Neighboring Cuisines on Ottoman Lands
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Neighboring Cuisines on Ottoman Lands

The Ottoman Empire was notable for it’s multicultural structure, both in terms of population and political structure. The various peoples with their different cultures who lived within the political borders of the Empire lived under the principle of the continuity of the state. But this attitude was not an obstacle to the survival of their own cultures.

This unique model of government which allowed such a cultural freedom brought with it the initiative to maintain one’s cultural identity. Thanks to this policy of cultural autonomy maintained by the state without oppression, we see the cultural life of people living within the empire continuing to the present day. However, here we must also note that living on the same lands under the same official identity, the various cultures over time came to share more and more common points and increasingly resemble each other. This resemblance, with the exception of religion and the elements it brought with it, is a natural result of cultural assimilation. Visible in language, music, clothing and cuisine, this cultural assimilation is a common phenomenon in societies united under a common official identity.

Actually, the cultural elements mentioned here are not elements that can be determined and changed by political and social conditions, to be accepted  and adopted. Without a doubt, the influences of nature (geography and climate), environment and social structure (behaviors, preferences) are of greater importance in the emergency of this culture.

Addressed within this context, there were two different cuisines within the Ottoman Empire. One of these is the cuisine which was shaped under the influence of the capitol. This cuisine, though shaped by the palace and its environs, was also always influenced by a yet older cuisine, and was in a state of cultural interaction with other cultures. The other is the cuisines of the various peoples living within the borders of the Empire, which are directly related to the surrounding cultures and environment. The natural flora and animal products of a region are the natural ingredients of the area’s cuisine. Thus one may find the same repertoire of dishes among all the peoples living in the region. The fundamental differences distinguishing the cuisines of these peoples are the influences of taste and religious factors upon their foods. Keşkek (a thick porridge of whole wheat berries and meat) for example, is a food found throughout nearly all of Anatolia. Whether one group makes this dish at weddings and another at funerals, and yet another at festivals, has to do with their socio-cultural character. Of course the ingredients used are another influence on differences between foods. For example, that Christians avoid this dish (because it contains meat) during fast days; and Muslims do not use pork in its preparation are not coincidental; they are the result of determining cultural factors on that groups cuisine.

These similarities food cultures of Ottoman peoples is a phenomenon present among many other peoples around the globe. Of course the great extent of the Ottoman lands, the cultural richness of the peoples living on these lands and the extreme wealth of available ingredients make the Ottoman cuisines exceptional. Within the context of all these characteristics, we will attempt to address the main features of the cuisines of these peoples who once lived within the borders of the Empire, most of whom are now neighbors of modern Turkey. Just as a great many of these peoples maintain social ties with Turkey, some became Turkish citizens upon the founding of the Republic. Consequently these food cultures have become part of Turkish cuisine as a whole.

Most of the dishes included here may be found in various parts of Turkey, by the same name. Even when the names of the dishes are different (because of different languages), they are very similar because of similar cooking techniques and cultural features. These common features, seen in many dishes, may vary according to details of preparation, serving or occasions for which they are prepared. Despite this some of them still have the same name. Here I present a few such dishes.

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