A major world cuisine with its vast array of ingredients, cooking and storage methods, traditions and ethnic elements, Turkish cuisine is well deserving of its fame.
Sivas has a special place within Turkish cuisine1, with foods unique to the city itself as well as to its districts and villages. Here we will introduce some of the traditions, customs, foods and sweets of the Sivas region.
Bread is so important to the Turkish people that there is a saying, “The tree’s roots are in the earth, man’s roots are in bread.” The planting, harvesting, and preparation of the many different wheat products is a subject worthy of its own article.
Up until 50 years ago, all households in Sivas made their own bread. Those who ate “market bread” were foreigners in the city, soldiers, boarding school students and merchants in the traveling markets. If local people bought bread from the market, it was considered a mark of poverty; one who had “fallen to the market” was an object of pity.
The flour for a household was obtained in the autumn. In Sivas there are many different types of bread. In addition to normal wheat bread cooked in an oven, on a sac or in a tandır, an oven made from a hole in the ground, there are other types including çörek, anşalı, pağaç, katmer, patatesli, pastırmalı, çökelikli, velibah, pancarlı, gılik, fetil, yağlama, kömbe, kete, kırdök and beksimet/peksimet. In addition to these are the yağlı (oily) bread made in market bakeries and the etli ekmek or meat pide that has grown common within the last thirty years.
Those who made their bread at home used sourdough leavening, and cooked it in a wood oven. Called bide/pide, it lasted several days, and that which was not eaten fresh was strung and dried, to be reconstituted later by sprinkling it with water. Various types of breads were made for variety. Today, there are few in Sivas proper that “eat bread from home;” they buy it from bakeries in the form of loaves and pide. In addition, these ovens produce katmer (a yufka-type bread) and çorek, as well as various pides with meat (etli ekmek), potatoes or cheese. Even though this dish originally came from Konya2, it has its own unique flavor in Sivas. For one kilo of ground meat, four onions and tomatoes, red pepper, spices, a bit of water and green pepper if in seasons; this is enough for six etli ekmek.
Another type is the long, thin lavaş which is cooked in a tandır in Sivas, and mostly eaten with kebab. Other types made mostly in the villages are tandir ekmeği, tandır çöreği and tandır ketesi. To these we should also add the kazan simidi (kettle simit) which is unique to Sivas and sold in the markets, and the no longer made gevrek, which is practically forgotten.
The major type of bread cooked on the sac, or convex griddle, is yufka bread, known locally as yuha. It is made from a simple unleavened dough of flour, water and salt, and rolled out on “dough boards” with a long, thin rolling pin called an oklava. It takes skill to make this bread and bake it on the sac. Rather than being eaten fresh, it is more often dried and stacked, then sprinkled with water to soften when it is to be eaten. Yufka is very thin; another bread that is a bit thicker is known as fetil, and is made for fresh consumption. Yağlama, made by brushing both sides of a fetil with clarified or salted butter, is made on the same days as yufka is being made and is very delicious. Another type of bread baked on the sac is sac ekmeği, which may be made with both leavened and unleavened dough. It is 20 cm wide and 5 cm thick, and cooked on both sides like yufka. It is sometimes cooked only on one side, with egg spread over the top and then held over the fire heating the sac. This is known as “one-faced.” Thus “sac ekmeği,” cooked on both sides and therefore “two-faced,” is also used as a local expression for people displaying this same quality.
Yet other breads prepared on the sac include sac katmeri, çökelekli, pancarlı, patatesli and velibah. These are all thin breads, some topped with greens, potatoes or meat, and can be prepared quickly. “Oklava ola sac ola, evde karnın (misafir de) aç ola.”
Foodstuffs Prepared from Wheat
Bread making is an adventure of mankind in and of itself. When stone age man, not knowing of bread, first tried grains, he almost surely ate them raw, then roasted them on hot stones. The people of Anatolia still dry-roast wheat on a griddle; this is known as “kavurga.” As it is more of a snack in Sivas, there is a saying, “Kavurga doesn’t satisfy hunger, snow doesn’t quench thirst.” One dish that has its roots in Central Asia is kavut, made by grinding dry-roasted wheat and adding fruit or honey sherbet or pekmez (molasses). Mahmut of Kaşgar collected a rhyme from the Central Asian Turks in the 11th century and explained it:
Oğlum, öğüdünü al, bilgisizliğin gider
Kavutu olan ona pekmez katar.
My son, take heed, and do away with your ignorance
He who has kavut, adds pekmez to it
In otherwords, “My son, take heed, distance yourself from the low life. One who has kavut, adds pekmez to it, i.e. An intelligent person takes advice.3”
“Hedik,” made by boiling wheat in water, is also one of the steps in making bulgur. When a child gets his first tooth, a special dish called diş hediği (tooth wheat) is prepared. This consists of boiled wheat, chickpeas and beans, tooped with colored sugar, walnuts, hazelnuts and raisins. This tradition continues, with the belief that it will help the child’s teeth come in more easily.
The most important dish made from wheat is bulgur. The elders used to say, “bulgur is the senior of the home.” In the old days, every household would make enough bulgur to meet its needs for the year. This involved boiling the wheat, spreading it to dry in the sun, picking it over to remove foreign objects and then grinding it in a bulgur mill. This was formerly done in the form of a work party with the neighbors; now bulgur is made commercially. The ground bulgur is put through sieves to separate it into coarse bulgur (used for pilaf) and fine bulgur (used for köfte). The finest grade that comes out during the sieving is düğülcek, almost as fine as flour; this is made into a type of soup very popular during the winter.
Soups are indispensable in Turkish life; they are eaten from infancy until death, and have been a part of Turkish cuisine since our prehistory. The saying “Does one ask a sick person if he’ll have soup?” indicates that soup is sometimes eaten because of curative powers, but soup is a mainstay of the Turkish table. It is served first because it stimulates the appetite and prepares the stomach. And who could refuse a bowl of hot soup on a cold day? Thus for some, the definition of happiness is “a hot bowl of soup, a body free of pain and a house to live in.” Soups made with meat broth, or the addition of eggs, or garnished with butter add both to the variety and nutrition of a meal. They are as good for the stomach as they are nutritious. This is the reason for the age-old tradition, still practiced today, of eating soup even for breakfast. In our traditional food culture soup may be eaten three times a day. Being more economic than other foods, easily prepared and filling as well, soup is one of the most important elements in Turkish cooking.
The Turkish word for soup, çorba (chorba), is a Turkish corruption of the Persian word shuraba, which in turn is derived shur (salty) and aba (food). The word shurabaj is an Arabicized form of the same word, and in Arabic, means “meat broth.4” The word çorba is used in the Balkans with the same meaning as it has in Turkish, i.e. soup.
A broad variety of soups are made in Anatolia; most of these are based on grains and legumes. Just as one soup may be made in different regions, there are also different soups known by the same name. The word aş is also used in Anatolia for soup. Sivas has more different soups than any other province of Anatolia. They are:
Peskütan çorbası, keş çorbası, pancar çorbası (made with a wild green), kesme çorbası (also known as hamur çorbası/bacaklı çorba – hand cut noodle soup), toyga çorbası, tarhana çorbası (from tarhana made with cracked wheat and yogurt), urumeli (from tarhana made from flour and yogurt), katıklı çorba, ayran çorbası (yogurt soup), kavurma herlesi (flour soup), mercimek herlesi (flour soup with lentils), mercimek çorbası (lentil), bulgur çorbası (bulgur), düğülcek çorbası (bulgur flour), pirinç çorbası (rice soup), şehriye çorbası (vermicelli or orzo soup), patates çorbası (potato soup), şalgam çorbası (turnip soup), madımak çorbası (knotweed soup). Because they are like thick soups, we can also include kelecoş, sübüra and ekmekaşı.
Düğülcek çorbası is such a favorite memory of older people that the Sivas poet Hilmi Atacan included it in one of his poems. Unfortunately most young people have never even heard of it, let alone tasted it.
Turkish cuisine throughout Anatolia is based on lamb/mutton, and this feature shows up in the cooking of Sivas as well. Beef is mostly used in the making of sucuk and pastırma. The proverb, “A bit of meat, a warm table” shows the importance of meat in the Turkish diet, and on special occasions especially, care was taken to provide a variety of meat dishes. In Sivas as in other areas, meat dishes comprise some of the more unique examples of our culinary culture. The main meat dishes cooked with the bone in are pehli, sebzeli et (meat with vegetables) and soğanlı et (meat with onions). Other meat dishes are Sivas kebabı, tas kebabı and sac kebabı, yahni with onions, white beans with meat (yahni), tripe yahni, simmered dishes of ground meat alone and with potatoes, spinach, wild greens, and pickled chard stems),stuffed vine leaves, stuffed cabbage, stuffed onions, stuffed pepper, eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini and other vegetables, stuffed turnips, stuffed tripe and intestine, Sivas tavası, sauteed tripe, sauteed zucchini, çirli et, meat with grapes, simmered meat, simmered köfte/köfte with bulgur, tadlama, filled köfte, kara köfte andfried köfte (kadınbudu köfte). “Sivas köfte” is a very popular dish made at restaurants and kebab houses, with its own special flavor.
A meatless köfte called mirik köftesi is made with fine bulgur, and after boiling is topped with garlic-infused yogurt and melted butter.
Some of the main vegetable dishes include grated zucchini, sautéed zucchini peels, zucchini with milk, zucchini with raisins/grapes, stuffed/fried zucchini, eggplant dishes, green beans with meat, sautéed green beans with eggs, a dried okra dish made with pieces of meat, oil, onion and unripe prune plums; beet green sarma, cooked pink tomatoes, sauteed and simmered turnips and potatoes with bulgur. There are also many dishes prepared with wild herbs that emerge in the spring. Chief among these is madımak or knotweed, but there are many more including shepherd’s purse, nettles, mallow and others.
There is an expression, “ekmek Hızır, pilav vezir,” meaning roughly “Bread is the wayshower, pilaf is the vizier.” Some of the local pilafs include bulgur pilaf, bulgur pilaf with lentils, bezirgan pilaf, rice pilaf, rice pilaf with chickpeas/wedding pilaf, kuskus (similar to couscous) and various other pasta (any starch cooked more or less plain may be considered “pilaf” in Turkish). A little known dish called Şirvan pilavı is a type of rice pilaf with chicken.
There are many different bulgur pilafs cooked with different vegetables, each with its own particular flavor.
“Hamur İşleri” – “Dough Work”
The place of wheat flour and the dough made thereof is clear in the fact that several types of dishes, from baked goods to pasta, which would be classified separately in the west are grouped together in Turkey under a single heading: “Dough work.”
Some of the most notable of the “dough work” in Sivas cuisine include mantı, su böreği, köylü böreği, also known as çullama börek, and, because it is fried on both sides, alt üst böreği (flipped over börek), tel böreği, yufka böreği, yarımca börek, dible and bişi.
Dishes topped with yogurt include sübüra, yapma sübürası (a type of mantı made in a triangular shape) and hıngel (like a ravioli filled with meat or potatoes; unfilled hıngel are also made). When filled with cheese, they are called pirohi.
Out of the four basic flavors – sweet, sour, salty and bitter – sweetness is sensed on the end of the tongue. Sweets hold an important place in Turkish traditional cuisine, not only because they taste good but because of their high caloric value. On special occasions in Sivas sweet dishes appropriate to the season are always included in the meal, because a meal with out a sweet is considered to be deficient. The traditional sweets of Sivas include those made with yufka, other baked goods, halvahs, and those made with milk, eggs and fruits. The main types of sweets made in Sivas are:
Baklava (various types), hurma, tava hurması, sarığı burma (“turban baklava”), Kırım baklavası (Crimean baklava), dilber dudağı (“sweetheart’s lips”), kadayıf, halli börek, yufka böreği tatlısı, helva, hasuda, karaş, paluza (pelte), pestil kızartması (fried fruit leather), incir tatlısı (stuffed figs), kayısı tatlısı (stuffed apricots), bademiye, ballı börek (börek with honey), sütlü (sütlaç – rice pudding), aşure (Noah’s puding)and güllaç (thin round sheets made from eggwhite and starch which are cooked on a griddle, then soaked in hot sweetened milk and filled with various nuts or fruits; a specialty of Ramadan).
Here we describe three sweets that are unique to the Sivas region: hurma, karaş and kelle tatlısı (from the Zara district).
500 gr clarified salted butter
3 T yogurt
50 gr ash water or ½ t soda
3 c sugar
1 c water
¼ t citric acid
200 gr crushed walnuts, if desired
First make the syrup by boiling together the sugar, water and citric acid. Set aside and allow to cool.
Melt the butter. For this sweet to be at its best, you should use clarified butter, i.e. butter that has been slowly heated until the solids settle and it no longer foams. Allow the butter to cool, then add the yogurt, egg, ash water or soda, and enough flour to make a medium dough. Mix the dough with the fingertips.
Take egg-sized pieces of the dough or a little smaller, flatten and roll over a coarse sieve to give a pattern, then roll loosely to give a “date” shape, whence the name of this sweet. (If you are making them walnuts, lay down some chopped walnuts and press the dough onto them.) Arrange on a baking sheet and bake at medium heat till brown. Remove from the oven, let cool for a minute or two, then put into the syrup and allow them to soak it in.
Karaş (Kara aş/Garaş)
This is prepared from the purple fruits of karamuk, (Berberis crataegina, a type of barberry) a plant that grows wild in the high mountain meadows6.
500 gr fresh or dried karamuk
250 g sugar
100 g seedless raisins
100 gr hazelnuts (see below)
100 gr ground walnuts
½ c wheat starch
Simmer the raisins in enough water to cover, till they are soft and plump.
Grind 80 gr of the hazelnuts and reserve the rest.
Wash the karamuk, then boil in 1 ½ lt water until they have begun to disintigrate. Pass through a sieve to remove the seeds. To the puree, add the sugar; this mixture should now be about 1 liter, as some is lost in the boiling and straining. Add the raisins and the ground hazelnuts, and cook over medium heat. Dissolve the wheat starch in a little water and add, stirring constantly. Add the 20 gr of whole hazelnuts. When it reaches the consistency of a thick pudding, remove from heat and pour into serving bowls. Decorate the top with ground walnuts7.
This lightly sweet dessert, which is deep purple in color, may also be made with morello cherries, but as karamuk berries have their own unique flavor, they are preferred. Karaş, a taste of the mountain meadows, is a unique dish in our culinary culture, and should not be forgotten.
Kelle tatlısı (Zara)
This dessert is called “kelle” (head) because it is brought to the table whole in its dish. When cut it is quite a sight, with its baklava-like exterior and kadayıf-like interior filled with hazelnuts, walnuts, raisins etc., and well deserves the esteem it receives. In the old days, this was a special dessert made for guests of high standing, and was served with other special dishes. Here is how to make this original dessert8:
10 egg yolks
Wheat flour to make a stiff dough
1 pinch of salt
250 gr shelled hazelnuts
150 gr almonds
150 gr walnuts
200 gr besni raisins (a large golden raisin with the seeds in)
200 gr seedless raisins
50 gr dried currants
2 t ground cinnamon
Scant ¼ t each of cloves, cumin and ginger
1/8 t allspice
For the baklava dough:
1 c milk
1 c water
½ c olive oil
500 gr butter
For the syrup:
5 c sugar
2 lt water
¼ t citric acid
Roast the hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts, set aside.
Mix the egg yolks with a pinch of salt and enough flour to make a stiff noodle dough. Take a piece, roll very thin with an oklava (a long thin rolling pin), then cut into very thin strips. The strips should be slightly thicker than thin vermicelli. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a spoon of vegetable oil and very little salt, to keep the noodles from sticking together. Add the noodles and cook till al dente, then strain. Heat several tablespoons of butter and mix with the noodles. Add the nuts, raisins and spices, and mix with the noodles.
Combine the sugar, water and citric acid, and boil to make a thick syrup. Mix some of this into the noodle mixture, reserving some to put over the finished dish, and heat for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
For the baklava dough, mix the ingredients with enough flour to make a dough softer than normal bread dough. Knead well, then divide into 12 balls and let rest. With the oklava, roll out thin into yufka. (Note: This is a skill that must be learned by someone who knows how to roll yufka/phyllo; this is not the dish to learn on!)
Butter the inside of a deep pot, and lay 11 sheets of the yufka into the pot, buttering each with clarified butter, so that the edges hang over the edge of the pot. Put the prepared filling into the phyllo. Place the 12th layer over the top. This is clled the “duvak.” Cut off the extra yufka at the edge, and brush butter over the top. Bake at 200 degrees C for 45 minutes; if the top begins to brown too much cover with foil. In the old days, as homes did not have ovens, the top of the pot was closed and sealed with dough, and then the dish was set into the embers of a grill. When done, invert onto a serving dish and drizzle on the remaining syrup. It is now ready to serve.
Among all these dishes from Sivas, most of which we have been obliged by space to provide only the names, are certain dishes of a local character that should also be mentioned. These are toyga, tutmaç, kuymak oğmaç, uğut, keşkek makarnama (homemade noodles), haşıl, cücük, mücirim (mücver – zucchini pancakes)and çığırtma.
Most of the dishes made in the various districts and villages of Sivas province are on the whole, the same as those made in Sivas proper. In addition to these are dishes unique to a particular area, or even known only by particular families. These should all be researched and kept from being forgotten. For this reason it is very fortunate that one such study has been published which deals with the foods of Divriği9, a place with a very rich culinary culture, table manners and traditions. Similar studies should be conducted on the foods and drinks of other areas as well. Below is a list of some of the districts of Sivas province and foods for which they are known:
Divriği: Alatlı pilav, aşlak kavurması, babikko, yufka böreği with ground meat, stuffed quince/apple with milk and grape molasses.
Gürün: "Ekşili köfte", "salatalık dolması"...
Kangal: For this district, famous for its milk and yogurt products – kışlık yoğurt (winter yogurt), butter, cheese, dried kaymak (clotted cream), tomas (a food made from yogurt and clotted cream), as well as “kuyruk köftesi, made from sheep’s tail.
Suşehri: Keşkek (a dish of hulled wheat cooked with meat and pounded), kete (a type of bread).
Şarkışla: Arabaşı, üzümlü et (meat with raisins), stuffed squash flowers.
Yıldızeli: Foods of Circassians and Chechens who have settled in the region of Yavu10: kürzünüş, gılnış (hınkel – a ravioli-like dish), şipsi paste, velibah.