Turkish Cuisine in Republic Period
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Turkish Cuisine in Republic Period*

Nevin Halıcı*

We have seen in previous seminars that the cuisine of nomad Turks of Central Asia consisted of mantı (dumplings), helva and meat. In the Seljuk period, when they settled in Anatolia, the cuisine developed as new ingredients entered  into the cuisine.  Once they settled, they were exposed to all kinds of ingredients in their immediate surroundings, which they incorporated into their cuisine, enabling the cuisine to prosper. During the Ottoman period, with the addition of the palace cuisine, the cuisine took on a different turn and became even richer. Following the Ottoman period came the Republic period.  

Turkish cuisine has developed more during the second part of the 19th century. This development was also reflected onto the countries that were in close relationships with Turkey. Claudia Roden wrote about the influence of the Ottomans and the dishes they have left behind, such as various types of kebabs, meatball dishes, stuffed and rolled vegetables, dishes with yoghurt, olive oil dishes small cookies, and desserts with syrup, during the fall of the Ottoman Empire.  (An observation of a foreigner).

However the foreign cuisine that was introduced during the reform period, with the opening of hotels such as Pera Palas and Tokatlıyan, started to influence Turkish cuisine as well. The food in restaurants and homes started to include dishes such as bechamel sauces, creme bavaroise, Russian salad. French cuisine was served during private and official banquets.

The influence of foreign cuisines have continued until President Özal’s period. President Özal’s attempt to open Turkey to the outer world, have led to an increase in the fast food chains opening stores in Turkey, and Turkey becoming more global country. In fact it would be better to divide the Republic period as before President Özal and after President Özal.   

Republic period comes right after the period when the Turkish cuisine was at its height. This period is the period when the reform and modernization movements still continues and Ataturk’s reforms are taking place one after the other.  

Throughout the Ottoman period, the best of ingredients were brought to İstanbul from any part of the empire. The lack of some of these food ingredients can be seen in the cuisine as well when the  Ottomans started to loose some land after the wars. Friedrich Unger’s “Dessert Book” written in the old alphabet included two jam recipes made with ginger and pineapple. However these two recipes were not seen in the republic era cookery books as these ingredients were unobtainable. However this was hardly a problem since the rich Anatolian soil and the vast amount of ingredients grown in Anatolia, helped shaped the Turkish cuisine without feeling the lack of such exotic ingredients. On the other hand, people with means always had a chance to obtain these exotic food stuff from abroad.   

One of the most important events of the republic period was the lack of coffee during second World War. Lack of coffee for people who have been used to drinking coffee for centuries were substituting things like chickpea drinks or other hot beverages made from certain seeds. Eventually public got used to drinking tea, and coffee was replaced with tea in social life.  In todays Turkey, altough tea is still the most important drink, a return to coffee can be observed.

Turkish cuisine has been evolving around the palace, mansions and cooks up until the republic period. However palace’s existence has come to an end in the beginning of the republic period, therefore the cuisine of this period is mostly based on  the cooks and the mansions in the Republic period.

When we look at the kitchens of the mansions and households, Turkish cuisine was kept alive with all its glory and abundance during the first several years of the Republic period. The interaction with the international kitchens were not seen in houses as they are seen in the restaurants.  In restaurant and mansion kitchens, the interaction between Turkish and international cuisines are more visible, however over a time period this was also reflected into the households but the effect was not as much.

Today Turkish cuisine is developed and protected in the houses. The kitchen training is a trait that passes from mother to daughter, or from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law. When we look at restaurants and professional cooks; restaurants that stayed open for over a century and served Turkish cuisine such as Konyalı, Hacı Salih, Pandeli, Abdullah Lokantası, Süreyya, Borsa, Urcan, Hacı Abdullah, Hünkar, Karpiç in Ankara, initially have been an important part of the Republic period, but some has closed down. In the interview series done by Atilla Dorsay in 1978, all stated the same fact; they were all worried that Turkish cuisine was going be either lost or become degenerated (The interviews were published in Cumhuriyet newspaper).

One of the most important facts about the Republic period is that education in culinary arts became a part of the curriculum in the public school systems. Starting with the Republic period, the cooks started to train in these public schools as well as directly in the kitchen by working under the chefs, like they used to for many many years.  In the year 1930, Gazi University, Technical and Vocational School for Girls and those educated under school of Raşit Gürel, educated some really talented and well trained cooking instructors. These young girls were trained with the best conditions, the same level as chefs, but they never worked in restaurants as cooks, rather became teachers themselves and worked as instructors at vocational high schools.   

Graduates of these schools have continued to be involved in education by teaching in vocational, technical high schools and various universities.

Vocational schools and universities that teach about tourism started picking up as tourism became more important over the years. Also the famous city of Mengen in Bolu, where all the famous chefs come from since the Ottomans, established a culinary arts college. Although these schools and the private culinary schools that were established later on, give a very valuable education, the syllabus is not enough in teaching the Regional Turkish cuisine.

Another important subject matter is the food writing. In the first few years of the Republic period, the first cookbooks were written by Raşit Gürel, Ekrem Muhittin Yeğen and Necip Ertürk. Muhittin Yeğen wrote a book on İstanbul cuisine in modern Turkish language. Also, after 1945 his books were placed in dowry chest of girls who have reached the marrying age.  

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