Food has a very significant role in Turkey’s daily life. There is a vast variety of food types from fast-food to traditional foods, not only served in restaurants standing almost side by side but also differing between regions.
Food, The Cultural Inheritance of Millennia
Turkey is located in the cradle of ancient civilisations which has made her a major successor of cultures including food. Civilizations such as Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Kurds and Armenians who are still neighbouring to Turkey were in and around these lands for ages, but even Celts have remains found in Turkey. Inhabiting the legacies of empires which have gathered many cultures together, today’s understanding and identity of the term “Turk” in Turkey today covers all of these cultures along with the nomad light cavalry culture that has migrated from Middle Asia and made Anatolia their homeland. Nazım Hikmet, the most reputable Turkish poet describes this identity with his lines; “Coming gallop from Far Asia, reaching like a mare’s head to the Mediterranean, this country is ours”. A bit of a romantic introduction, but is not food romantic on its own?
Food Carried from Middle Asia to the Western Civilisations
Not only carrying the food culture from Middle Asia to Europe, but Turks have also managed to learn from other cultures that they have migrated to. Nomad Turks from Middle Asia have managed to develop so many food products from their livestock as a result of their way of life. The delicious Turkish bacon “pastırma” is actually originated from the meat slices that the light cavalries carry between the back of their horse and saddle.
Yoghurt on its own is an indispensable food for almost every Turk. The fermented milk product is both filling and refreshing and a vital food for a nomad traveling in Middle Asia steps. Ayran, the yoghurt drink refreshes everyone especially in hot days of summer all around the country.
You can never exclude cheese when you describe the food preferences in Turkey, which is another type of food carried to west from Middle Asia. Despite it has many types under the same naming, “beyaz peynir” translated as feta cheese is definitely not the feta cheese that you will find in other countries. It can be produced from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s mik or a blend of those. A Turkish expat or immigrant living abroad always misses foods from the cities and families they grew in but they all miss proper “beyaz peynir” in breakfast.
Food That Welcomes the Day, Breakfast
“Breakfast must be related to happiness”, says Cemal Süreya in his line, another beloved Turkish poet.
Food preference for breakfast of Turks has been types of soups until 1950’s. Some have been preferring lentil soup, preferably cooked with bone broth, some sweetbread soups for welcoming the day. At the end of the day, the wording of “kahvaltı” meaning breakfast is the shortening of “kahve altı”, meaning the food to eat before morning coffee.
On the other hand, as times change, Turkish breakfast has turned to be a food of pleasure rather than necessity, especially in the weekends. “Sunday breakfast” is a term that is appreciated by almost every Turk, which means a table shared with family or friends that many flavours are served all together. A variety of foods; many types of cheeses, jams, honey, olives and pastries gather together in these tables.
Trakya, the northwest end of Turkey which takes its name from the ancient Kingdom Of Thrace has its own types of cheese “Ezine peyniri”, whereas Kars at the other end of the country has its own registered cheese “Kars kaşarı” or Black Sea region serves the melted cheese food “kuymak” for a satisfactory breakfast.
Food Connecting Nations
By the way, you don’t still think that yoghurt is a Greek food or baklava is a Greek dessert, right? This is actually a friendly competition between two countries and a conversation starter for both nations. The cuisine of both nations shares a lot of types of food some served with even same names. At the end of the day, both nations share a history of a millennium which makes food a meeting point for the peoples no matter what politicians say or do.
Kebap or kebab is a communicating tool as a food on its own. Cities such as Adana, Gaziantep and Urfa have developed their own registered recipes and “exported” those to other major cities such as İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir with their masterchefs, who were the apprentices of older masterchefs in those cities
Food and Beverages Replaced with Another in History
A pleasure-inducing drink called “kımız” has been produced from mare’s milk and still is a popular drink in the Turkish countries in Asia but has been replaced by wine for the Turks who have settled in Anatolia, as this ancient drink has been produced in these lands for thousands of years. Nevertheless, the anise-flavoured grape drink has shared and may be overthrown its throne in recent centuries. At the end of the day vineyards have always been major actors in Anatolia’s agricultural life and Turks have left the nomad living style a long time before they have conquered Anatolia.
Not only pleasure-inducing drinks have changed their positions. Tea has also been introduced to Anatolia, especially Black Sea region by the Turks and today Turks are the most tea consuming nation per person.
Coffee has never been produced in Turkey because of agricultural conditions but has been brought to Anatolia by the network of the Ottoman Empire. Ever since it has taken a major role in Turks’ daily life along with tea and those two are still considered to be ice breakers or conversation starters between individuals. Inviting a person in a dispute over for a coffee or tea is a olive’s leave and inviting a friend is a heart-warming act.
Turkey is offering you the pleasure of a palate from Middle Asia through the Middle East all the way through Europe, inheriting cultural legacies of all ancient and modern civilizations that have been in and around these lands which makes her a successor of the food and beverage culture of all of these.