompanied by salad. In summer, dinner is served at about eight. Close relatives, best friends or neighbors may join meals on a “walk-in” basis. Others are invited ahead of time as elaborate preparations are expected. The menu depends on whether alcoholic drinks will be served or not. In the latter case, the guests will find the meze spread ready on the table, frequently set up either in the garden or on the balcony. The main course is served several hours later. Otherwise, the dinner starts with soup, followed by the meat and vegetable main course, accompanied by the salad. Then the olive-oil dishes such as the dolmas are served, followed by dessert and fruit. While the table is cleared, the guests retire to the living room to have a tea and Turkish coffee.
Weddings, circumcision ceremonies, and holidays are celebrated with feasts. At a wedding feast in Konya, a seven course meal is served to the guests. The “sit-down meal” starts with a soup, followed by pilaf and roast meat, meat dolma, and saffron rice – a traditional wedding dessert. Börek is served before the second dessert, which is typically the semolina helva. The meal ends with okra cooked with tomatoes, onions, and butter with lots of lemon juice. This wedding feast is typical of Anatolia, with slight regional variations. The morning after the wedding the groom’s family sends trays of baklava to the bride’s family.
During the holidays, people are expected to pay short visits to each and every friend within the city visits which are immediately reciprocated. Three or four days are spent going from house to house, so enough food needs to be prepared and put aside to last the duration of the visits. Deaths are also occasions for cooking and sharing food. In this case, neighbors prepare and send dishes to the bereaved household for three days after the death.
By now it should be clear that the concept of having a “pot-luck” at someone’s house is entirely foreign to the Turks. The responsibility of supplying all the food squarely belongs to the host who expects to be treated in the same way in return.
Nutritional habits are shaped according to the prevalent cultural – geographical – ecological – economic characteristics and features and the historical process. The richness of variety Turkish cuisine possesses is due to several factors. In summary, the variety of products offered by the lands of Asia and Anatolia, interaction with numerous different cultures over a long historical process, the new tastes developed in the palace kitchens of the Seljuk and Ottoman empires have all played a part in shaping the new character of our culinary culture.
Turkish Cuisine, which in general consists of sauced dishes prepared with cereals, various vegetables and some meat, soups, cold dishes cooked with olive oil, pastry dishes and dishes made from wild vegetation has also produced a series of health foods such as pekmez, yogurt, bulgur etc.
Traditional Turkish Cuisine
Turkish cuisine is seen as of the three richest and oldest cooking traditions of the world together with French and Chinese cooking. The diversity of Turkish cuisine reflects the cultures of the populations living in regions highly dissimilar in geography and climate. This has led to an abundance of ingredients and cooking styles. The Southeast and the East are known for the dishes based on cracked wheat and meat with hot spices, the Aegean, for olive oil dishes enhanced with local herbs, the Black Sea region, for varieties of anchovy and collard, and Istanbul is a world unto itself with, among others, eggplant dishes which come in no less then 41 sorts.
Early historical documents show that the basic structure of the Turkish Cuisine was already established during the Nomadic Period and in the first settled Turkish States of Asia. Culinary attitudes towards meat, dairy, vegetables and grains that characterized this early period still make up the core of Turkish Cuisine . Turks cultivated wheat and used it liberally 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 Turkestan, the ancestor of “börek” or dough with fillings), were already among the much-coveted dishes at this time.
The Turkish tribes that once took the long trek from Asia to Anatolia had carried with much success this rich culture which stemmed from the Far and which they had enriched with the materials gathered from every country along their pathway to their new homeland cradling so many civilisations. It was quite logical that the culinary culture would receive its right place in this process. There were a lot of elements to develop this flexible cultural acquis in the new homeland: The country was first of all encircled by three seas: Black Sea, Aegean Sea and Mediterranean and the two straits (İstanbul strait and Dardanelles) connecting them were offering their unmatched fertility to the squatters while the Anatolia, with the benefit of living all four seasons at the same time was providing fresh vegetables and fruits to the entire country that had the luxury of a springtime in the West, summer in the South and a mild autumn along the Black Sea coast. Don’t we still have the same pleasure? Which encompassed the Anatolia and the European soils of the empire, together with the culinary culture constituting and important component of the former. These conditions have made the Ottoman kitchen one of the three grands of the world.
The Ottoman kitchen was hot merely a space where food was prepared. The place of the table was extremely important in the ingredients used, in the tableware, in the side dishes (types of salads for each different dish), in the beverages and in the breads. The respect of the people for each other was extremely important in this mensal culture. The Ottoman was very careful for making sure that the smell of the food being cooked did not bother, others, since these odours might be disturbing the not-so-well-off neighbours.
The development of the Ottoman cuisine actually began when Murat II ascended to the throne. The Ottoman meals are known to begin always with a broth. Deemed to be healthy foods the broths were concocted with beef or chicken stock, yoghurt, fish stock, to which were added rice, parched wheat, ground minestrone, dried or fresh vegetables and roots. Red meats like mutton, lamb and veal, white ones like fish and fowl were the building blocks of the homemade meals. Some of these meats, seasoned with tomato paste, onions and garlic, were cooked for a long time over a slow fire while the kebabs and meatballs were prepared in pans or grills and consumed together with pastes of local vegetables, pickles, green salads and yoghurt. Eggplant salad, fried potatoes, shish kebab and swirling kebab were definitely brought to the table together with tomatoes and peppers. The fish in fried, grilled, boiled, smoked, baker and steamed forms were among the much appreciated health foods and much sought- after by the gourmet. They were frequently demanded also by the Ottoman emperors. As for the read meats, the kebabs of Maraş, Adana and Urfa origin had later penetrated into the entire country. Such new dishes as pureed eggplant royal, imam’s, choice, priest’s kebab, circassian chicken and lady’s thing had begun to embellish the tables and those that seek the excellence in life had developed a preference for tastier foods. Thus grew the fame of the Ottoman kitchen. The Ottoman had three different types of sweets: pastries, milked custards and fruit desserts plus the baklava. Basic ingredients of the latter were the wafer-thin leaves of dough, butter, sugar and honey together with cream and any of the crushed hazelnuts, walnuts or pistachios. All baklava sorts are oven-baked. Milk custard with rice flour preceded the dessert procession in the special dinner tables as its oven-baked version. The most renowned dessert of the Ottoman tables was, however, the aşure, that we may literally render into decachyle. It was a ceremonial dessert, generally prepared between the tenth and twentieth days of Muharrem, the first month of the lunar year. It is also claimed that this time bracket has to do with the Kerbela incident. Rumour has it that the last meal concocted in the Noah’s Ark at the end of the flood contained forty different ingredients that were the last remnants of the supplies. The same forty ingredients are known to be put into the huge saucepans of the Ottoman houses while verses from Koran were chanted.Another famous desert was a ‘Halva’.The basic ingredients of halvas are flour or semolina, fat, sugar, milk and cream. The Ottoman house used to prepare one of the halva varieties and distribute it to relatives, acquaintances and neighbours when a birth or death occurred in the house, a male went off for military duty, someone returned from pilgrimage, a child began to go to school, upon graduation, during the udolithanies, in the yoghurt festivities (when lambs are weaned) and during saffron celebrations (when the first saffron appears in springtime.)
Kebab” is another category of food which, like the börek, 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 “sis kebab” and the “döner. Sis kebab is grilled cubes of skewered meat. Döner kebab is made by stacking alternating layers of ground meat and sliced leg of lamb on a large upright skewer, which is slowly rotated in front of a vertical grills. As the outer layer of the meat is roasted, thin slices are shaved to be served. There are numerous other grilled 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. A generic kebabci will have “lahmacun” (meat pide) and “Adana” (spicy scewered ground meat, named after the southern city where it was born), salad greens with red onions and baklava to top it all off. Beyond that the menu will tell you the speciality of the kebabci. “Izgara”- mixed grilled meat, it is how main course meat dishes are prepared at a meat restaurant. Mixed grills are likely to include lamb chops, “kõfte,” or “sis” (select cubes of meat). The way of preparing ground meat will be the “köfte.” These are grilled, fried, oven-cooked or boiled, after being mixed with special spices, eggs, and grated onions and carefully shaped into balls, oblongs, round or long patties.
Milk-fed lambs, the most popular source of meat, have a very low yield today. For example Kuzu çevirme (meaning cooking the milk-fed lamb by turning it above fire) which was once upon a time an important ceremony can not be seen anymore. In some regions, meat which was mostly eaten only at the wedding ceremonies or during the Kurban Bayramı (Eid ul-Adha) as etli pilav (pilaf with meat) became a part of the daily diet after the introduction of industrial production. Veal, which was usually shunned, became widespread. However, the main use of meat at cooking is still putting minced meat into vegetable dishes, thus attaining names such as kıymalı fasulye (bean with minced meat) or kıymalı ıspanak (spinach with minced meat which is almost all times served with yoghurt). Alternatively, in coastal towns, cheap fish such as sardines (hamsı) is widespread. Combining meat with vegetables or rice or putting meat in soups or in Turkish salty pastries börek or gözleme is typical.
Along with grains, vegetables are also consumed in large quantities in the Turkish diet. “Dolma” is the generic term for stuffed vegetables, being a derivative of the verb “doldurmak” or “to fill,” it actually means “stuffed” in Turkish. There are two categories of dolmas: those filled with a meat mix or with a rice mix. The latter are cooked in olive oil and eaten at room-temperature. The meat dolma is a main-course dish eaten with a yogurt sauce, and a very frequent one in the average household. Any vegetable which can be filled with or wrapped around these mixes can be used in a dolma, including zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes, cabbage, and grapevine leaves. However, the green pepper dolma with the rice stuffing, has to be the queen of all dolmas. A royal feast to the eye and the palate…
When talking vegetables, it is important to know that the eggplant (or aubergine) has a special place in the Turkish Cuisine. it will have to suffice to mention two eggplant dishes that are a must to taste. In one, the eggplant is split lengthwise and filled with a meat mix. This is a common summer dish, eaten with white rice pilaf. The other one is “Her Majesty’s Favorite,” a delicate formal dish that is not easy to make but well worth trying. The name refers to Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, who fell in love with it on her visit to Sultan Abdülaziz.
A Turkish meal usually starts with a thin soup (çorba). Soups are usually named after their main ingredient, the most common types being lentil, yogurt, or wheat (often mashed) called mercimek çorbası and tarhana çorbası. Delicacy soups are the ones that are usually not the part of the daily diet, like (shkembe) İşkembe soup and paça çorbası, although the latter also used to be consumed as a nutritious winter meal. Before the popularisation of the typical Turkish breakfast, soup was the default morning meal for some people. The most common soups in Turkish cuisine are;
- Buğday aşı/Yoghurt soup/Ayran soup (which can be served hot or cold)
- Domates(Tomato soup)
- Mercimek(Lentil soup)
- Düğün(Wedding soup)
Dolmas and Sarmas
Dolma is a verbal noun of the Turkish verb dolmak “to be stuffed”, and means simply “stuffed thing”. Dolma (pl. dolmas or dolmades) is a family of stuffed vegetable dishes in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and surrounding regions such as Iran and the Caucasus and Central and South Asia.Dolma, strictly speaking, is a stuffed vegetable, that is, a vegetable that is hollowed out and filled with stuffing. This applies to courgette, tomato, pepper, eggplant and the like; stuffed mackerel, squid and mussel are also called “dolma”. Dishes involving wrapping leaves such as vine leaves or cabbage leaves around a filling are called ‘sarma‘ though in many languages, the distinction is usually not made. Sarma is derived from the Turkish verb sarmak which means to wrap. Other variants derive from the Turkish word for ‘leaf’, yaprak.
Zeytinyagli dolma (dolma with olive oil) is the dolma made with vine leaves cooked with olive oil and stuffed with a rice-spice mixture. Vine leaves(“yaprak”) could be filled not only with rice and spices but also with meat and rice, in which case, it is served hot with yogurt etli yaprak sarma.In contemporary Turkey, a wide variety of dolma is prepared. Although it is not possible to give an exhaustive list of dolma recipes, courgette(“kabak”), aubergine(“patlıcan”), tomato(“domates”), pumpkin(“balkabağı”), pepper(“biber”), cabbage(“lahana”) (black or white cabbage), chard(“pazı”) and mussel(“midye”) dolma constitute the most common types.
Bread and Borek
The foundation of Turkish food is, if anything, the dough made of wheat flour. Besides “ekmek” – the ordinary white bread, “pide” – flat bread, “simit” – sesame seed rings, and “manti” – dumplings, a whole family of food, called “börek,” made up of thin sheets of pastry falls into this category The bakers of the Ottoman period believed that after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden Adam, the Patron Saint of Bakers, learned how to make bread from the Archangel Gabriel. Börek is a special-occasion food which requires great skill and patience, unless you have thin sheets of dough already rolled out from your corner grocery store. The sheets are then layered or folded into various shapes before being filled with cheese or meat mixes and baked or fried.
Su böreği, made with boiled yufka/phyllo layers, cheese and parsley, is the most frequently eaten. Çiğ börek (also known as Tatar böreği) is fried and stuffed with minced meat. Kol böreği is another well-known type of börek which takes its name from its shape as with fincan (coffee cup), muska (talisman), Gül böreği (rose) or Sigara böreği (cigarette). Other traditional Turkish böreks include Talaş böreği (phyllo dough filled with vegetables and diced meat), Puf böreği. Laz böreği is a sweet type of börek, widespread in the Black Sea region.Poğaça is the label name for dough based salty pastries. Likewise çörek is another label name used for both sweet and salty pastries.Gözleme is a food typical in rural areas, made of lavash bread or phyllo dough folded around a variety of fillings such as spinach, cheese and parsley, minced meat or potatoes and cooked on a large griddle (traditionally sac).
The serving and consumption of coffee has had a profound effect on betrothal and gender customs, political and social interaction, prayer, and hospitality customs throughout the centuries. Although many of the rituals are not prevalent in today’s society, coffee has remained an integral part of Turkish culture.
Brought to Istanbul in 1555 by two Syrian traders, coffee became known as the “milk of chess players and thinkers”. By the mid-17th century, Turkish coffee became part of elaborate ceremonies involving the Ottoman court. Coffee makers (kahveci usta), with the help of over forty assistants, ceremoniously prepared and served coffee for the sultan. Betrothal customs and gender roles also became defined through coffee rituals. In ancient times, women received intensive training in the harem on the proper technique of preparing Turkish coffee. Perspective husbands would judge a woman‘s merits based on the taste of her coffee.
For both men and women, coffee has been at the center of political and social interaction. During the Ottoman period, women socialized with each other over coffee and sweets. Men socialized in coffee houses to discuss politics and to play backgammon. In the early 16th century, these coffee houses played host to a new form of satirical, political and social criticism called shadow theater of Turkish folklore in which puppets were the main characters (such as Hacivat & Karagoz). Over the years, Turkish coffee houses have become social institutions providing a place to meet and talk.
Today, Turkish coffee houses continue their role in society as a meeting place for both the cultured citizen and the inquisitive traveler. Turkish coffee is served hot from a special coffee pot called “cezve”. Tradition states that after the guest has consumed the coffee and the cup is turned upside down on the saucer and allowed to cool, the hostess then performs a fortune reading from the coffee grounds remaining in the cup. Rich in tradition and flavor, Turkish coffee remains a favorite today
Turkish coffee is made of finely pulverized roasted coffee beans. Roasting duration differ according to taste. Coffee is sold etiher as green, or roasted beans or in pulverized form in small shops called “Kuru Yemişçi” which means a person who sells all kinds of nuts. Dried fruits. Candy bars, bon-bons. Coffee varieties, alcoholic drinks and miscellaneous. In old houses a brass-made hand manupulated coffee mill would be used to pulverize coffee beans. An electrical coffee mill is used instead of brasss-coffee millat present time in many households. Turkish coffee is prepared in 4 ways. “Az Şekerli” means coffee has little sugar about 1/2 teaspon. “Orta Şekerli” means coffee has standart amount of sugar 1 teaspoon. “Çok Şekerli” means coffee has more sugar than enough which is 1 1/2 teaspoons. “Sade Kahve” means black coffee, without sugar. Turkish coffee is served in demitasses made of porcelain. They come in different sizes. However, an average demitasse is equal to 1/4 cup in volume. Coffee is served for guests with bon-bon, candy bar or with “Lokum” (Turkish Delights) or with chocolate bars. It is served usually during midday or following a lunch or dinner. There is an old saying about coffee which goes like this. “Bir fincan kahvenin kırk yıl hatırı vardır” meaning that if one has been offered a demitasse of coffe, he is obliged for forty years to the one who offered the coffe. It means that the person who offers the coffe is to be respected, honoured, and remembered for a long time for the sake of his coffe offering.
Turks evolved their own way of making and drinking the black tea (Çay in Turkish or Camellia Sinensis in Latin), which became a way of life for our culture. Wherever you go in Turkey, tea or coffee will be offered as a sign of friendship and hospitality, anywhere and any time, before or after any meal. The production of tea in Turkey mainly started in the early years of the Republic along the eastern Black Sea Region. Many of the tea plantations are centered around the town of Rize, and from the Georgian border to Trabzon, Arakli, Rize, Karadere and Fatsa (near Ordu), reaching in some places 30 kilometers inland and reaching the height of around 1000 m. Production of Turkish tea is carried out in a campaign of 6 months between May and October which offers the best climate. It’s produced with no chemicals and no chemical additives.
Turkish tea is full-flavored and too strong to be served in large cups thus it’s always offered in little tulip-shaped glasses which you have to hold by the rim to save your fingertips from burning because it’s served boiling hot. You can add sugar in it but no milk, and you can have it either lighter (weaker) or darker (stronger) depending on your taste because Turkish tea is made by pouring some very strong tea into the glass, then cutting it with water to the desired strength. Serious tea-drinker Turks usually go to a coffee & tea house where they serve it with a samovar (Semaver in Turkish) so they can refill their glasses themselves as much as they want.
As other nations have their own way of preparing tea, so do we. You will need two kettles to do the job right, one large and one small. The small one sits on the top of the large one like a lid. If you buy the kettles as a set, they are designed to fit one atop the other. First, you fill the large kettle with water and boil it. Meanwhile, put tea leaves and a little water, enough to wet the teal leaves, into the small kettle. Then put the small kettle on the top of the big kettle, which is already heating. The number of cups you want to serve dictates how much tea leaves you should put into the small kettle, usually, it is about one teaspoon for each cup.
Once the water in the big kettle starts to boil, fill the small kettle with the boiling water from the big kettle. Add cold water to the big kettle, filling it up again. Now, put the two kettles back on the stove, again with the small one on top of the larger one. Wait until the water in the big kettle starts to boil again. By that time, the tea leaves have added their color, aroma, and taste to the water.
As the water in the big kettle boils, your tea is ready to serve. Pour some tea from the small kettle into a cup then fill it up with boiling water from the big kettle. You can adjust the strength of your tea by pouring more or less from the small kettle. Put the kettles back on the stove until you finish drinking your fist cup, then serve the second. Many people drink Turkish tea without adding any sugar. In some parts of eastern Turkey, there is a special sugar called kirtlama. This is a piece of hard sugar people put under their tongues.