From Nomads to Exotic Gourmet

The Evolution of Turkish Cuisine - Part 3 Dishes From Turkey:

From nomads to exotic gourmet During the Seljuk period, there were two distinct characteristics that need to be considered.  On one hand, the Turkish people began to make the transition from nomadic peoples to a more established culture.  In spite of this, Turkish cuisine, and Turkish dishes were just starting out. Basically, they only ate twice a day, consisting of a morning meal and dinner. The meals were not elaborate, except during Ramadan.  Simple meals of soups, cheese, and bread were eaten early, often at sunrise, and almost always were followed by coffee. During Ramadan, close friends got together with other parents.  This is where the famous Turkish food culture and hospitality was born.  It was almost unthinkable to not invite someone who arrived during mealtime to join the table.

It was in the Anatolian Seljuk and Principalities period where sherbets, made from a wide selection of fruits and either honey or sugar became popular desserts.  At these times, wine production and consumption also became widespread.  Another popular drink was prepared with either wheat or barley and vinegar.

The Birth of Turkish Food Culture in the Early Ottoman Empire

True Turkish dishes and Turkish food culture of the Ottoman Empire began at the time, but it was divided into two parts.  On one hand, the palace kitchens were amazing and elaborate places of great inventions, specialties, and order.  Even the palace was divided into sultan and harem cuisines.  This was a high point up to that time for Turkish dishes.  There were intricate table settings for the sultana and council members, as well as incoming guests.

Palace kitchens were built in the Topkapi Palace by Mehmet the conquerer in the latter part of the fifteenth century.  There were domes, chimneys, and an ornate design to support the amazing organizational structure of palace cuisine.  We should note that this was several centuries before the Italian and French brought structure and organization to the Western culinary world.

It was during the period of Murad II that palace cuisine became institutionalized.  During this time, the name “new palace” or Topkapi palace was granted.

In 1453 Mehmed the Conqueror took Istanbul and brought many changes in the Ottoman palace foods.  An example was the inclusion of a wide variety and quantity of seafood.  Palace life for the Ottomans placed cuisine as very important socially. Dishes from Turkey and Turkish food culture reached a new high point with the entire social activity of enjoying delicious food and drink.  For Ottomans, the cuisine was an important part of palace life. They considered the gathering of sultan, senior officers, and noblemen.

Because of the important social function early Turkish food culture held at the time, there was tremendous competition among the cooks to impress the sultan and his guests with a variety of sumptuous tastes and attractive banquets. This is where Turkish dishes and  Turkish food culture became truly world-class.

Somewhat later, the Ottomans fused various culinary traditions of their realm with influences from Levantine (Arab and Hebrew) cuisines, Egyptian cuisine, Greek cuisine, Balkan cuisine, along with traditional Turkic elements from Central Asia (such as yogurt and pastırma), creating a vast array of specialties.  So this is why a Turkish kitchen is so filled with a vast array of spices, that have come to be known as Turkish seasonings.

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