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Culinary Culture

Nutritional habits are shaped according to the prevalent cultural - geographical - ecological - economic characteristics and features and the historical process.
When one talks about the Turkish cuisine, the term should be understood as the totality of foods and beverages which provide nutrition to the people living in Turkey, the ways of preparing and preserving them; techniques, equipment and utensils required for this, eating manners and all the practices and beliefs which are developed around this cuisine.

The richness of variety Turkish cuisine possesses is due to several factors. In summary, the variety of products offered by the lands of Asia and Anatolia, interaction with numerous different cultures over a long historical process, the new tastes developed in the palace kitchens of the Seljuk and Ottoman empires have all played a part in shaping the new character of our culinary culture.

Turkish Cuisine, which in general consists of sauced dishes prepared with cereals, various vegetables and some meat, soups, cold dishes cooked with olive oil, pastry dishes and dishes made from wild vegetation has also produced a series of health foods such as pekmez, yogurt, bulgur etc. The eating habits which reflect the tastes changing from one location to the next, gains a new meaning and near - sacredness on special occasions, celebrations and ceremonies.

Turkish Cuisine, while rich in variety and taste-bud friendly, also contains examples which could provide a source for healthy and balanced diets and vegetarian cuisines.

Cooks - Cookery

A cook is defined in the folk tradition as someone who is skillful, capable of cooking delicious food and who has a wide reputation for cleanliness. Cooks generally prepare meals for ceremonies and rituals such as engagements, weddings and funerals.

In conservative regions, the cook is usually a woman and may go by different names, such as yemekçi (food provider), asganaci (a person who feeds others) and keyveni. Dishwashers and assistants help the cook to prepare the food for ceremonies.

The cook informs the person planning to hold a feast of the necessary materials needed for each person. She supervises the amount and the quality of the materials bought for the festivities and gives general advice. She takes charge of the cleaning and preparation of the food, such as meat, vegetables and cereals, and also controls the stoves and cauldrons. She does the cooking as well as serves.

The village of Mengen in the province of Bolu invariably takes pride of place in books about Turkish cooking. It is no exaggeration to say that most professional cooks are from Mengen. A cooks' festival is held annually in the village, and there is also a cookery high school which contributes to the training of even more skilled cooks.

Materials Used For Food and Beverages, Places to Prepare, Eat and Keep Food

Materials for Cooking

In former times, woodburning stoves, tandir (ovens consisting of a clay-lined pit or a large, earthen jar buried in the ground) and kuzine (small, iron, woodburning cooking stoves) were used, and the food was cooked in frying pans and pots made of iron or bronze. Today, however, these have been replaced by stoves that work with electricity or gas. Open stoves are the primitive forms of the fireplaces we use today. Pans are put on tripods and the food cooked over a wood fire.

The tandir is like earthenware well. Wood is burnt inside it and when the smoke dies down, the meat or the food inside the earthenware pan is suspended inside the well. Bread can also be cooked in tandir by putting dough in the pans. In another type of tandir, one side is closed while the other three are left open. There is a lid on the open side. This type is generally used in cooking bread and pastry. The kuzine is a simple kind of stove using wood fire. The smoke from the wood or coal is transferred to the chimney with the help of a pipe. It is a closed system which can also be used in heating. Thus, it is more energy-efficient than open stoves and tandir.

Pans, Pots and Baking Tins

The güveç is earthenware pan which is rarely used. Nowadays, rustproof steel and enameled pans are preferred. On the other hand, tin covered copper pots and frying pans are still used. In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of teflon-coated pans.

The saç is a wide, shallow instrument made of iron. It is generally used on open stoves to cook bread. It is also used to cook thin pastry, bread with meat and savory pastry. After cleaning the surface, it may also be used in cooking saç kebab.

Spoons and ladles made of wood or metal (tin-covered copper or rustproof steel) are used for mixing or serving food. Mallets are used for crushing meat and chops. There are also knives in various shapes for different slicing purposes. Mortars are used for pounding walnuts, sesame and garlic. Hand mills are used for grinding nuts. Electrically operated mixers and other devices are now more frequently seen in kitchens.

Serving Implements

Glass, porcelain and rustproof steel implements take the place of plates and pans made of tin-coated copper. Since food tends to have a high liquid content, the spoon is the preferred item of cutlery for eating. Forks and knives have recently made an appearance in all houses, however. In rural areas people still eat out of the same pan. The serving plates are generally placed on a large tray made of copper called 'sini.' A spoon and if necessary a fork and knife are placed in front of each person. Everyone eats from the serving plate with his own spoon. Soup, meat, vegetable-rice-pastry and dessert are served in order. The sini is placed on a base 30-40 cm high. Everyone washes his hands before and after the meal. In cities, food is served separately in the modern way.

Wooden boxes, earthenware jars, fabric bags, glass jars, bottles, barrels, plastic jars are together used for keeping the food. Various baskets composed of rushes, thin tree stems and wheat stalks are used for carrying vegetables, fruits and keeping dried fruits and vegetables. Metal sini are used instead of tables.


In traditional areas, the place where the food is prepared is known as the kitchen, ocaklik, asevi, asdami etc. Sometimes, bread, pastry or other foods which take longer to prapare are cooked in another place called the tandir, ocak, ocaklik etc.

The kitchen is not used only for cooking. It is also a place where the family eat, sit and sometimes sleep, and where the necessary equipment for cooking and serving is kept.

In cities, the kitchen is a separate part of the house. The family eat in the kitchen if it is large enough, and food is served in a separate section of the living room when there are quests in the house. Even in cities, however, meals can still sometimes be spread out on the floor.

Food and Beverages Eaten at Meals

Until late Ottoman times there were generally two meals in the day, one in late morning and dinner. Today the main meals are breakfast, lunch and dinner. In some regions, one more meal, known as 'yatsilik, uykuluk or yat-geber yemegi,' is added to these, especially in the long winter nights. Another meal is sometimes eaten in the late afternoon, especially on neighbourhood visits.
The main items eaten at breakfast are generally cheese, olives, bread, eggs and jam. At breakfast, where the main beverage is tea, different types of cheese, sausage, tomato, cucumber, pepper and other regional foods may be eaten.
The tradition of eating soup, honey, molasses and clotted cream still continues in some villages. Lunches consist of stews, soup, salads etc. Desserts, meat and food which take a long time to prepare are not eaten.

At dinner, a menu consisting of soup, a main course, salad and dessert is eaten. Since dinner is the only meal at which family members can sit around a table together, it is the richest and most carefully prepared meal of the day.

In the last meal of the day, called 'yatsilik,' appetizers, fruits and nuts are eaten. Although it has largely been replaced by the tea, the drinking of boza (a beverage made of slightly fermented millet) and eating of dried fruit pulps still continue in some regions.

Food and Beverages Peculiar to Special Days

Some foods and beverages, peculiar to special days and which have a symbolic meaning although they take much more time to prepare, are part of Turkish cuisine.
Food peculiar to such special days is prepared communally, known as called 'imece.'

At engagement, wedding and circumcision ceremonies, at Ramadan with its deep religious meaning and other religious and seasonal festivals, food is prepared with more attention, more special assortments are served, and tables are specially decorated. Birth, death and wedding meals can be cited as examples: Friends, relatives and neighbours visit women who have given birth, and bring soup, milk, yogurt and eggs. During 'lo?usa' (women recovering from childbirth) time, guests are served lo?usa sherbet (a non-alcoholic drink made with spices and fruit juices), biscuits, milk and desserts. It is believed that a woman who has given birth must have milk, onion, sherbet, wheat and lentils and must not eat garbanzo or beans nor drink cold water if she wants to have sufficient milk to feed her child.

At weddings, rice, vegetables, beans or garbanzo and fruit juices are served with a main course of meat. In nearly every region, vermicelli and yogurt soups, keskek (pounded wheat with meat), rice and meat are served at wedding meals. Desserts are usually helva, zerde (a gelatinous dessert colored with saffron), rice pudding and baklava.
In addition to these, some other foods are served in the funerals. In some regions, food called 'kazma takirtisi' (pickax clatters) is served to the people who prepare the grave. In the funeral house, food is not cooked for 3-7 days (depending on the region), and neighbors bring food instead. The tradition of cooking flour helva when the body is taken from the house and serving food on the 3rd, 7th, 40th and 52nd days after death still continues.

The Ottoman Cuisine

The Turkish tribes that once took the long trek from Asia to Anatolia had carried with much success this rich culture which stemmed from the Far and which they had enriched with the materials gathered from every country along their pathway to their new homeland cradling so many civilisations. It was quite logical that the culinary culture would receive its right place in this process.

The task in their new homeland was communicated to the newcomers with the sacrosanct order of 'feed the hungry, cloth the poor, rebuild the ruins and increase the population'. Thus have evolved, developed and acquired renown the Ottoman culture.

There were a lot of elements to develop this flexible cultural acquis in the new homeland: The country was first of all encircled by three seas: Black Sea, Aegean Sea and Mediterranean and the two straits (?stanbul strait and Dardanelles) connecting them were offering their unmatched fertility to the squatters while the Anatolia, with the benefit of living all four seasons at the same time was providing fresh vegetables and fruits to the entire country that had the luxury of a springtime in the West, summer in the South and a mild autumn along the Black Sea coast. Don't we still have the same pleasure? Which encompassed the Anatolia and the European soils of the empire, together with the culinary culture constituting and important component of the former?

These conditions have made the Ottoman kitchen one of the three grands of the world.

Of course, this culture is in a continuous process of change due to the major changes in the new conditions. Its chances of being permanent fade out a little more everyday. The human being has little opportunity today to gather around the family table at home. The changing work practices convert the warm meal habits into devouring toasts and sandwiches and restaurants become preferred grounds for dinner parties. The modern medicine takes a somewhat dim view of fatty meals, pasta and pastries, once much appreciated by previous generations and those afraid of overweight lay emphasis on easier meals with the urge of dieting.

Thus the new world's phagotic systems dissociate themselves from the old one under its own rules.
Yet, a careful study of the old system reveals that it had adopted several precautions, in particular in the field of health, and that the ancients had their own yardsticks under the prevailing conditions.

Since our topic is the Ottoman kitchen, let's hear what a wise Ottoman had once said on eating pastas, desserts and sweets around those rich tables:

'Who eats little becomes angel,

Who eats much finds its danger.'

Be careful, dear friends, watch it. The master calligraphers used these sayings to produce artistic inscriptions that embellished the dining room walls:

'He who eats little eats everyday.

He who eats much eats once' or,

'Mouth eats, face is ashamed.'

Just like the following verses saying that gourmandise will get the people nowhere:

'So much food these teeth have seen,

Neither gold, nor silver have they been.'

For more information on Ottoman Cuisine please visit:

Sample Dishes from Turkish Cuisine

For detailed information on the sample dishes listed below, please click on the item:



Compotes and Desserts

Dolmas and Sarmas








Turnovers and other Pastries



People would not, in general, think of Turkish cuisine as being deliciously vegetarian. One often visualises the roast lamb over blazing fires or the sis kebab-small pieces of lamb on iron skewers. Tourists return to their country with a dozen such skewers from the bazaars of Istanbul.
But Turks are also great vegetarians. The cuisine's delicate flavouring of many dishes with herbs is well-known. One can say with some assurance that Turkish cooking is at its best when a bouguet of herbs is used with great care as to choice and guality.

Meat is used sparingly with a variety of vegetables to make to most flavourful and tasty dish generally called 'dolma', meaning stuffed. Not only vegetables that can be hollowed such as tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, potatoes, artichokes and celery are stuffed; but the mixture of ground meat, uncooked rice, chopped onions and two or three kinds or herbs can be rolled in grape leaves, cabbage leaves and other leaves large enough that have been slightly boiled tender. Pazi or chard is one such large green leaf.However, Turkish cuisine ought to be well-known for its cold vegetable dishes known also as 'dolma' when the same vegetables are stuffed without meat. The filling is made up of rice, again with a good amount of chopped onions (fresh or dried), two or three kinds of chopped herbs and additionally flavoured with black pepper and cinnamon. Pinnola nuts and currants are a must. Olive oil is added to this filling and often it is stuffed or rolled with the vegetable and simmered over a low fire until the rice well cooked and the added water is all gone. These types of stuffed vegetables or vegetable rolls are always served at room temperature, never hot and never too cold.

Then, there are the pastry, 'Borek' type main dishes which are the pride and joy of any good cook. Some of them call for ground meat but the majority of such pastry dishes are vegetarian dishes reguiring as filling a variety of chopped leaves mixed with raw eggs and soft white cheese. Strict vegetarians can omit the cheese and eggs, using lots of chopped onions to stir fry the chopped green leaves such as chard, beet leaves and spinach. Sometimes fillings are made up of pureed grains such as lentils, chich peas and/or potatoes.

Anther group of Turkish dishes that are the mainstay of many housewifes are vegetable dishes that are cooked in olive oil and served at room temperature. Both dried and fresh vegetables are cooked with lots of chopped onions, chopped tomatoes and are garnished with fresh chopped parsley a/or dill.Baklava, the queen of Turkish deserts deserves praise for its nutricious nut varieties, So that one can choose to delight one's palate with baklava that is richly filled with ground walnuts, pistachio nuts or hazel nuts. Turkish custards are topped with again a variety of finely ground nuts such as almonds or pistachios.

For detailed information on sample vegetarian dishes below, please click on the item:




Stuffed Vegetables

Turkish Desserts

Turkish Pastries

Vegetable Stews