Turkish Culinary Culture in Literature
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Turkish Culinary Culture in Literature

At the top of the list of favorite foods are büryan kebabı (lamb cooked in a pit oven), orman kebabı, şiş kebabı, fısh, roast quail, pigeon and chicken, stuffed chicken, köfte (meatball), roast meat, meat yahni (cooked with onions), boiled meat and other meats or meat dishes. All meat dishes are popular. Some of the popular fowl are quail, partridge, turkey, chicken, pigeon, duck and goose. Red meats include beef, goat, kid, mutton, lamb, camel and rabbit prepared in many different ways. Offal includes kidneys, liver, sheep and lamb head, heart and mountain oysters.

Fish and other sea animals include hamsi (a small anchovy from the Black Sea), horse mackerel, ispari (a fish similar to horse mackerel), gray mullet, turbot, sperm whale, swordfish, wrasse, sea bass, bluefish, red sea bream, tuna, bonito, sardines, goatfish, crocodile, mackerel, and eel. Methods of cooking include yahni (cooked with onions), in rice or bulgur pilaf, steamed, fried, cooked on clay slabs, cooked with olive oil and vegetables, brined, boiled, in crepes with vegetables and cooked with eggs.

Another dish that is on nearly every table is köfte in many varieties. These include bulgur köfte, raw meat and bulgur köfte, köfte in a sour sauce, oven baked köfte, red lentil köfte, köfte roasted on skewers, and more. Most though not all, include meat.

Stuffed vegetables and meats are also an indispensable group of dishes, and include stuffedacur (Armenian cucumber), quince, quail, peppers, tomatoes, apples, summer squash, lamb, cabbage, intestine, eggplant, onions, chicken and vine leaves.

Anatolia has a very rich local plant life, and the geological/climatic conditions which give rise to this also provide the conditions for a rich and varied agriculture. Despite this, our poets mention vegetable dishes less than those made from grains and meats. This is even more the case for  poets who were born and raised in Eastern and Central Anatolia.

The most preferred vegetables include stuffed vine leaves, cabbage and quince, green beans, eggplants, black eyed peas, broad beans, peas, Eremurus or asphodel shoots (çiriş), artichokes, spinach, celeriac, squash of various types, beets, leeks, potatoes, pinto beans, peppers, knotweed, mushrooms, lettuce, chickpeas, turnips, okra and cauliflower. Most of these are prepared with meat. Many of these are mentioned by the poets Sivaslı Ruhsatî and Bayburtlu Celalî.

In addition to flavoring ingredients such as tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, salt, cress, pepper paste and vinegar, a variety of side dishes and garnishes are mentioned in poetry. These include sautéed brains, fenugreek, cacık, nigella, dill, meat broth, caviar, black pepper, cloves, cream, oregano, kisir (a salad made of fine bulgur), red peppers, coriander, cumin, sesame, parsley, mint, fruit leather, various cheeses, bean salad, beans cooked in olive oil, basil, tomato paste, salads of lettuce, radishes, eggs and mixed greens, turmeric, purslane, sumac, cinnamon, pickles, various oils such as poppy and olive oil, and butter), yogurt, ginger, olives and others.

Examples of some of these in poetry include:

Köfteye yahuşur soğanın özü 
(Aleattin Sağ) 

Yarpah dolmasına soğan keyifdür
(Aleattin Sağ)

Şu beş baharattır bizce muteber
Çemen, tarçın, kimyon, sarımsak, biber
(Âşık Ali Çatak)

Kaynatırız hevlücan, acı kök ve karanfil 
(Âşık Reyhanî)

The essence of yahuşur onions in köfte

Onion is the joy of stuffed grape leaves

We esteem these five spices:
Fenugreek, cinnamon, cumin, garlic and pepper

We boil galangal, “bitterroot” and clove

The most common additions to meat and vegetable dishes are onions and tomatoes. There is a preference for sour and garlic flavoring in meat dishes and especially in soups. Salads enrich the meal.

“One area in which sweets and their names do not appear is that of curses. I believe this stems from the unpleasantness of the subject itself.” Sweets serve as a source of pleasure, and have specific functions in societal life. Sweetness is one of the four chief tastes – sweet, sour, salt and bitter.”

Poetry makes it clear that sweets are just as popular as savory dishes. This reflects the characteristic form of Turkish cuisine. Another tendency in Turkish cuisine is the presence of milk and other animal products such as yogurt, cream, eggs etc. The fact that other than butter, few oils are mentioned, is indicative of the regions they live in and their local cultures and means of food production. Generally people prefer their dishes on the oily side.

One aspect of our culture which, along with its name has spread worldwide is yogurt, and it and its derivative, ayran (yogurt thinned with water) appear frequently in poetry. The present of many poems directly about ayran is a good indicator of its importance.

Dried fruits and nuts also appear in poetry: almonds, walnuts, dried mulberries, hazelnuts, pistachios, dates, Russian olive fruits (iğde), chestnuts, coriander [the seeds of which are coated in sugar] and roasted chickpeas.

Fruits are an indisputably important part of meals, not only because of their nutritional qualities, but also their symbolic and esthetic qualities. Konyalı Şem and Ispartalı Seyranî have written valuable works on the subject. Other poets have devoted parts of their works to fruits, and there are even narrative poems devoted to single fruits such as grapes, apricots, melons etc. Nearly all the fruits known in Turkey appear in poetry, not only by their simple names but even particular varieties. To mention just the grape varieties mentioned: altıntas, azezi, beyüzüm, çavuş üzümü, dimnit üzümü, dökülgen, hora, horoz yüreği, hönüsü, kabarcık, karalık , ekşi kara, köfü kara, tosbağa karası, yörük kara, kızıl üzüm, kumla, kuş üzümü, künefi, misket üzümü, muslubey, nebide, övez, parmak üzümü, şam üzümü, sari besni, şehbaz, tilki üzümü / tilki kuyruğu, yerli üzümü.

Today, food is prepared and cooked in kitchens, and refrigerators keep foods from losing their freshness. In the past, foods were preserved by a variety of methods and stored in various places according to need: cellars, pantries, wooden chests, even hung in wells. From poetry we learn about foods, dishes, drinks but also about their storage and preservation, measures and weights used for them, preparation and cooking methods, and the various implements and utensils used in their preparation. The names of utensils that appear in poetry range from familiar everyday items such as cups, plates, spoons, forks, kettles etc. to more obscure terms such as arıstah, aşsüzen, kersen, kıyye, köfün/köfüm, kuşkana, necer, okka, semaver, sitahan, tandır/tennur, tuluk and yayık. 

There is also frequent mention not only of the foods and the implements used to make them, but of the professions associated with each food, such as aşçı (cook), aşçıbaşı (head chef),çırak (apprentice), fırıncı (baker), helvacı (halvah maker), kahveci (coffee maker/seller), kasap (butcher), manav (vegetable and fruit seller), muhallebici (pudding maker), ocakçı(maker of kebabs, “tender of the hearth”), paçacı (seller of trotters and trotter soup), sütçü(milkman), şekerci (candymaker), tatlıcı (sweet maker) and yemişçi (seller of dried fruits and nuts).

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