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Paphlagonian Culinary Culture


As an invaluable source with regard to important details of the region’s culinary culture, I suggest using the book “Karadeniz Bölgesi Yemekleri” by Dr. Nevin Halıcı. It is a book that has to be consulted for important issues such as daily menus, foods and treats for important days, street foods but will extend my presentation unnecessarily. Within my presentation I will list the common dishes generally found in the region and will also present singular examples due to their characteristics. Later, I will talk about the region’s culinary culture over these examples.

Soups: Keşkek soup, Tarhana, Yoghurt soup, Ovmaç soup, Mısır göcesi soup,
Egg dishes: Corn porridge, poached eggs
Meat dishes: Kuyu kebabı, Kuzu dolması
Poultry: Bandırma, Pilaf with chicken
Vegetable dishes: Sarma and dolmalar, Ispıt, Mancar, Beans, Spinach, Fungi, Chickpeas.
Fruit dishes: Meat with quince
Rice dishes: Rice pilaf, Bulgur (cracked wheat) pilaf
Pasta: Noodles, Mantı (a type of ravioli with meat)
Börek and dough based dishes: Haluşka, Gözleme, Saç börekleri, Su böreği
Meat Dishes: Papara
Hamur tatlıları: Baklava, Dolama, Helva, Lokma
Light desserts: Rice Pudding, Noah’s Pudding, Güllaç
Fruit desserts: Pumpkin dessert, Compotes

Paphlagonian Culinary Culture

Bartın, Kastamonu, Sinop, Çankırı and Bolu are locations with a deep rooted urban cultural history successively in the Roman – Byzantine – Seljuq – Ottoman periods. Zonguldak and Karabük are cities of the Republic period and during their rapid development they have received large numbers of immigrants and therefore, have a hybrid cuisine. Safranbolu has been able to maintain its urban culture until recently. When analyzing Bolu cuisine it is observed that in the 20th century it has been redesigned or reinterpreted – maybe with the influence of Mengen -  and therefore, has diverged from  the local.

It is impossible to speak about a palace cuisine in Paphlagonia. In actual fact, Ibn Battuta who travelled to Crimea through Gerede–Safranbolu – Kastamonu – Sinop in the 14th century mentions that he was hosted by Çobanoğlu İbrahim Sultan in Kastamonu and his son Ali Bey in Safranbolu and gave detailed information on the food and ingredients. However, what he relates is more like the exaggerated dishes of a very hospitable urban host rather than a palace cuisine. What he relates coincides with the ceremonial food presentations at urban centers of the region. Two valuable products such as meat and rice come to the fore among the different dishes.

Historically, Ottomans have always had a dual structure. So much so that there were times when there were two cadis (Muslim judge) in their history.  In the case of Safranbolu these were: Medine-i Taraklı Borlu and Yörükan-ı Taraklı Borlu. I want to digress one more time. Although the region south of the Safranbolu - Kastamonu - Sinop alignment passed to the control of the Seljuqs towards the end of the 12th   century, Turcomans were seen in the region long before that. In the 11th century, the army of Alexios Komnenos that was moving from Sinop to Konstantinopolis was attacked by the Turcomans and defeated. Since the region was at the right end tip of Ottoman lands it was used as a lodging area and therefore, the culture brought from the east by Turcomans always remained fresh. The contradictions between the Turcomans and the urban dwellers of the area seriously prevented the mixing of the two cultures.

Urban Culinary Culture

In my opinion, although the urban dweller had a downright Turkish cuisine, they stabilized this far too much in their ceremonial dishes as a result of a minority complex. After the Seljuqs vacated completely the three major cities – Safranbulu, Kastamonu and Çankırı - of the region and the Rums were replaced by Seljuqs, even though they later mixed with the Turcomans to some extent, in private conversations urban minorities claim that they are descendents of Seljuq aristocrats. Although the connection with the Seljuq aristocracy makes sense, except for some dishes of meat with fruit, I have not found any trace of Ottoman cuisine in my research of their cuisine.

Urban dwellers always have two expensive foods at their table. They are: red meat and rice. I would like to share some examples related to red meat consumption thinking that it would be supportive. In the 12th century, the Turcomans sent 24 thousand sheep to the kitchen of Sanjar16. We know that during the Ottoman period, the meat requirement of Istanbul was provided by cattle dealers appointed by force under the control of the palace. The fact that some of the cattle sent to Istanbul vanished at some point on the way during the 16th and 17th centuries necessitated that the palace control the system through the cadi channel. One of the points where the cattle vanished was our area 17.

Urban dwellers had only one main dish:18 A stew made with red meat. And in addition Kuzu dolması (rice pilaf infilled lamb) and kuyu kebabı (lamp roasted in pit) prepared for special occasions. During our spoken history work, I documented that they consumed no other meat other than red meat. They specify particularly that they never consumed chicken on the pretext that it smelled. During our research, one of our sources said that one day hergrandmother put some vegetables and herbs while cooking whole meat but when her husband reacted seriously never attempted to try it again.

In my opinion, meat that is first simply poached in butter and then cooked over low fire with or without onions is being prepared in the region with no change whatsoever for 800 years. I would like to point out something: it would not be wrong to read “whole meat” as “only meat”.

Although sources point out that rice spread in Anatolia in the 16th century during the Safavid period, we read that Ibn Battuta ate bread, meat, pilaf, fat and halva in Taşköprü at the Fahreddin Bek Zawiya when travelling through our region in the 14th century19. It is obvious that the Seljuqs brought rice with them when they came here. During our oral history study, as if they had agreed in advance, all our interviewees said “Rice soup” when we asked about the entrée. Making this soup is as easy as that of whole meat. You put rice in the broth of whole meat and boil it and sprinkle it with chopped parsley. We also know that pilaf also holds an important place and is made with the broth of whole meat. So here is the feast of the urban dweller: rice soup, whole meat and pilaf. This pattern is still maintained with almost no change. In case of a ceremonial dinner, it ends with su böreğiand baklava. With time etli yaprak sarma and still much later, boiled fresh beans “Uzun Bakla”20 dressed with melted butter were added to this pattern.

The urban dweller has put important limits between the Turcomans21 and themselves. One of these is the saying “Bugün Pazar Türkler azar” (Today is market day, Turks go insane) that was used until recently. Documents show that Seljuqs prevented the villagers’ entry to the cities by checks at the fortress gates. Therefore, setting the local regional markets next to cities but outside the forts was an intelligent solution. Although it is a small detail, I found out during oral history studies that one of our sources said that when making dried apples they cut the apple in four while the others cut it in eight. Since then, cutting the apple in four or eight has been my dilemma.


16 Gordlevski (1988),  p.90;  As relayed from Aflaki, at the feast given in honor of  Sultan Veled there was lamb, roosters, game, partridge, wine and sherbet but also Oghuz national dishes and beverages. P. 296.   
17 Suraiya Faroqhi (1993), p. 278.
18 I have not come across information regarding the palace cuisine of either the Çobanoğulları or Çandarlılar in any written sources so far. As the real aim in this research is to read the social structure over culinary culture, I define the generalizations I have made as my own claims.
19 İbn Battuta (2004), p. 441.
20 Or its pickled version that is consumed roasted in winter.
21 Cahen 2000, p. 101, “‘Among  Anatolian Muslims, the name Turk is one  given to migrant Turcomans rather than urban dwellers. For information regarding this see: Tarih-i Selçuk’.”

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