The essence of Istanbul’s cuisine lies in its Ottoman past. We say “Oh that is very Ottoman" when we spoon a delicious eggplant purée and braised lamb.
We refer to the food as “very Ottoman“ because it is an Ottoman classic. At the empire’s most flourishing days, the sultans employed some 1300 cooks in the ceramic –domed kitchens of Topkapi Palace, each assigned for his entire career to cooking a single type of dish.
Today, Istanbul’s cooking combines the best of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It relies heavily on the freshest vegetables, fragrant olive oil, grilling and the flavours of many ingredients. Combined to this Mediterranean sensibility are Middle Eastern notes–lamb, rice, dried fruits, grape leaves and yogurt. The spicing of Istanbul food too is Middle Eastern: cinnamon and saffron appear in savoury dishes, mildly spicy Urfa and Maras peppers are set out on tables as salt and pepper are abroad. Our cuisine also relies on seafood from a simple grilled Blue fish to rice-stuffed musells and spicy octopus salad.
Turkish food is not complicated cooking, it is about getting simple cooking absolutely right. We delight in every detail of the preparation, in every stage of its development.
With its magical minarets and bazaars, traffic and grit, and glitzy Eurasian high life, Istanbul is a hallucinatory experience. The richness of its cuisine contributes to the thrill. While there is no shortage of transnational dining, its worth seeking out traditional Turkish cuisine at the establishements we will suggest to you. Istanbul with literally a restaurant at every turn is a real culinary treat and a snackers paradise. Once in Istanbul we will also suggest you the best restaurants as well as the typical ones where you can eat mezes and drink raki...
Istanbul… An almighty city for which wars were made and millions of lives were lost through thousands of years… A huge metropolis connecting continents, different cultures and religions; being home to eleven million people and one of the greatest business and cultural center of the region…
Istanbul is both the nearest European city to Asia and the nearest Asian city to Europe. It has been a merciful shelter to people since 3000 B.C. and the great capital of Byzantium and Ottoman Empires. An irresistible beauty with its precious Bosphorus, unique historical inheritances adorning its silhouette, and of course its hospitable people…
No corner of Istanbul is like any other. Even districts that stand right next to one another are very different, from their houses to their shops, and their streets to their traders. You can find everything in the world that you might be looking for and more in Istanbul, where people from all walks of life live together in a tremendous hustle and bustle: The mystery of the East and the practicality of the West. In local markets one can find a wide range of peppers, honey, varieties of local cheeses, dried spiced beef, sausages, braised beef, an astonishing variety of medicinal herbs, different teas, and even herbs and charms to ward off the evil eye which are to be found in every Turkish home. The city of Istanbul itself is one great big bazaar!
Food in the Harem -Leyla Saz
The allowances given by the sultans to their wives came in small silk bags which contained small leather purses. The allowances of the head kalfas (servants) was sent in purses of a white fabric known as “hasse,” and these were inside their own jeweled boxes. Young girls entrusted their money to “kesedars,” the old retired kalfas without a master, who lived in a building alongside the harem set aside for them. These allowances were placed in small pouches bearing the names of their owners, and stored in silver inlaid, jeweled wooden barrel-shaped boxes. The palace concubines used their saved allowances to buy State (or Treasury) bonds.
The harem received a monthly allowance of sugar, roasted and ground coffee, candles, soap, salt and pepper. The allowances for the members of the Sultan’s family went to each of them individually. In addition, the young princesses each received white bread, simit, pide, white cheese made especially for the palace and kaymak (clotted cream) every morning. The kaymak was brought in a silver pan, the bread and other foods in leather chests, on the locked lid of which her name was worked in silver or inlay. This food, prepared especially for the palace, was of a quality impossible to find outside its bounds. For this reason, former servants who had married and left the palace but still lived in the city and knew the flavor of this food, received baskets of food sent by the princesses or their servants. In return for this gift, they generally sent foods which were not on the Palace’s food lists, which they had prepared, such as stuffed mussels and fish, and olive oil dishes. Before breakfast they were sent snacks and sweets such as preserves, cheese, olives, pastırma, steamed meat, caviar and green salad, set on large trays lined with leather and with a copper cover, with silver around the edge, the whole thing covered with white felt. In the evenings, on separate trays, came the fruits of the season, set in dishes expressly for this purpose.
The extremely varied cuisine was naturally of another league. The pans in which the food was placed were arranged on wooden trays, and over the top was a cotton cover with ties threaded through holes in the edge. In this way the dishes remained hot as they were taken to the Palace, even during the winter months. The covers for the trays were of difference colors according to whom they were gong to; those going to the princesses were of brown or dark navy blue felt, while the kalfas’ were navy blue and those of the concubines were white.
The tray bearers (tablakar) carried the trays into a special entrance of the Palace and passed through the wards of the harem guardsmen. After leaving them on long tables placed in the marble hall of the Harem apartments, the aghas of the harem called the concubines, and immediately left in order that they would be able to enter.
Rather than an apron, the concubines wore large cotton panels tied at the front which were embroidered in gold thread on both ends. The procession of young, delicate girls on high wooden clogs called nalın1, proceeded in an orderly manner through the hall of the Harem.
When the trays were brought, those for the princes and princesses were taken by the çeşnibaşı and handed to the kalfa who would be in attendance during her master’s meal. The trays for the kalfas and girls were distributed by pantry girls charged with this duty.
The palace meals always included a lamb dish, in addition to which there was usually a dish of some sort of fowl as well, böreks with meat or cheese, various vegetable dishes with onions and cubed meat, and traditional pilaf. Pasta was extremely uncommon. The evening meal also included tall pitchers of compote prepared from fresh fruits. As the fruits and preserves were already present in the Harem, they were brought separately.
Prior to the ascent of Sultan Abdülaziz to the throne in 1860, the meals of the princes and princesses were prepared in their own rooms.
In order to prevent crumbs from being scattered around, a floor covering2 embroidered with gold/silver and sequins was laid out over the carpets in one corner of the room. In the center of this floor covering, a low table with six silver legs attached in the middle and extending out towards the edges was set. Over this low table, a covering similar to the first , and on this, a wide silver tray called a sini. Floor pillows called minder were placed around this table.
The sini was laid out with small round condiment plats containing fruits and pickles, a three-sectioned salt cellar containing salt, pepper and cinnamon, and a small pitcher with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Two spoons set on fine muslin napkins indicated where the diners would sit. One of these spoons, with coral handles inlaid with precious stones and a mother of pearl or ivory bowl, was for soup or pilaf, and the other, with a bowl of tortoiseshell and a handle of ivory of pearl, was for the compote. There were no water glasses/pitchers on the sini, as water was generally not drunk during the meal. Sliced bread and hand napkins for wiping the mouth were also laid out in particular places. There were no plates on the sini.
Before the meal, a kalfa would come with a pitcher and basin, and pour water over the prince or princess’s hands. The person whose hands were being washed would be seated on the abovementioned pillows. The Saxony porcelain or silver serving platters were set on trivets, which were of silver if in the palace, or copper/brass if in a mansion. The food was eaten only the thumb, forefinger and second finger of the right hand, with the help of a piece of bread.
It must be noted here that the manner in which people picked up their food was an indication of their breeding and delicacy. This was sometimes performed with such skill that food never even touched the fingertips. It was considered impolite to confuse what food on the serving platter belonged to oneself and to one’s neighbors, put large bites of food into the mouth, or make noise while eating.
After the meal, the pitcher and basin were brought once again and hands were carefully washed with soap. In some mansions, a marble fountain was built into one wall of the dining room. This made it easy for both the servers and the diners to wash their hands before and after the meal.
The very young princes and princesses ate with their mothers at their tables, sometimes joined by the head servant.
Following the meal, coffee was served with a slightly complex utensil. A small silver basin called a stil,carried with three long chains attached at the edges and uniting at the center was filled with hot coals and a few pieces of fresh charcoal. The silver cezve in which the coffee was boiled was placed on this stil in order to stay hot. The stil was brought in by one concubine, who took care that it did not touch the floor. Another concubine brought small coffee cups, which were in silver inlaid or jeweled holders, on a tray covered with a silver-embroidered silk or velvet cloth. A third concubine filled the cups, placed them in their holders and then, holding them from below with the thumb and forefinger, presented them in an elegant manner. The lower part of the holder rested on the end of the forefinger, while the thumb held the upper edge to provide balance.
This was a difficult service to master, requiring considerable skill to avoid knocking over the extremely fragile cups, and make the coffee with no spills or overflows.
Contrary to the belief in the west, the ladies, princess or others in the harem never smoked cigarettes, pipes or nargiles (water pipes). In later times, some of the older kalfas began smoking cigarettes, but in moderation, and took care to do it only in private. Only the head kalfas drank coffee, the concubines did not.
The kalfas, or head servants, received their food presented in the same way as to the princesses. However the kalfas ate all together at a single sini, in one of their rooms. The cloth covers they used were of embroidered silk; the sini was simple. Their silver-edged low table had legs of wood and their platters were of local white porcelain with flower patterns. The kalfas used silver spoons. Every kalfa had a silver bowl containing a delicate hand cloth, a little water and a small piece of soap. They washed their hands in this bowl, changing the water several times. The kalfas were served by new concubines who were assigned to them for training. The concubine’s meals were served in a similar way, but in a hall located on the floor below their masters’ apartments. Every concubine brought her own spoon and towel, and washed her own hands after the meal. The spoons were kept in small pouches to keep them from becoming dusty.
Forks3 came into use in the palace only in 1860; it gradually became a habit and spread to other areas. Today in the palace and other places as well, meals have long been eaten as in other countries, if less ostentatiously.
In the palace, breakfasts sometimes included cold meat (kavurma) and eggs, and always honey, kaymak, cheese and preserves. Lunch was eaten before noon, and in winter at 10:00.
The dinner was brought out two hours before sunset. As they ate so early, there was no regular meal in the evening; instead, they served either fresh fruit according to season, or dried fruit.
(Leyla Saz, Memoires-The Palace Harem in the 19th Century. Istanbul, 2000, pp. 101-10)
1 Nalın is a wooden clog with two extensions under the ball and heel of the foot from 10-12 cm in height. They include a slipper-like portion on the front into which the foot is inserted, made from leather and sometimes adorned with silver. Nalıns may be worn over a bare foot or with another slipper; and worn in the garden, hamam or anywhere necessary. While walking in them is very difficult, awkward and dangerous for those who are not accustomed to them, those who are used to them can run in them without losing them. Because of the simplicity of their construction and the low price, nalın are still in use. Even today examples made of precious wood with mother of pearl and metal inlay, used by the wealthy, are to be found. For the palace, all-silver nalın were even made, but as they are not efficient, they are no longer much seen.
2 The chief reason for laying a cloth over the carpets was cleanliness. A second reason was that it was considered a sin to allow staple foods such as bread and rice to fall to the floor and be crushed underfoot.
3 Among middle class families, the use of forks and individual plates was learned and spread chiefly in boarding and military schools. Young people studying for many years in boarding schools adopted the manners they learned there and brought them home with them. In this way the boarding schools were a helpful influence in changing old Turkish habits to the extent possible. Young people attending boarding schools gradually began to adopt western-style clothing as well. These young people were also influential in adoption of post beds, stools and benches.
With Turkish Flavours you will learn see and feel Istanbul!
As nomads, the Turks were limited by what the land offered and by what could be prepared over a crude open fire, so it's not a stretch to understand how kebaps and köfte became the centerpieces of Turkish cooking. Turkish food today concentrates on simple combinations, few ingredients, and fresh produce.
With access to vast cupboards stocked with ingredients from the four corners of the empire, the palace chefs developed a more complex cuisine. The majority of these recipes, recorded in Arabic script, were regrettably lost in the language reforms. Some Ottoman favorites have made it to us nevertheless, like the hunkar begendi (the sultan was pleased), imam bayildi (the priest fainted; Barbara Cartland might have likened it to a woman's "flower"), and hanim gobegi (lady's navel), a syrupy dessert with a thumbprint in the middle. These have become staples in many run-of-the-mill restaurants, but true Ottoman cuisine is difficult to come by. Several restaurants in Istanbul have researched the palace archives to restore some of those lost delicacies to the modern table, providing a rare opportunity to sample the artistry and intricate combinations of exotic flavors in the world's first fusion food. The Turkish kitchen is always stocked with only the freshest vegetables, the most succulent fruits, the creamiest of cheeses and yogurt and the best cuts of meat. But, unless you're a pro like the chefs to the Sultans, whose lives depended on pleasing the palate of their leader, it takes a lot of creativity to turn such seemingly simple ingredients into dishes fit for a king.
A typical Turkish meal begins with a selection of mezes, or appetizers. These often become a meal in themselves, accompanied by an ample serving of raki, that when taken together, form a recipe for friendship, laughter, and song. The menu of mezes often includes several types of eggplant, called patlican; ezme, a fiery hot salad of red peppers; sigara böregi, fried cheese "cigars"; and dolmalar, anything from peppers or vine leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, cumin, and fresh mint.
The dilemma is whether or not to fill up on these delectables or save room for the kebaps, a national dish whose stature rivals that of pasta in Italy. While izgara means "grilled," the catchall phrase kebap simply put, means "roasted," and denotes an entire class of meats cooked using various methods. Typical kebaps include lamb "shish"; spicy Adana kebap, a spicy narrow sausage made of ground lamb; döner kebap, slices of lamb cooked on a vertical revolving spit; patlican kebap, slices of eggplant and lamb grilled on a skewer; and the artery-clogging Iskender kebap, layers of pide, tomatoes, yogurt, and thinly sliced lamb drenched in melted butter. Turks are equally nationalistic over their köfte, Turkey's answer to the hamburger: flat or round little meatballs served with slices of tomato and whole green chili peppers. But even though signs for kebap houses may mar the view, Turkish citizens are anything but carnivores, preferring instead to fill up on grains and vegetables. Saç kavurma represents a class of casseroles sautéed or roasted in an earthenware dish that, with the help of an ample amount of velvety Turkish olive oil, brings to life the flavors of ingredients like potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, and beef chunks. No self-respecting gourmand should leave Turkey without having had a plate of manti, a meat-filled ravioli, dumpling, or kreplach, adapted to the local palate by adding a garlic-and-yogurt sauce. Pide is yet another interpretation of pizza made up of fluffy oven-baked bread topped with a variety of ingredients and sliced in strips. Lahmacun is another version of the pizza, only this time the bread is as thin as a crepe and lightly covered with chopped onions, lamb, and tomatoes. Picking up some "street food" can be a great diversion, especially in the shelter of some roadside shack where the corn and gozleme -- a freshly made cheese or potato (or whatever) crepe that is the providence of expert rolling pin-wielding village matrons -- are hot off the grill.
Desserts fall into two categories: baklava and milk-based. Baklava, a type of dessert made of thin layers of pastry dough soaked in syrup, is a sugary sweet bomb best enjoyed around teatime, although several varieties are made so light and fluffy that you'll be tempted to top off dinner with a sampling. The milk-based desserts have no eggs or butter and are a guilt-free :)) pick-me-up in the late afternoon hours, although there's no bad time to treat yourself to some creamy sutlac (rice pudding). The sprinkling of pistachio bits is a liberal addition to these and many a Turkish dessert, while comfort food includes the irmik helva, a delicious yet simple family tradition of modestly sweet semolina, pine nuts, milk, and butter.
So what's the deal with Turkish delight? Otherwise known as lokum, this sweet candy is made of cornstarch, nuts, syrup, and an endless variety of flavorings to form a skwooshy tidbit.
In Turkey, tripe soup, called Iskembe Corbasi or Kokorec, is a widely accepted remedy for a hangover.
Rather than the question, "Would you like something to drink?" Turkish hospitality leaps immediately to the "What?"
Tea, called cay (chai) in Turkish, is not so much a national drink as it is a ritual. Boil the water incorrectly and you're in for trouble. Let the tea steep without prior rinsing and you've committed an unforgivable transgression. What's amazing is that so many tea drinkers manage to maintain white teeth, and as you'll see, some don't. Tea is served extremely hot and strong in tiny tulip-shaped glasses, accompanied by exactly two sugar cubes. The size of the glass ensures that the tea gets consumed while hot, and before you slurp your final sip, a new glass will arrive. If you find the tea a bit strong, especially on an empty stomach, request that it be "açik" or "opened," so that the ratio of water to steeped tea is increased.
! is an expression used to wish that a meal be enjoyed. Unlike other cultures the expression is used both before and after a meal.
When anybody wants to express appreciation about food prepared by somebody else he says "Elinize Saglik"! which means" May God give health to your hands". When proposing a toast, the expression "Sherefe" is used which literally means "to your honor".
TYPES OF TURKISH RESTAURANTS
This kind of restaurant is typically Turkish and offers home cooking style food. From a selection of meals, it is possible to go to the window and choose whatever you like.
This is the type of restaurant where you can eat Turkish Kebabs. Kebap is roasted, broiled or grillled meat prepared in many different ways, each of them named by adding a word describing the kebap; doner kebap- is lamb meat roasted on a revolving spit, sish kebap- is cubes of marinated chicken or lamb meat on skewers, patlıcan kebap- meat and eggplant on skewers etc.
DOUGH SPECIALTY SHOPS
Turkish dough specialty shops would be a borekci, pideci, lahmacuncu or a mantıcı.
Borek is a flaky pastry filled with cheese, eggs, vegetables, or minced meat, then fried or baked. Gozleme is a thin dough filled with cheese and parsley and baked on thin iron plate placed in wood or charcoal fire. Pide is a thick dough base filled or covered with any combination of meat, cheese, eggs, etc. It is quite similar to pizza but served with butter and grated cheese. Lahmacun is a thin round dough base covered with a spicy mixture of minced lamb meat, onions, tomatoes and parsley. Manti is a kind of pasta filled with minced lamb meat and served with yogurt and garlic.
In the times before there was fast food, people went to these restaurants to eat tripe or chicken soup either for breakfast or after heavy nights of drinking. These places also sell a special food: Kokorech, roast and grilled lamb intestines, also sold in push carts by peddlers in the streets.
First, a large variety of soguk (cold) meze, (hors d'oeuvres) will be offered on a big tray among which you can choose a few, then you should sample a few sicak (hot) meze before the main dish. The main dish is either fish or meat. After having desserts or fruit, it is time to drink a cup of Turkish coffee.
Soguk meze: White cheese, olives, lakerda (salted bonito), dolma (stuffed vegetables), cacik (chopped cucumbers with yogurt and garlic), piyaz (beans salad), Arnavut cigeri (spiced liver), fava (bean paste), imam bayildi (stuffed eggplant), pilaki (white beans), patlican kizartma (fried eggplant), etc.
Sicak meze: Fried mussels or squid, various kinds of borek, fried potatoes, etc.
Tatlici is a place where they sell different kinds of sweets. There are many of them like baklavaci, muhallebici, dondurmaci, helvaci, etc.
Baklava is thin layers of flaky pastry stuffed with almond paste, walnuts or pistachio nuts in syrup. Its name comes from the shape in which it is cut; lozenge-shapes. Kaymak is thick clotted cream eaten with most sweets as well as on its own with honey or jam. Ashure (Noah's pudding) is made from numerous types of dried fruits and pulses. Sutlac is rice pudding. Kadayif is shredded wheat in syrup. Kestane sekeri is glacé chestnuts. They are generally canned or kept in glass jars in syrup. It is common in Bursa. Lokum (Turkish Delight) is cubes of jelly like or gummy confection flavored with flower or fruit essences and dusted with powdered sugar. Pishmaniye is a sweet made of sugar, flour and butter which resembles flax fibers. Tahin-Pekmez is a mixture of both Tahin, sesame oil and Pekmez, molasses or treacle (heavy syrup obtained from grapes). Helva is a flaky confection of crushed sesame seeds in a base of syrup. Dondurma is ice cream.
The best thing about Istanbul street food now is that different street vendors sell only things that they themselves know and love. Street vendors are usually out at work in the early morning, and they pack up their carts sometime between 6 and 8 P.M., depending on the type of food. Luckily, eating on the street is very much a part of local life. You can’t walk from corner to corner on a street, cross a bridge, enter a square or park without coming across one or more snack shops, street stalls (büfe) or street vendors. Prices are always reasonable on the street.
Doner- Traditionally large, thin layers of lamb and beef are skewered on a giant rod, and roasted vertically over charcoal fire. This version is served inside a pide, a puffy, yeastless, oven-baked bread, with slices of tomato and pickles as garnish with no sauce.
Midye tava ( Fried Mussels) sandwich - Deep-fried mussels dressed with a creamy garlic sauce and served inside a crusty quarter loaf of bread.
Lahmacun Crispy, thin-crust pastries topped with finely minced lamb meat, onions and spices. It's traditionally served with stems of parsley, sumac marinated red onions and a slice of lemon.
İcli Kofte( read Ichli Kofte) Deep fried balls of bulgur wheat filled with minced lamb meat, walnuts, parsley, and red pepper flakes Kavurma Conical hunk of meat conisting chunks of sheep meat (all parts, all kinds) and fat. It's then rendered down on a grill either by itself or with tomatoes and green peppers.
Kofte-meatballs – It is believed that there are 291 different kinds of meatballs (kofte) in Turkey. Make sure to eat at least once this Turkish delicacy.
Islak Burger Inside a burger bun, an unknown mixture of ground meats and spices , flaky, savory pastry. They come in different versions: plain (sade) or stuffed with pieces of cheese (peynirli), mince (kıymalı) or olives (zeytinli) grilled inside a panini press. The whole thing is then basted with deluded tomato paste.
Pogaca, savory pastry. They come in different versions: plain (sade) or stuffed with pieces of cheese (peynirli), mince (kiymali) or olives (zeytinli).
Muhallebici -pudding house This concept of "Muhallebici" is one of those great traditions most Turkish people take for granted. This is where some great traditional Turkish desserts are served until late night (well into the morning) and some simple dishes such as Pilav with roast chicken and chicken noodle soup are also served. “Keskul", a traditional pudding made out of an almond base and milk. It's fragrant, rich and often topped with ground pistachios and coconut, you can also add a scoop of sweet cream ice cream on top.
Midye dolma These filled mussels are perfect any time from dusk till dawn, especially as a stomach liner for all the alcohol when you are out bar-hopping. The mussels are shelled, cooked with a lot of olive oil into a pilav, and then refilled into the shells. The vendor will re-shell them for you and serve so that you can eat them without getting your fingers oily.
Simit – A crisp, ring-shaped, savory roll covered with sesame seeds. Delicious when fresh and preferably washed down with ayran (salty liquid yoghurt).
Acma (read Achma)– This doughnut lookalike is ring-shaped just like the simit, but doesn’t have a crust. It’s soft and oilier, hence less dry.
Corn on the Cob – During the summer, you can find street sellers offering freshly boiled or grilled corn (misir) on the cob. Unless you want it generously sprinkled with salt, make sure to tell the seller in time to go easy on it.
Roasted Chesnuts -Kestane – Street vendors selling corn in the summer, mostly shift to roasted chestnuts in winter time.
Street Stalls (Bufe)
Near busy public transportation hubs or in popular (tourist) areas, you’ll find plenty of small kiosks on street corners. These bufes typically sell cigarettes, phone-cards and non-alcoholic cold drinks in cans or small bottles, but most of them also sell inexpensive, tasteful thin roasted sandwiches (tost) and hot dogs (sosisli sandvich). Do try out the kasharlı tost, a sandwich with melted cheese.
Pastry Shops (Borekchi)
These too are excellent places. A borekci is usually a tiny shop, with only a handful of chairs and tables, offering tea, coffee or a small selection of cold drinks and borek for a quick breakfast or lunch.
Borek is a flaky pastry existing of several thin layers. There are different kinds, based on their shape, filling and cooking method. You may want to try out the juicy su boregi (something in between a pastry and a lasagna), peynirli borek (with cheese filling), patatesli borek (with potato filling), ispanaklı borek (with spinach filling) or kiymali borek (filled with minced meat).
Most of these shops also sell pide which is a pita like baked dough with the same filling options as borek.
Kumpir It’s a baked potato, split open and stuffed with butter and cheese, then topped with any and/or all of the following: pickles, sweet corn, corn drenched in spicy tomato sauce, spicy tomato sauce by itself, green olives, black olives, sausage, steamed peas, carrots, mushrooms, Russian salad, mayonnaise, ketchup...
Fish Sandwiches (Balik ekmek)
Fish sandwiches being prepared on a boat. Balik ekmek is another typical Istanbul snack, and pretty tasteful and safe when prepared fresh. It’s pretty straightforward – a grilled or fried fresh fish inside a large piece of bread.
Tulumba - a traditional Turkish dessert also sold by street vendors at touristic locations. The dough is deep fried and then soaked in sugar syrup.
What would a Turkish Breakfast be without cheese?
Visitors to Turkey are usually astonished when they learn that there are about 160 varieties of local cheese( peynir – in Turkish).They come in many shades of pale,from pearly white to creamy to crumbly.
Few cultures feature cheese as a breakfast food so spectacularly as Turkey. When a Turk wakes up, he wants breakfast –even if it is well after noon. Visitors find cheese, olives, tomatoes,cucumbers and eggs laid out on the breakfast table with butter, honey, crusty bread and freshly brewed Turkish tea, this is the way a Turk begins his day.
Apart from breakfast cheese is used in cooking. Several cheeses melt well over pizzas, the unsalted lor is used in a rolled up fried pastry known as Sigara Böregi and in Antakya a local cream cream cheese melts into shredded pastry for a warm dessert known as kunefe.
Turkish tost is the local derivative of a melted cheese sandwhich, compressed using a special waffle iron. Kaser(read kasher)cheese is the preferred choice here.
Some of the rich and rounded ewe’s milk cheeses make the most Turkish accompaniment to the country’s aniseed-based alcoholic drink, raki. Many small dishes are served as starters or with an aperitif and these are called meze and resemble hors d’oeuvres. Ezine and Edirne cheeses are favoured,often with walnuts, with alcoholic drinks. Mushroom caps stuffed and grilled with Kaser cheese make a tasty hot meze.
Popular Turkish Cheese
Beyaz Peynir - ( White cheese) is a general term for the white crumbly ewe’s milk cheese that you will see mostfrequently and which every Turkish housewife has on her table.
It teams up well with black or green olives,wines ,grapes and apples. It is one of the popular cheese to serve with raki and as part of a selection of meze.
Kaser- This is Turkey’s best known and most popular cow’s milk cheese. It resembles a mild or medium Cheddar and they both have the same pale yellow colour and texture and gain their uniqaue flavour after being left on shelves tomature over several months. Taze Kaser comes in commercially produced, vacuum packed rectangular logs but this is not the same as thereal thing which is Eski (old) Kaşer, produced in wheel shaped moulds,mostly around Van and Kars.The cheese seller cuts off as much as you require.The European side of Turkey also makes a Kaser called Trakya Kaser but the flavour is not as rounded as expansive as its Anatolian cousin.
The making of Kashkaval cheese was a Jewish tradition and the Jewish residents of Trakya( European Turkey) were well known for their excellent cheeses. They produced cheese here well into the 1930’s. It is widely believed that the name of this cheese, Kaser , was an adaptation of the word Kashkaval which probably meant “kosher cheese”.
Lor – A soft white ,moist cheese which stays fresh for only a few days. It is often compared to Italian ricotta cheese. The best is made from ewe’s milk. The lack of distinct flavour makes it ideal for cooking or baking.
Tulum – This versatile cheese resembles Cheshire in its slightly mealy taste and crumbly texture. It is perfect withbread or toast also accompanies olives or pickles as an energizing snack.
TURKISH COFFEE, RICH IN FLAVOUR AND TRADITION
"One neither desires coffee nor a coffeehouse. One desires to talk with others, coffee is but an excuse." A Turkish saying.
From the days of the Ottoman Empire through to the present, coffee has played an important role in Turkish lifestyle and culture. The serving and drinking of coffee has had a profound effect on betrothal and gender customs, political and social interaction, prayer, and hospitality traditions throughout the centuries. Although many of the coffee rituals are not prevalent in today's society, coffee has remained an integral part of Turkish culture.
First 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 with the help of over forty assistants, ceremoniously prepared and served coffee for the sultan. Marriage 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. Prospective husbands would judge a woman's merits based on the taste of her coffee. Even today, when a young man's family calls to ask a girl's parents for her hand in marriage, a formal coffee is served even in the most modern households.
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 theatre" in which puppets were the main characters. 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. Istanbul offers many new and delightful cafe-restaurants where friends and family meet to discuss topics of the day over a cup of traditional Turkish coffee.
Derived from the Arabica bean, Turkish coffee is a very fine, powder-like grind. An aromatic spice called cardamom is sometimes added to the coffee while it is being ground. One can also boil whole seeds with the coffee and let them float to the top when served. Turkish coffee has various levels of sweetness ranging from bitter to very sweet. Because sugar is not added to the coffee after it is served, spoons are not needed. As the coffee begins to heat, it begins to foam. A rule of the Turkish coffee ceremony dictates that if the foam is absent from the surface of the coffee, the host loses face. Turkish coffee is served hot from a special coffee pot called a 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 flavour, Turkish coffee remains a favourite today, not only in Turkey, but also among discriminating coffee drinkers around the world.
Turkish coffee is the method of preparing coffee developed by the Turks in the 16th century. It is the only method where the coffee is simmered,rather than brewed.
Just take a sip of coffee,breathe in the invigorating aroma and savour the moment...Life will be better!
THE MEYHANE CULTURE and RAKİ
The meyhane culture tells a great deal about Turkey. Like the country, it offers almost infinite possibilities because it blends the heritage of so many different peoples. It encourages discourse and deepens friendship, but because thefood is brought unbidden by a waiter instead of ordered from the menu, it does not require any action, any decision, any act of choice other than turning away dishes that do not strike one’s fancy. Raki can either evoke determinationor resignation, a desire to rebel or an acceptance of the inevitability of submission.
An evening at the meyhane is centered around raki, but raki never stands alone. It is only one component, albeit the essential one, of a highly stylized ritual. With raki always come meze, small plates of food that appear stealthily, a few at a time. Theoretically, meze are appetizers leading to a main course, but often the main course, like Turkey’s supposedly great destiny, never materializes. No one complains about that because eating meze while sipping raki is such a supreme pleasure in itself. The path is so blissful that the idea of a destination seems somehow sacrilegious.
Raki, the national alcoholic drink of Turks has a high degree alcohol and should not be consumed quickly. Most people drink it by mixing it with water. Colorless rakı turns milky white when mixed with water. Mindful drinkers fill 1/3 of their glass with rakı then add water and finally ice. Ice is never put in the glass first. If rakı is met with ice before water, it crystallizes and the taste changes. Some people drink rakı straight. In addition the rakı should be cold. One sip rakı, one sip water – it softens this strong drink. Rakı goes well with and often inspires good conversation. It is customary to eat meze (various foods served in small plates) while drinking rakı.
Here are some guidelines to observe when drinking rakı: First, wait until everyone has been served their rakı, then join in the toast all together. Try not to raise your glass higher than the rest. Never drink rakı with other liquors – it does not mix well and you may indeed find yourself feeling ill or suffering a terrible hangover the next day. Rakı is not a one-shot-liquor as vodka or tequila..
There is a saying in Turkish that goes something like this: “If you want to know a person, either travel with them or go and drink raki with them”. Use good judgment when choosing whom to drink rakı with as it is quickly intoxicating. When you sit down at a Meyhane, you will first order your drinks and then a waiter will most likely bring a large tray of meze to the table and you can pick and choose which ones you would like. Don’t forget to order some butter with toasted bread as eating them will help you tolerate the alcohol. Usually, main course dishes follow the hot mezes. If you are not sure what to order, look around at the nearby table and point to something you find appealing. If you happen to sit at a table that is already loaded with mezes, send back the ones that you do not want (without touching them of course) so as not to be charged for them on bill.
It is a good idea to finish your meze before ordering any main course as you may very well find that you are full and satisfied with just the meze. If you are ordering fish, go lightly on the meze or you will be too full to enjoy its delicate flavor.
Often there are musical groups performing which will roam throughout the restaurant. If you do not want them to visit your table, tell the owner or manager immediately. If they do come to your table and play for you it is customary to give a tip. You need only tip one of them, but make the tip visible for all to see, so that they don’t keep standing there playing and coercing you into giving even yet another tip.
THE SEPHARDIC CUISINE IN TURKEY
The Sephardic Jews arrived in the Ottoman Empire in 1492. They came from Spain when there was the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish king and queen, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castille decided to make a united Catholic Spain so they ordered all the Jews and Muslims to either convert or leave. About 200.000 Jews were exiled and came to the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Bayezid II received them and was happy with the technology and knowledge they brought. The Jews settled mainly in the Aegean region, Istanbul, Thrace and the Balkans.
Sefarad is the name given to Spain in Hebrew, and as these Spanish Jews came from Sefarad, they called themselves Sephardim, their culture Sephardic. So when we talk about Sephardic cuisine, we are talking about the cuisine of these Spanish Jews, who brought their culinary traditions with them from Spain and Portugal. Some of these people did not come straight from Spain to the Ottoman Empire. There were numerous Jews who came via France, Italy and then of course the Balkans, which already belonged to the Ottomans at the time. It is not so easy to characterize what we call “Sephardic Cuisine” because ever since the 15th century, wherever the Sephardim went, they adapted their cooking to the techniques, tastes and ingredients that they found in the lands to which they migrated, all the while remaining faithful to their ancient cultural traditions and Iberian culinary heritage.
The Jews in the Ottoman Empire lived in their own areas, not because they were pressured to do so but because they preferred to live with the people from the regions they came from. However, as these were not “ghettos”, some amount of interaction was inevitable with the cultures around them and of course mutual borrowing between, Jews, Greeks, Armenians and Muslim Turks occurred naturally. Cooking rules and recipes were passed down from mother to daughter and resulted in a treasury of culinary ideas that continued being transmitted throughout the centuries up to the present day.
Two important factors characterized Sephardic cooking in Turkey: the Spanish heritage and the Turkish culture with additional traditions, flavors and techniques imported from the Greeks, who were very famous for their culinary skills. An interchange of culinary traditions, the borrowing of the tasty from one’s neighbors seemed to be common usage in the days when people socialized with their neighbors. We read a lot of stories of Muslims visiting their Jewish neighbors on their religious holidays and being offered of their traditional dishes and of Jews visiting their Muslim neighbors on their holidays to partake of the delicious sweets and desserts.
ESNAF LOKANTASİ (Trademen's restaurant)
These restaurants don't usually make it onto the must-visit restaurant lists, but these are the kinds of places that keep the Turkish cooking alive. There is a trademen's restaurant in almost every neighborhood that attracts customers from other neighborhoods as well.
There is no definition for a trademen's restaurant; the term is actually an informal name used by and made up by the public. "The working class cannot go home for lunch, but they want to be able to eat food that tastes like it is homemade. The only place most people find this kind of taste is at their neighborhood restaurant. Not only is it cheap but it also offers a warm environment. As you walk in, you are greeted with sincere waiters who immediately remember you. “It is like you are walking into someone's home," In other words, people go to these places solely to eat a meal. They don't go there to see friends or enjoy chit-chat. That kind of enjoyable activity is usually saved for restaurants that people go to in the evening, and that is why those places get more media coverage.
There are so many restaurants in Istanbul that there must be some criteria to define a restaurant as a Trademen's Restaurant.Generally they are narrow and long. Have small glass displays. Serve soup in the morning, generally offering two or three varieties.They buy the freshest vegetables and fruit from the market.They cook fresh dishes every day. Most dishes are prepared by around 11 a.m. Service stops around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. There are no alcoholic beverages The staff knows their customers and often works in the same place for many years Dishes are places on rectangular trays side by side on the counter They generally operate in small places on side streets Some serve up to 30 customers, others up to 200 people They are plain, clean and modest looking. The most original ones are those that never change their decor.
With high nutritional value, even used to feed armies, tarhana is one of the rare millennia-old foodstuffs that are still consumed today.
Perhaps the world’s first dessicated soup, tarhana was invented by Central Asian Turks, inspired by the climate of the geography in which they lived. Its preparation is extremely easy. Just mix the dried (or doughy) mixture with water, add a little oil and tomato sauce, and boil. But of course the process of making tarhana before it reaches our kitchens is another story. Salt, mint and yoghurt are added to wheat flour, which is then cooked in a large cauldron. When it has cooled slightly, a little more wheat flour and some yeast are added and the resulting mixture is kneaded. The mixture is then left to ferment, and largish portions of it are spread out on sheets to dry; later it is strained through a sieve, dried once more, and stored by hanging in gauze bags. All that remains for us is to boil up this tasty tarhana, made by hand by our aunties and grandmothers in the Anatolian towns of Kastamonu, Kahramanmaraş and Uşak especially, and then to consume it with gusto.
‘DAR HANE’ SOUP
No exact information is available concerning the provenance of the name of ‘tarhana’, which was brought to Anatolia and the Middle East by the Seljuk Turks. When I asked Georgia Kofinas, a Greek expert and researcher on traditional Greek cuisine, about tarhana, which is called ‘trhana’ among the Greeks, she said they were equally in the dark. One thing we do know is that tarhana entered Balkan cuisine as well during the Ottoman period. Legends are rife in Turkey concerning the meaning of the word tarhana. One of the most popular is that it derives from ‘dar hane’ (literally, ‘narrow house’, in other words, ‘house of little means’). Legend has it that one day while on a military campaign the Sultan was a guest in the home of a poor peasant. Having little to offer, the resourceful peasant housewife quickly boiled up a soup. Embarrassed at having to make such a meager offering, she said, “‘Dar hane’ soup is all I have to offer you, my liege. May you eat it with appetite!” In time this ‘dar hane’ soup became known as ‘tarhana’. Because it is so easy to make and store, tarhana soon came to head the list of staple nourishments of both settled and nomadic peoples. A product of the summer sun and an abundant harvest, tarhana is served at every meal from breakfast to supper during the remainder of the year. Tarhana also was also a key component of the food rations supplied to the Seljuk and Ottoman imperial armies, and during the Gallipoli campaign in particular it provided the soldiers with the strength they needed.
THE SULTAN’S LOAF
Methods of making tarhana involve adding yoghurt or sour milk to wheat products and then letting the lactic acid work its fermentation. In Turkey, several varieties of tarhana are produced which differ both in their basic ingredients and in the other additives used. When we say ‘wheat products’, we should explain what these are. Tarhana, of which there are different regional varieties, can be made either from coarsely ground wheat from which the husks have been removed, from flour, or from stale bread. Before the invention of the mill, tarhana was made from coarsely ground wheat, or groats. In this method, which is more labor-intensive, the wheat is first pounded into flour in a large mortar with a wooden pestle. The rest of the process is almost the same as that employed today.
Tarhana made from stale bread was known among the Ottomans as ‘Sultan’s tarhana’. In common parlance this variety later came to be known as ‘false tarhana’. As one can imagine, this is a method that was invented so as not to waste stale bread in times of privation. The name ‘Sultan’s tarhana’ originated with the loaves of bread that were made for distribution to the poor from soup kitchens. Because the use of refined white flour entered the Ottoman palace from the West, bread made from it was called ‘Sultan’s loaf’ since it was eaten exclusively by palace residents. But the name continued to be used in the vernacular long after such bread became a common commodity. Consequently, the tarhana made from such bread is also known as ‘Sultan’s tarhana’ and does not indicate tarhana made in the palace. The tarhana consumed in the palace was made from flour and, after it was cooked, was garnished with curls of Turkish ‘kaymak’ or clotted cream.
EVEN WITH MUSHROOMS
Besides the tarhana-making methods described above, there is also Kahramanmaraş tarhana which can either be browned and eaten, prepared like boiled veal and consumed as soup, or nibbled on as a snack in front of the television. This tarhana, which is consumed in a variety of situations, resembles sheets of ‘güllaç’ (a sweet made from starch wafers). ‘Kahramanmaraş tarhana’, which differs from the traditional variety, has somehow never found its way onto the shelves of the big city supermarkets. But it is Kastamonu that is the leading city in Turkey for the making of traditional tarhana, and the ingredients used are prepared here with special care. ‘Aygut’, for example, the top layer of cream on fresh yoghurt, is set aside and dill weed that has gone to seed added to it for special flavor. The people of Kastamonu also add a number of other flavorings such as mint, basil, quince peel, tarragon seed, onions, parsley or beets to the tarhana mixture. Tarhana can be made from corn flour as well. There is even a variety made from Cornelian cherry which is widely regarded as a panacea. The people of Kastamonu, who are known for making wide use of mushrooms in their cuisine, have started selling mushroom tarhana in their local markets today. Mustafa Zeydanlı, who has devoted forty years of his life to Uşak tarhana, has engaged in strenuous efforts to promote tarhana all over Turkey, producing it industrially while nevertheless preserving the traditional methods that he developed with meticulous care. Tarhana has even become a subject of songs and poems in Turkey’s folk culture. Let us therefore conclude our account with Ali Yüce’s poem, ‘Tarhana’: “In the sky a little cloud / Tiny and white / I divided it into forty little pieces / My nurse spread tarhana in the sky / Birds, don’t eat my tarhana / Or I’ll tell my nurse on you.”
CUISINE OF THE CRETAN TURKS
If we were to sum up Cretan cooking in a single phrase, that phrase would be “natural foods,” because it is based on wild greens and olive oil. Cretans tend to be healthy and long-lived, and attribute this to their use of wild greens and olive oil. One could characterize the Cretan table as a “green table,” because there are always greens. They have a saying, “If there are no greens at the table, we don’t sit down.”6
Their meals are well-organized and rich in variety. They love to welcome guests at meals. Cretans do not begin a meal without deferring to the old members of the family, male or female. They buy the best of everything, and say “eat little, but eat well,” and prefer to eat fresh foods. For this reason food is cooked for the day only. Food is never thrown out; even stale bread is oven-dried for use as rusk.
At the meatless olive oil dishes, the local Turks would say “can you have a meal without meat?!” The Cretans haven’t much use for beef, preferring lamb. One of their best known dishes is elbasan tava. They love fish and prepare it in a variety of ways; steamed with onions and tomatoes is a very popular cooking method. They also love various salt-preserved fish. Pilaf is made with olive oil, and their tomato-olive oil pilaf is delicious. There is also a type of pilaf, which resembles perde pilaf (pilaf in yufka) called çullama); this is prepared with simmered chicken and a stuffing style pilaf inside of yufka. They also frequently make fish and flour-based soups.
They make both vegetarian (with olive oil) and meat dolmas; there is no kavurma dolma; and the rice in the stuffing is raw rather than half-cooked. Their stuffed vine leaves and squash flowers are delicious, and are even eaten and served as a snack.
Their love for vegetables and olive oil has given rise to a wide variety of such olive oil dishes including okra with tomatoes, blackeyed peas, green beans, spinach, celeriac and artichokes. The dish known as “Cretan kebab” is made with lamb, artichokes and olive oil. The green Cretan squash (zucchini) is boiled whole and served as a salad; there is also a zucchini and cheese dish with olive oil.
Böreks may be stuffed with spinach, poppy greens, cheese or ground meat. There are also delicious zucchini and çullama böreks, and zucchini fritters (mücver) and fava, a cold appetizer made from dry hulled fava beans, is popular. It is boiled to a thick paste with a onions, allowed to cool and set, then cut into diamonds and topped with a generous amount of olive oil. This is served with salted fish and cucumber and tomato salad.
They prefer milk-based desserts, and make a dish called ıstaka by sautéing flour, sugar and cream. Baked sweets include very good kalburabasma (a cookie pressed against a screen for its pattern, then baked and dipped in syrup), pita with fresh curd, and a dessert made from winter squash.
Women generally make a variety of sherbets and cookies, and make a production of entertaining guests. Various macun (pastes made of herbs and spices) and preserves are served on silver service especially for that purpose. Their quince paste, and mastic, bitter orange and fig jams are famous. Heavy silver macun sets with the seal of the sultan were made in Istanbul and sent to Crete.9 They love fruits, and are especially fond of grapes and figs, and eat cold figs from the refrigerator in the morning before breakfast.
The greens most commonly consumed by the Cretan Turks are wild chicory, wild radish, yellow thistle, fennel, wild asparagus, dock, wild mustard, mallow, black nightshade, poppy and wild amaranth. The greens are gathered fresh and boiled, and served either as a boiled salad or as an olive oil dish. One of the Cretan’s most famous dishes is made from a green called “chipohorta” (kipohorta – garden weed). Various fresh greens are gathered in season and cooked with olive oil, for dishes that smell and taste of nature. Boiled greens are topped with olive oil and lemon. Arugula, parsley, cress and scallions are eaten as salads by themselves, added to other salads for flavor, or served plain to accompany meals. Edible wild plants are very nutritious, with little fat. Though poor in carbohydrates and protein, they are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are also useful from the standpoint of their aromas. They feed man and help maintain health, and at the same time, preserve man’s bond with nature. 1,4,10
Edible wild greens are sold by particular people in certain areas of the bazaars, the “greens bazaar;” and those who sell them are called “otçu” (ot – herb).
These are people whose specialty is recognizing wild herbs, and most