With a so long history, with so many civilizations passing by there is no wonder that Turkish gastronomy together with Chinese and French gastronomies are considered the 3 gastronomies of the world.
Everywhere you travel in Turkey you will find something delicious to eat and more interesting is that each region has its own specific and dish.
Being helped by geography, climate but more important by history divers traditions had an impact on Turkish culture and gastronomy. Persian, Arab and Mediterranean influences are the easiest to define in Turkish gastronomy.
The early ancestors of modern day Turks were original from the Altay mountains in Central Asia, Some of their gastronomic customs were based on the use of animal products, such as the milk and meat from horses as well as the many different wild animals that were hunted.
In common with the other nomadic tribes of the period, the early Turks would also have made unleavened bread from wheat flour and would have drunk ayran, a yogurt drink , and kımız a fermented liquor made from the milk of their mares
When these nomads arrived in Anatolia around the 10th century the region already had its own rich culinary heritage, influenced by the Hittites, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Mongols and the Crusaders who had passed through the region. The legacy of these influences was a cuisine that made use of the ready availability of beans, wheat and lentils, which were cooked with oil extracted from plants.
By the 11th century, the nomadic Turks had formed a warrior aristocracy, which resulted in the establishment of the Seljuk Empire in Konya from where they ruled Greater Syria for most of the 12th century. The culinary culture at this time was influenced by the sophisticated cuisine of Persia.
The dishes of the period were consisting of meat cooked with a variety of vegetables, such as leeks, spinach and turnip; helva made with grape molasses, pekmez helvası; the jelly like, saffron dessert, zerde, and a number of pilaf and kebab dishes, all of which are still cooked to this day
The most significant change in Turkish Cuisine came about during the Ottoman Empire. Once Constantinople (now Istanbul) was conquered by Mehmet II in 1453, the Topkapi Palace became the center of the Empire and all culinary activity. By this time the Turks had developed a sophisticated cuisine, which merged traditional nomadic traditions with new techniques and ingredients from Persia. Mehmet II was a gourmet of the highest order with a penchant for indulging in lavish feasts, prepared in the palace kitchens by carefully selected chefs from Bolu. These kitchens were divided into four main areas. The most important of these was the Kuşhane – the bird cage kitchen – named after the small cooking pots in which food for the Sultan was prepared in small quantities. The second most important kitchen was the Has Mutfak , where food was prepared for the Sultan’s mother, the prince’s, and privileged members of the Harem. The remaining two kitchens produced the food for the lesser members of the harem, the chief eunuch, and the other members of the Palace household. During the reign of Mehmet II, the palace kitchens boasted a huge staff of specialist chefs. The tradition of specialization reached its height during this period, as each chef strove to produce the most exquisite and tasty dish imaginable, resulting in sophisticated and creative dishes that became known as the Palace Cuisine.
As the Ottoman Empire expanded its territories during its sixth century rule, it also increased its culinary repertoire by adopting and adapting the recipes it encountered in the Balkans, the Mediterranean region, North Africa and much of the Arab world. While the culinary creativity of the palace was at its peak, a similar level of ingenuity was taking place in every Ottoman grand house inhabited by the distinguished members of the Ottoman society. This was a time when cooking was regarded as an art form and eating was a pleasure, a legacy that is at the root of Turkish cooking today.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the Ottomans persuaded the Spaniards to return from the New World via the North African coast so that new ingredients such as chili peppers, tomatoes and maize could be brought back to Constantinople. When the Ottomans ruled, the very best ingredients were brought to Istanbul ensuring high standards of food at every level. When the Ottoman empire collapsed, its culinary influence remained evident to the West of Constantinople but, as the empire had never penetrated eastwards in to the heart of Anatolia, the local dishes managed to survive there unaffected by the Ottoman influence