Turkish cuisine is renowned as one of the world’s best. It is considered to be one of the three main cuisines of the world because of the variety of its recipes, its use of natural ingredients, its flavours and tastes which appeal to all palates and its influence throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The cuisine originated in Central Asia, the first home of the Turks, and then evolved with the contributions of the inland and Mediterranean cultures with which Turks interacted after their arrival in Anatolia.
Turkish cuisine is in a sense a bridge between far Eastern and the Mediterranean cuisines, with the accent always on enhancing the natural taste and flavour of the ingredients. There is no one dominant element in Turkish cuisine, like sauces in French and pasta in Italian cuisines. While the Palace cuisine was developing in Istanbul, local cuisines in Anatolia were multiplying in several regions, all displaying different geographical and climactic characteristics. These cuisines, after remaining within regional borders for centuries, are now being transplanted to the big cities and their suburbs as a consequence of large scale urbanisation and migration towards new urban centres. As a result, the national Turkish cuisine has been enriched by the contribution of a great number of local recipes. Turkey is self-sufficient in food production and produces enough for export as well. This means that Turkish food is usually made from fresh, local ingredients and is all the tastier for it.
Turks usually prefer a simple breakfast. A typical Turkish breakfast consists of cheese (beyaz peynir, kaşar etc.), butter, olives, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, jam, honey, and kaymak. Sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage, can be eaten with eggs), pastırma, börek, simit, poğaça and soups are eaten as a morning meal in Turkey. A common Turkish speciality for breakfast is called menemen, which is prepared with tomatoes, green peppers, onion, olive oil and eggs. Invariably, Turkish tea is served at breakfast. The Turkish word for breakfast, kahvaltı, means “before coffee” (kahve, ‘coffee’; altı, ‘under’).
Homemade food is still preferred by Turkish people. Although the newly introduced way of life pushes the new generation to eat out, Turkish people generally prefer to eat at home. A typical meal starts with soup (in the winter), followed by a dish made of vegetables or legumes boiled in a pot (typically with meat or minced meat), often with or before rice or bulgur pilaf in addition of a salad or cacık (made from diluted yogurt and minced cucumbers).
Although fast food is gaining popularity and many major foreign fast food chains have opened all over Turkey, Turkish people still rely primarily on the rich and extensive dishes of Turkish cuisine. In addition, some traditional Turkish foods, especially köfte, döner, kokoreç, börek and gözleme, are often served as fast food in Turkey. Eating out has always been common in large commercial cities. Esnaf lokantası (meaning restaurants for shopkeepers and tradesmen) are widespread, serving traditional Turkish home cooking at affordable prices.
In the hot Turkish summer, a meal often consists of fried vegetables such as eggplant (aubergine) and peppers or potatoes served with yogurt and tomato sauce. Menemen and çılbır are typical summer dishes, based on eggs. Sheep’s cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons and melons also make a light summer meal. Those who like helva for dessert prefer summer helva, which is lighter and less sweet than the regular one.
Frequently used ingredients in Turkish specialties include: lamb, beef, chicken, fish, eggplants, green peppers, onions, garlic, lentils, beans, and tomatoes. Nuts, especially pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, together with spices, have a special place in Turkish cuisine, and are used extensively in desserts or eaten separately. Preferred spices and herbs include parsley, cumin, black pepper, paprika, mint, oregano, pul biber (red pepper), allspice, and thyme.
Oils and fats
Butter or margarine, olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, and corn oil are widely used for cooking. Sesame, hazelnut, peanut and walnut oils are used as well. Kuyruk yağı (tail fat of sheep) is used mainly in kebabs and meat dishes.
The rich and diverse flora of Turkey means that fruits are varied, abundant and cheap. In Ottoman cuisine, fruit frequently accompanied meat as a side dish. Plums, apricots, pomegranates, pears, apples, grapes, and figs, along with many kinds of citrus are the most frequently used fruits, either fresh or dried, in Turkish cuisine.ple, komposto (compote) or hoşaf (from Persian khosh âb, literally meaning “nice water”) are among the main side dishes to meat or pilav. Dolma and pilaf usually contain currants or raisins. Etli yaprak sarma (vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice) used to be cooked with sour plums in Ottoman cuisine. Turkish desserts do not normally contain fresh fruit, but may contain dried varieties.
In some regions, meat, which was mostly eaten only at wedding ceremonies or during the Kurban Bayramı (Eid ul-Adha) as etli pilav (pilaf with meat), has become part of the daily diet since the introduction of industrial production. Veal, formerly shunned, is now widely consumed. The main use of meat in cooking remains the combination of ground meat and vegetable, with names such as kıymalı fasulye (beans with ground meat) or kıymalı ıspanak (spinach with ground meat, which is almost always served with yogurt). Alternatively, in coastal towns cheap fish such as sardines (sardalya) or hamsi (anchovies) are widely available, as well as many others with seasonal availability. Poultry consumption, almost exclusively of chicken and eggs, is common. Milk-fed lambs, once the most popular source of meat in Turkey, comprise a small part of contemporary consumption. Kuzu çevirme, cooking milk-fed lamb on a spit, once an important ceremony, is rarely seen. Because it is currently a predominantly Islamic land, pork plays no role in contemporary Turkish cuisine.