Turkish Cuisine A talk given by Gülçin Kadiköy

A talk given by Gülçin Kadiköy to Living in Turkey group on Wednesday 23 February 2011

A gourmet English professor once told me that the world had three major cuisines:

  1. Chinese cuisine which influenced Far East cooking;
  2. Turkish cuisine which influenced central Asia, India, The Middle East, the Balkans and
  3. Italian cuisine which influenced southern and western Europe.

Being young at the time and not very interested in cooking I did not pay much attention to what I was told.  But as the years went by I discovered through experience that there was much truth in what she had said.

The Turkish food eaten within the borders of present day Turkey has many roots.  Turkic peoples who migrated from central Asia brought with them the typical food of nomads.  Food was prepared ready for the road.  This included noodles dried and kept in bags, dried fruits and vegetables, dried meat such as pastirma marinated with spices to keep it longer.  (Pastirma comes from the word bastir which means to press.)

People had to adjust themselves to the climate and local weather.  Turkic people were cattle farmers – sheep and goats.  They were the first to domesticate the horse.  They were always on the move in order to find food.  They had to be practical.  So when they settled down temporarily they slaughtered an animal, cut it into pieces and put a sword through it to grill it on over the fire.  This is the origin of şiş kebab.  They also put their shields on the fire to make nan bread.  When the nomads finally settled in Asia Minor they were introduced to new flavours.  They were good at mixing the food of different cultures and creating new tastes.

Present day Turkey is a huge country with five different climatic regions.  Every region has its own specialities.  I come from Istanbul where the most delicate and refined food is prepared.  It was mostly invented in Topkapi Palace where the food was prepared for 4,000 people daily.  Etiquette dictated that the sultan had his meals on his own to prevent others seeing any weak behaviour.

In the Marmara region there is a very rich variety.  Vegetables are the most popular food.  If cooked with olive oil they are eaten cold.  If cooked with meat and butter they are eaten warm.  Fish is cooked in several ways known as meze such as frying, grilling or steaming and cooked with vegetables in olive oil (place).  Rakı is usually drunk with fish meze.

A typical menu:

  1. vegetables cooked with meat
  2. pilav, compote, lemonade
  3. vegetables cooked in olive oil

The Black Sea region is well known for its fish dishes, börek and corn bread; dried food, cereal and kebabs are popular in Central Anatolia; kebabs, cheeses of various kinds in Eastern Anatolia;  meat dishes, cereals with an Arab influence in South East Turkey;  herbs, fish, dishes all cooked with olive oil, even pilav, in the Aegean region; fish and vegetables in the Mediterranean.  Börek and mantı are popular and pilav and yoghurt are eaten almost every day. Pilav has over one hundred varieties.

Gülçin Kadıkoy


Recipes from Gülçin Kadiköy


Cut 4 aubergines into small pieces and fry in hazelnut oil.  Drain.  Put small amount of oil in a saucepan and add the contents of a tin of tomatoes, with salt and sugar, lots of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes (pul biber) then mix with the aubergine.  Mix in 2 to 3 spoonfuls of yoghurt.  Garnish with chopped green pepper and serve.

Yeşil Fasulya (Green beans)

Peel 2 onions and 1 tomato and place on top of 1.5 kg beans, topped and tailed.

Add ½ glass olive oil and 1 glass of water, 10 sugar cubes, some salt, and a second tomato.  Cook on slow gas for 50-60 minutes.

Pilav  (rice with chicken)

Soak 2 x cups of baldo rice in  4 cups of hot water mixed with 1 teaspoon salt for 1 hour.  Fry 1 large finely chopped onion in butter together with a handful of currants and 2 tbs pine nuts until brown.  Wash rice thoroughly and drain, put into saucepan and stir fry for 10 minutes.  Add dessert spoonfuls of black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, all spice and 2 tsp dried herbs, and a teaspoon sugar.  Cover with 4 cups of water and cook for 12 minutes.  Add chicken pieces fried in butter and blend into the rice.

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