We know that Thanksgiving is approaching, but today’s post isn’t about the fowl that Benjamin Franklin suggested for our national bird (it’s true!). Instead, we’re focusing on the fabulous flavors of Turkey, a country at the crossroads of many diverse cultures and one of Go Ahead‘s staff’s favorite destinations. Turkish food reflects both the traditions of the ancient nomadic residents of Anatolia along with the culinary practices of the traders, conquerors and migrants who have moved into or through Turkey throughout the centuries. Author Neset Eren summarizes the amorphous nature of Turkish food in The Art of Turkish Cooking: “Many of the well-known national cuisines rely on one basic element. For instance, French cuisine is based on the sauce. Pasta forms the essence of the Italian cuisine. There is however, no single dominant feature in the Turkish kitchen. Meats, fish, vegetables pastries, and fruit are cooked in an infinite variety of ways.” Without further ado, we present to you our three favorite elements of Turkish cuisine.
There’s nothing Turkish about the beans used in Turkish coffee—they’re the same beans you’ll get anywhere else. No one is quite sure when Turkey first fell in love with coffee, but the brew is an integral part of Turkish cuisine: the Turkish word for breakfast, kahvalti, literally translates to “before coffee.” Turkish coffee even plays a part in the Turkish courting ceremony; when two families meet for the first time, the bride-to-be prepares Turkish coffee for everyone but serves her prospective husband’s coffee with salt instead of sugar. If the groom-to-be drinks his coffee without complaint, this is seen as a sign that he is good-tempered, patient and generally fit for marriage. To make Turkish coffee, you’ll need extremely fine coffee grounds (the grinder you have at home probably won’t suffice). Instead of brewing water through the grounds, the grounds are immersed in hot (but not quite boiling) water. Then, sugar is added to the mixture, where it is dissolved into the coffee during the brewing process rather than added later to the finished product. The coffee is brought to a boil, then removed from heat, then brought to a boil again at least once more before being served in demitasse cups. True Turkish coffee is topped by a layer of foam produced by pouring the coffee into the cups. Turkish coffee takes time and some care to produce, but the results are well worth the trouble.
Like coffee, kebabs came to Turkey from far afield, in this case, the Persian Empire. In English, when we say kebab, we tend to think of grilled skewers of meat and vegetables—shish kebabs. But in Turkey, kebabs aren’t necessarily served on skewers, and the term kebab once referred to fried rather than grilled meat. In Turkish cuisine, kebab meat is often prepared on a skewer, but the varieties of kebab ingredients and preparation methods are nearly endless. There’s alinazik kebab, ground meat sauteed in a sauce pan with garlic, yogurt and eggplants; spicy adana kebab involves hand-minced meat mixed with fiery chiles; bugu kebab, in which the ingredients are steamed over low heat for an extended period; bahcivan kebab, featuring boneless lamb shoulder, onions and tomatoes; kilic shish kebab, a brochette of swordfish; and even beykoz kebab, in which tomato- and onion-flavored meat is wrapped in eggplant slices and garnished with lamb brains. But the most popular kebab both in Turkish street cuisine and in places where Turkish immigrants have settled (including Germany) is the doner kebab, literally “rotating roast.” This is the inverted cone of rotisseried meat you’ve seen if you’ve ever ordered a gyro from a Greek restaurant. Marinated slices of meat (usually lamb) are skewered and slow-roasted on a rotating spit, with bits of meat shaved onto plates as customers order it. Doner kebabs are often accompanied by rice pilaf, tomatoes and/or peppers, while the Iskender kebab variation includes a slice of pita bread, yogurt and boiling butter.
Westerners might never have tasted Turkish Delights, but the candy has been produced since the 1400s and plays a minor role in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s a simple mixture of cornstarch and sugar, boiled with lemon juice and rosewater, then poured onto wax paper and allowed to cool overnight. The sheet of candy is then cut into cubes and powdered with flour, icing sugar or cream of Tartar to prevent the morsels from sticking to one another. The result is a soft, sweet treat that takes on the color of the flavoring agent used in its preparation—if rosewater has been used, the Turkish Delights will take on the color of cotton candy. It’s thought that the gooey interior or jelly beans were inspired by Turkish Delights, but to get a real taste for one of Turkey’s favorite treats, you’ll have to head to Turkey and find out for yourself!
If you’re interested in Turkish cuisine, you can join Go Ahead‘s Grand Tour of Turkey or our Istanbul & Coastal Turkey tour for an in-depth look at this fascinating country and its delectable cuisine.
Do you have a favorite Turkish dish, or a favorite food memory from your time in Turkey? Leave a comment and let us know!