Good eating has always played an important role in the long history of the Turks in Ottoman times; they gave as much importance to the building of their kitchens as they did to the building of the palaces they catered for.
Early historical documents show that the basic structure of Turkish cuisine was already established during the nomadic period of the 6th to 11th century AD, and in the first settled Turkish states of Asia, which were descendants of the tribes who fought with the Mongols in the 13th century. Culinary attitudes towards meat, dairy products, vegetables, and grains that characterized this period still make up the core of Turkish cuisine. The importance of the culinary art for the Ottoman sultans is evident to every visitor to the Okapi Palace in Istanbul. The huge kitchens were housed in several buildings under ten domes. By 17th century, some 1,300 kitchen staff was housed in the palace.
Hundreds of cooks, specializing in different categories of dishes, such as soups, pilafs, kebabs, beverages and so on, fed as many as ten thousand people a day and, in addition, sent trays of food to others in the city as a royal favor. It was in this environment that hundreds of the Sultan’s chefs, who dedicated their lives to their profession, developed and perfected the dishes of Turkish cuisine, which was then adopted by the kitchens of the provinces ranging from the Balkans to southern Russia, and down to North Africa. The spice route, the most important factor in culinary history, was under the full control of the Sultan and only the best ingredients were allowed to be traded under the strict standards established by the courts.
In Turkey food is bought fresh daily, and each meal of the day would be taken into account, with as much attention paid to breakfast, lunch and dinner. As well as having a balance of nutrients, the food should also be appealing to the eye, and of course tasty. Turkey, with its vast forests, fertile seas, and abundant lands, produces all the food to meet to county’s needs. Her people are self-sufficient in all produce appreciate the natural goodness of organic food. Turkish cuisine is healthy and nutritious and the Turks are purist in their culinary taste; their dishes bring out the flavor of the main ingredient rather than hiding it behind sauces.
Amongst different parts of Turkish cookery, the most notable are Mezes (mouth watering appetizers, tasty dips and salads), Boreks (pastries) filled with meat, cheese, vegetables or any other filling depending on imagination; Dolmas (stuffed vegetables and vine leaves); Kebabs and Koftes (broiled or roasted meat dishes); Sebzeli Et Yemekleri (casserole type meat dishes with vegetables); Pilavs (variety of rice) and finally vegetables cooked in olive oil, “Zeytinyagli”s. This last one is particularly notable; a certain vegetable is cooked with onions and tomatoes in abundant olive oil and garnished with salt, sugar and sometimes garlic, and served cold. After such a great variety of delicious dishes, the desserts also feature heavily, ranging from traditional milk puddings to sweet pastries like “Baklava”, from stuffed fruit desserts to cakes and of course, varieties of Turkish Delight, one of Turkey’s landmarks. A meal at the Turkish table is always finished off with the famous Turkish coffee, cooked in a special long-handled pot called “cezve”.
Today in Turkey food and mealtimes is still the hub of everyday life. Always time is taken to share meals with family members or friends, to relax and enjoy conversation. Participants wish each other “afiyet olsun”, literally meaning “may you be healthy.” This is followed by a tribute to the creator of the meal, “elinize saglik”, meaning “health to your hands”. Guests are always received with the highest cordial hospitality and it is believed that no one should ever leave a Turkish table without feeling satisfied and happy!