Caucasian Cuisine
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Food Culture and Foods of The Northern Caucasus

Nimet Berkok Toygar-Kâmil Toygar

When the Turks came to Anatolia, their culture mixed with the cultures of these lands, and with the contributions of Islam and the groups they met here, a new culture was created. Especially when the Empire grew the Turks, coming to dominate peoples of differing nationalities, religions and cultures, they created a magnificent Imperial cuisine. Considered one of the world’s richest cuisines, together with those of France and China, this cuisine owes its richness to this harmonious synthesis of cultures.

Many of our fellow citizens who migrated to Anatolia en masse from the Northern Caucasus still live in their original areas of settlement in many provinces, and their cuisine holds an important place in Turkish cuisine as a whole.

It is well known by those who are studying Turkish gastronomy that many ingredients and dishes of Circassian origin hold an important place in our food culture. This has been documented in many cookbooks and encyclopedias published in our country. The best known of these are Circassian pepper, Circassian cheese, Circassian pastry and Circassian chicken, among others. Circassian chicken in particular is included nearly every Turkish cookbook, and is served as a very special dish in restaurants.

It is worthwhile to provide a bit of background information on the North Caucasian peoples.  Mostly subsisting by agriculture and animal husbandry, the peoples of the North Caucasus were forced as a result of politics to leave their homeland in the mid 19th century. They scattered and settled in many different lands.

Inevitably, the emigration brought about changes in cultural identity, and at the very least, hindered its development in its original environment.

In addition, the great migrations from the country to urban centers beginning in the 1950s paved the way for great changes in traditional cultural values.

This situation influenced the Northern Caucasian peoples as well, leading to the loss or at least alteration of many elements of their folk culture.

We may take comfort in the fact that their foods and drinks are among the least affected material elements of their folk culture. It must be due to nostalgia that local culinary elements have survived for such a long time.

Today there are more Circassians living outside the Caucasus than in it. Most of them reside in Turkey, but there are also populations in Israel, Jordan, Syuria, Germany and America.

In many parts of our country, those of Caucasian extraction continue to maintain their culture in a dynamic manner. Following is some information about North Caucasian culinary culture.

Characteristics of North Caucasian Cuisine as it Exists in Turkey

1. North Caucasian cuisine consists largely of agricultural and animal products.

2. Generally, the foods exhibit differences according to the regions the North Caucasian peoples lived in.

3. The variety and differences among the Caucasian tribes is to a large extent reflected in their culinary culture.

4. Within their historical development, foods exhibit differences according to social structure as well.

5. Societies’ customs and traditions as well as their religious beliefs are reflected in their culinary culture.

6. North Caucasian cuisine varies according to special days and ceremonies.

7. As a result of their forced migration and resettlement, the culinary culture of North Caucasian peoples has affected the cultures of the peoples where they settled, as well as adopted some elements of local culture.

8. The transformation from village to city life and, partially, from an agrarian to an industrial life, has changed their culinary culture.

9. The rapid advances in education, communication and technology have allowed them to become acquainted with the cuisines of other cultures.

10. The entrance of the female population in to the workforce has affected traditional food culture.

11. There is a very high proportion of foods made from grain, milk and milk products.

North Caucasian Culinary Culture: Customs, Traditions and Beliefs

At meals, everyone takes a seat at the table and is served according to his/her position.

Traditionally, men, women and children sat separately at meals. Meals did not begin until the elders started eating.

If there was a guest at the grownups or young people’s table, the meal would begin with a word from the host. If there was a third person at the meal (not a family member), he would say a blessing and the host would begin eating first. If the guest’s age was not much different from the rest at the meal, the guest would say the blessing.

Young people would not leave their food or get up from the meal before the guest and elders.

It was considered impolite for one who chanced to arrive during a meal to turn it down; or to leave the house at dinner time, as was to take a seat at the meal uninvited or to feign too much reluctance.

Among the North Caucasians, a meal was much more than simply a means to fill the stomach. It also served as a means of education; everybody learned things at meals, developed the skills of being always alert, listening, thinking quickly, expressing oneself in front of a group of people, speaking well etc., as well as acquired good habits. Meals also afforded the opportunity for better acquaintance, mixing, and the development and strengthening of friendships. According to the character of the people at the meal, it also provided an environment where one could become informed about and discuss various world, national and societal issues. Of course sustenance and a pleasant time were also natural functions of meals.

Whether it was a picnic, a meal in a special dining room or in a home, meals among the Northern Caucasians are generally eaten in large groups. One of their proverbs says “A meal eaten together is sweet.” They love and prefer to eat together and create various occasions to do so.

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