As with most holidays, one of the main attractions in Turkey is the food. Apart from being delicious (which it is), it takes a unique perspective on the history of a once-great empire. Every dish tells its own story, and makes eating out more of a cultural experience than a way to convert energy.
History of Turkish Cuisine
Turkish cuisine takes most of its cues from the Ottoman Empire. The strength of the Ottoman Empire was its strategic power base, situated at the gateway between east and west. Consequently, the influences felt in the food (not to mention textiles, language, religion, mythology etc) are a mind blowing mixture of Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan flavours.
The Ottomans fused culinary traditions from all corners of their empire – and beyond. Yogurt, an invention from central Asia, is a key ingredient, used to temper the many spices used. It’s one of the commonalities to regional cooking, which actually varies greatly, as anyone with the time and inclination to tour the country properly will discover.
In Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir and the rest of the Aegean region, the flavours of Ottoman court cuisine hold sway. This means a lighter touch when incorporating spices, a preference for rice (rather than bulgur) and a much wider use of seafood.
Regional Cuisine of Turkey
In the Black Sea, Turkish food makes even greater use of weird and wonderful fish. In particular, the Black Sea anchovy is borrowed from the other side of the water, and the cooking of Baltic and Slavic states.
In the south-east they favour kebabs, baklava, and many of the other food we westerners associate more readily with Turkey. Close in proximity to the Greek Islands, the food shares many similarities. This is where to head if you want to spend your holiday lounging around scoffing Mezes. (Read about food in the Southeast)
Further west, olives are everywhere. Olive oil is used to the exclusion of everything else for cooking with heat – perfect for the vegetables, herbs and fish which grow and thrive abundantly in the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean regions.
Turkish cuisine is as wonderful and varied as you would expect from any ancient civilization situated so conveniently equidistant from the soils and waters of all Eurasia. Go there with an open mind and a daring palate, and you won’t come away disappointed.