What did Our Ancestors Eat?
The 2nd International Symposium on “Traditional Foods from Adriatic to Caucasus” 24-26 October 2013 Struga (Ohrid Lake) / Macedonia
What did Our Ancestors Eat?
An Eclectic Cuisine Culture
Ottoman cuisine was one of the most famous cuisines in the world. This prosperous cousine is defeated by fast food day by day. Modern life has taken away a lot of thing from our tables. For instance, there is no one who puts compote on the table, today. There is no one who credits yoghurt. Even soup is not eaten as the first food of every meal. When you ask children which food they like most, they don’t say mantı or stuffed grape leaves but they answer as french fries, meatball or spaghetti. Only tea, without losing any power, is a drink which all the sections of the community credit. Even so, traditional food tries to resist. They are being popular thanks to the suggestions of famous gourmets, nutritionists and doctors who usually appear in the newspapers or on the television.
The essentials of Turkish cuisine are based on their lives in Middle Asia which is their native land. Food culture of this period is able to descend to the present especially thanks to nomad Turkmens who latest started a settled life. Also, Iran and Arabic cuisine which we had close contact with, impressed Turkish cuisine. Finally, with the occasion of Ottoman domination, Rumelian and Caucasian cuisine culture harmonized with Turkish cuisine. Impressions of native Rum, Armenian, Assyrian and even Italian cuisine cannot be denied. In the artifact named Tabiatname, which is written in due course of Seljuk, all of the foods and their properties are mentioned except potatoes and tomatoes which were known after the exploration of America.
Breakfast was really important. Before tea took part in our lives, soup was eaten in every house. Trotter soup was in demand. After the dawn prayer, many people bought soup from the soup restaurant with bowls in their hands and took it to the breakfast. Because, it was prepared so early, trotter makers were especially non-muslim. That’s why it became a habit to call non-muslim neighbours soup maker. After the wedding, a breakfast with trotter soup was given to the relatives of bride and the groom. This was called trotter day.
Meal starts with soup in the East. In the West, soup can be found in the menu when it is demanded. Soup, in the first place, is a Muslim meal. It has passed to the West through Arabs. Şurbe means drink in Arabic. Names in the western languages stems from there. Soup prepares the stomach against the attacks coming afterwards. Yoghurt soup, wedding soup which is cooked with meat and lemon marinade, lentil, tarhana and tripe soup are some of traditional soup of Turkish cuisine. It’s divided two kinds as juicy and granular. Pulses like cracked wheat, lentil, chick-peas and small meatballs, meat and pieces of dough are put into the granular soup. Viscous soup called Tutmaç which is made of noodle, lentil, yoghurt, garlic and pennyroyal and eaten cold, is an old Oghuz meal. In the 10th century, Kaşgarlı Mahmut mentions it in Divanü Lugatit-Türk and he says it is the invention of İskender-I Zülkarneyn. It is still cooked among Eastern Turkmens.
Stew with meat and onion is a transition meal. It means pot meal in Persian. Lord of the table is rice with meat. Pilav is also a Persian name for rice. Kebab, which is made from meat cooked in fire, is an Arabic origin word and it means fried. It has got many kinds cooked in different ways and tastes such as tandoor kebab , kebab en cocotte, woodcutter kebab , kebab cooked in a sealed clay pot, lamb casserole with yoghurt and sultan’s delight. Doner kebab has become a brand all over the world. Meatball is made by chopping meat finely (making mince meat), adding spice and bread and cooking in a different taste.
“Köfte” (meatball) has various kinds. There is stuffed meatball, İnegöl meatball, butcher’s meatball, and Akçaabat meatball. “Köfte” means “pounded in a mortar” in Persian.
“Pilav” (rice) is known in the Far East and Europe, but it is in fact an inevitable part of the eastern cuisine. In the Far East, boiled rice is eaten like bread. In Turkish cuisine, rice is a meal on its own. The word “pilav” is of Persian origin. Although it seems easy to cook “pilav”, actually, it requires some kind of talent to cook it at the right degree. People who can cook “pilav” and fried eggs are able to cook every meal. It used to be the mastery exam of a chef. You cannot imagine a table without “pilav”. There is a famous Turkish poem, it literally says: “It’s time for Ramadan/ There are various kinds of food on the tables/ There was no rice in the feast/ I lost my appetite.” Rice is also considered to be holy. It is believed that rice was created from the heavenly light of the prophet Mohammed. Although Chinese rice is famous, its homeland is India. Rice likes water and heat. The word “pirinç” (rice) entered to Turkish through Persian. Europe first encountered rice via the Andalusians, but they really got familiar with rice thanks to the Ottomans. Italy’s famous risotto is very similar to the rice soup. The rice from Damietta, Egypt was popular. There’s even a saying like “Losing the bulghur at home, while going to Damietta for rice.” In the 17th century, there was a time when no rice came from Egypt, at that time rice came from Plovdiv. Later, rice was also cultivated in Gönen, Osmancık, and Tosya. “Pilav” is not only made with rice, it is also made using bulghur, especially in the rural areas. “Pilav” can be plain, or meat, eggplants, chickpeas, mushrooms, chestnuts, dried grapes, beans, potatoes, lentil can be added to rice. Mushrooms, which are called “the daughters of rain”, used to be collected in the rural areas, cooked in hot ashes and eaten. In the reign of Sultan Mecid, after potato cultivation became more common as a caution against a possible famine, potatoes were cooked in hot ashes and it was called “Kumpir”
People generally like fried food, and not boiled food. Meat of a sheep is popular. Meat of cattle is not liked or eaten. Only sick people eat it because of its lightness and easy digestion. Only some kinds of sheep are popular. The meat of “curly sheep” is appreciated. Sakız goat is preferred for a sacrifice. Karaman sheep is unpopular. There is a famous saying indicating that Karaman’s sheep is not good. Chicken is valuable, because it is rare. It is only served to important guests. Hunting is an important hobby of some men. Deer, partridge, and quail are popular hunting meats. Goose meat is not appreciated because it is fatty, and turkey meat is not popular because it is black. It is not easy to find meat in the rural areas, since there are no butcher’s shops, and animals are not usually cut. So, when an animal is cut or sacrificed, the roasted meat (kavurma) is kept in the jars. It is taken out of the jar when needed and it can be eaten on its own or it can be added to another meal. Pastrami is made by mixing meat, salt, red papper, garlic and fenugreek, and drying it under the sun or by smoking. Oghuz Turks used to take salted meat with them when they went on an expedition, and they used to carry the meat on their horses, under their seats. During these weeks of expedition, the meats got suppressed, and they became “bastırma” (suppressing). The rider would cut a piece from the meat and eat it with his bread. The Seljuks took it to Anatolia; the Ottomans took it to Rumelia. Nowadays, it is also made at home, especially in some cities like Kayseri. Today the beef with no fat is chopped, salted and battered on a wooden plate, and it is covered with a mixture of the seeds of fenugreek, red pepper and salt. It is a highly respected food, it is easy to digest, and it is full of energy. “Sucuk” is made by mixing chopped buffalo or cattle meat with spices and suet and putting the mixture into the dried intestines. It is made at home. It is a kind of dry sausage. It is especially preferred at breakfast and it is popular as a prepared food. Cumin gives it its traditional taste. “ÇiğKöfte” (Raw meatball) is a meal, special to the southern cities. It is made by “cooking” the chopped meat, bulghurand spices through moulding. It is said that a poor woman, who couldn’t make a fire because she didn’t have wood, discovered it. Herise which is also similar to Keşkek, is made by using lamb meat and wheat. It is not easy to make it, but it is really delicious. It is popular among Arabs, Kurds, and Turks. It is cooked and served at weddings and feasts.
Pulses are popular and important especially in the winter. Chickpeas, Dried beans, lentil are loved by everyone. They can be prepared as meals on their own, or they can be added into various soups. “Turşu” (pickles)is a favourite side meal. It is prepared by keeping vegetables like cabbage, cucumber, beetroot, pepper, tomato, and carrot in salty and vinegary water in jars. It is sour, and it is a popular appetizer. “Turşu” stems from the Persian word “tırşî” which means “sour”. Those who cannot prepare pickles at home, buy them from famous pickle shops in the city centres. There are even street peddlers who sell pickles.
Souse is a dispensable part east cuisine too. Apart from fish and meat, leaves of grapes are also corned and used for cooking stuffed vine leaves in winter. In Italian, it means laying down in salty water.
Wheat is the base east cuisine. Its name also represents this meaning. Bog means “sir” in Turkish. Words like Bogdan, Bogomiş which belong to Balkans are related to this meaning. Wheat agriculture is common in this region. Wheat is grinded and turned into flour. Apart from wheat, corn and barley can also be used to obtain flour. Flour is the raw material of many nourishment. Bread comes in the first place. It also has many different types like “loaf, yufka, fodla, pide, fırın, lavas, tandır” which is defined according to their shapes and cooking types. You can’t be full without eating bread. It can be eaten with even rice and patty. If the meal is not enough, the host generally reminds “take some bread too”. During the times when the wheat is scarce and precious, wheat bread was used by the rich whereas barley and rye bread was used by the poor. The time has changed; nowadays the rich prefer wheat bread for health reasons on the other hand the poor prefer barley and rye bread. Peksimet which is made of qualified wheat flour and as in the shape of slice of bread is a better choice during the journey since it is easy to protect. Its original name is “bekismat” coming from Persian means hard bread. Greek people also know it as “Peksimati”. In general, it is given to soldiers and eaten with sticking it into the meal.
Yarma which is grinded by breaking its tips is used in soups and desserts like aşure.Cracked Wheat which is also a product of wheat is the basic nourishment of people especially in the countryside. Because rice cannot be grown everywhere and therefore it is expensive. Rice is the meal of people living in the city. During the World War I, there was a drought, since cracked with was also scarce, its name was changed into Enver Pasha Rice. Cracked wheat is obtained by grinding the boiled wheat. After it is eliminated, we get dugur. Düğüris not only used to make Pilav (rice) but also used in the raw material of stuffed vegetable and meatball. The smaller kind of dugur is used for soup. Eriştewhich is prepared by cutting it into strips is a kind of pasta. It can be eaten both as boiled and put into soups. Its origin is Persian and means stripe. Farina which is obtained by grinding large wet wheat is a kind of dense wheat flour and is used in soup, meal and desserts.
Tarhana is made of tomato, pepper, onion, mint, spice, yoghurt, milk. It is obtained from dough by grinding it into pieces and it is precious nourishment. This is also called flour tarhana. We can make soup from tarhana. There is also yarmatarhana which is obtained by mixing and drying yoghurt or milk with Yarma wheat which is grinded by breaking its tips. This is also called Turkomantarhana.Sometimes tomato and spice are also added. By putting turnip, we can get soup of it and also we can cook it as rice dish. The origin of “tarhana” is Persian terine. It can be also founded in Greek cuisine as Tregana.Couscous is a kind of dough which is made of flour, milk, egg and farina. It is Magrip original and this word means dough rag. In Magrip, it is an average stew but in Anatolia it looks like rice dish and is cooked as in the taste of pasta. Simitis also a product of wheat and is cooked in the shape of ring and a kind of cookie with sesame on it. It is the most demanded bread product. It is preferred in the breakfast and late-afternoon tea. Like the fast food now, it can be used to have a cheap and nutritive meal. It has a great harmony with cheese. The Bagel of Ankara, İstanbul and Eskişehir look like each other. Its Arabic origin “semid” means “white bread”.
There are many types of patty which is made of filo dough. You can’t have a feast without patty. It is an old Turkish meal. It is said that the original name is “Burek” and comes from Bugra Han, Turkistan commander. There are many types of patty with different materials in it. It can be eaten both in themeal and between the meals. It is cooked not in homes but in neighborhood baker’s. Pita, ply and kitty is eaten with joy. There are many types of pita like open&close and with different materials like meat, egg, hemp, sesame paste.Kittyis prepared by frying fermented dough. It looks like morsel but is not put into sweetened juice. It is eaten in breakfast. Ply is a form of dough which is bended and cooked on the pan or tin. It can be eaten plain or with potato, cheese, hemp and meat in it. Gözleme (Waffle) can be obtained by bending slim filo dough and it is cooked on live coals. Nowadays, it is cooked on the pan and is preferred between the meals.
Having rice as the main ingredient, dolma (stuffed vegetables) and sarma (stuffed vine leaves) are among the traditional dishes of Turkish cuisine. As it is possible to make dolma using fresh or dry peppers, aubergine and tomatoes, it is also possible to make sarma with cabbage leaves. They are cooked as a meat dish. If they do not contain a meat mixture, they are called “fake dolma” or “fake sarma”. Today they are called stuffed vegetables with olive oil. Apart from vegetables, you can also use chicken and lamb to cook dolma.
Spices are highly appreciated in the East. It is hard to imagine eating rice that doesn’t include black pepper , legumes that do not include cummin, meat without thyme or rice-pudding without cinnamon. Spices eliminate side-effects of dishes. Especially the Southern people love hot spices. Hot peppers and urfa red peppers called “isot” are both appetizers and they add zest to dishes. Since tomatoes were not widely-known until the discovery of America, they are not put in dishes. It is believed that food should create its own flavour and odour when it is cooked. Tail fat of sheep, onions and spices add zest to dishes. They say it is fat that adds zest to dishes. Butter and tail fat of sheep are used for cooking . Butter from Haleb, Urfa, Trabzon and Kırım is known as the best. On the other hand, oil, especially olive oil is used as a treatment for skin problems. Oil such as opium oil and linseed oil are mixed with spices and used for cooking buns and noodle. In addition to mint and thyme, other herbs such as pennyroyal and purple basil are also added to soup, dishes and meatballs mix. Opium seeds and opium oil are especially added to buns in towns where opium is produced.
Salça, which is known as tomato or pepper sauce, is usually homemade. It is rarely used for cooking because it spoils the flavour and odour of food. The word “salça” is derived from the Italian word “salsa”, which means sauce. Vinegar is an additive appreciated by Prophet Mohammed. It is made from grapes, apples and so on. Olive oil dishes are not very popular in the Eastern cuisine. The reason might be that olives do not grow everywhere and it emits strong and unpleasant smell when cooked. Fishing is not common in the East, either. Fish was commonly consumed by poor Byzantians. The reason might be the fact that fish is cheap and it rots and stinks easily and stinks after it has been cooked. Olive oil and fish entered Turkish cuisine thanks to Mediterrenean people and especially Greek people. Fish became popular in Aegean towns. However, even today, most people do not eat much fish or oilve oil dishes. Dairy products are not eaten with fish. Tahini (sesame seed paste) halva is eaten after fish. Tahini halva is referred as an antidote to fish since it is believed to remove fish bones from the throat. Seafood such as mussels and lobster did not spread much as the religion of Islam does not allow eating them. Nonetheless, Anatolian people are familiar with fish since fresh-water fish such as trout and carp are caught and eaten by the people living near lakes and rivers in Anatolia. As fish is not common, people deem fish as a treat out of routine.
There is a popular tale: A sultan asks his daughters how much they love him. All three of them say something. The third daughter says I love you as much as salt. The sultan gets angry and shows his daughter the door. Eventually, he accidentally drops by her daughter when he returns from hunting. His daughter serves salt-free food to her father and the sultan cannot eat it. Then he understands what his daughter means to say. According to another story, the prophet Adam drops a piece of meat while he descends into the Earth. He grabs and eats it. He loves it. To his surprise, it is salty there. Salt has been in demand since then. In the past “The right of salt” used to be taken seriously. One who was too lazy to do something used to be asked : “Do you have a sack of salt on your back?” There is another saying about the responsibility of raising a daughter: “A burden of a daughter equals to a sack of salt.” As you know, salt weighs heavy. “Adding salt to the wound” means to aggravate a problem. If a remedy turns out useless, they say “Salt stinks”. If something breaks, they say “It ended up like salt and ice”. If something runs out quickly, they say “It melted like salt”. Food to be preserved would be salted. A character in the shadow puppetry “Karagöz” was called “Saltfree Mad Bekir” (a man’s name in Turkish). There is another story of a donkey packed with salt and a donkey packed with sponge.They were crossing the water. The first donkey was making fun of the second one. While the donkey whose load was melting was getting lighter, the other one was getting heavier and sinking. Trading salt by camels and donkeys used to be a profitable job. Today, salt is considered as one of the three white poisons. That is why patients suffering from blood pressure do not enjoy eating anymore. Those who say “Let’s throw caution to the wind” do not give up on salt. Salt did not use to be sold in fabricated packagings. There used to be saltpans that fed the surroundings in certain places. A salty water would run down the mountains into the saltpans. Pools used to be built in saltpans and salt used to be sorted out with shovels. It used to be sold during the months when there was no rain.
It was a salt which was snowy-white, had a nice flavour, and didn’t give off a smell to the meal, and wasn’t hot. It was called as mineral salt. Also there was rock salt. Just like coal, it was mined with digger from mountains. Also there are salts which are taken from seas and salt lakes. However, now there is neither salt works nor the people who go there. Nowadays, as it is thought as more healthy, salt-works salt is sold at open markets even at luxurious markets.
It is said that a dining table without green vegetables is like a fool old man. A salad which is rich of oil and vegetable is eaten in the company of main course. Yahya Kemal,who was a poet from Skopje, always had lettuce at the dining table although he didn’t like it. In Europe, salad is a meal. It is eaten before main course. If the salad isn’t finished, main course isn’t serviced. Cretans are keen on green vegetables and herbs. It is famous that the son of a gardener says his father “ Dad, a cow and a Cretan entered our garden”; and father says “ Eject Cretan from the garden, the cow goes out when it is full. Anatolian people were accustomed to green vegetables from Aegean via Cretan migrants. Mountain villagers ate various herbs which grew around them by boiling and adding egg or by frying. Of course a person can’t lead his life only with vegetables. It is rumoured that a worldly-wised man looking at a dining table full of with green vegetables says “You are wrong. You should feed your sheep with these vegetables and then you will eat the sheep.” It is said that “You should eat sheep until you are forty, after this age you should what the sheep eat.” Borani which is prepared as cooking vegetables like spinach, chard, purslane with rice or as boiling pulses like chickpea, lentil with yoghurt and boiling oil with pepper, is a traditional and still common Turkish dish. It takes its name from Abbasid Caliph Memun’s Turkish wife. It was cooked with the inspiration of the pattern of the rug which was brought as dowry by this woman.
Dessert is the sultan of the dining table. It is eaten even if you are full. When an important person comes, a seat is found for him even if the place is too crowded. There is a different dessert for each season and day. Halva means dessert in Arabic and it is a name of a kind of dessert at Turkish cuisine. Once upon a time, especially rich people organised halva meetings at their houses at winter nights and they invited poets, scholars and people who had good voices. Halva has different kinds such as flour halva, semolina halva and tahini halva which is produced from sesame. Flour halva is cooked for dead people and service visitors. Semolina halva is serviced after meat dish; tahini halva is served in the breakfast or after eating fish. Also, wafers and floss halva are kinds of halva which are loved by children. The cotton halva’s preparation, which is mentioned in a Turkish idiom as “Yandı gülüm keten helva” which means “to be in the soup.”, is just like a ceremony. In a big room, ten people sits around a big copper tray, they put a huge circle shaped hot candy on the tray and some flour in the middle of it. After they wash their hands with hot water, they pray for Prophet Muhammet’s friend Selman Pak and they start turn the circle by covering with flour. At the same time they read poems and gazelles. After turning and turning the circle shaped candy it becomes halva and they serve it to the guests who watch them. Halva also has some old kinds which are forgotten now such as veterans halva, reşidiyye halva and sultan halva.
Baklava is made in Ramadan feast and feast of sacrifice. While it is cooked with nut in Damascus, it is generally preferred with walnut in Anatolia. Kadayif is a wedding party dessert. It is prepared with a special pastry which is cut with a special knife. In Arabic, kadayif means “fibres” and its origin is “kataif” word. Apart from desserts which are like baklava such as sultan’s turban dessert and samsı; there are also many kinds of pastry which are cooked in the oven and serviced with hot or cold sherbet, these are kalburabasti (riddled egg shaped sweet pastries), revani (sweet semolina pastry) and şekerpare (dry Turkish switheet). Lokma (donut) is cooked at holy nights for Muslims. If you give lokma to a person in another day, they are surprised and ask whether today is a holy night or not. It is prepared as frying leavened dough and putting it in cold sherbet. Saray lokması, which has egg whites, is also very famous. Like semolina dessert, lip shaped sweet pastry, and grand vezir’s finger shaped pastry, there are many kinds of donut desserts.
Rose pudding is a Ramadan dessert. It is prepared with farina pastry, walnut, milk and rose water. Saffron and rice dessert is made of rice and farina in a jelly consistency. It is served at wedding parties and special feasts. It is one of entremets. It is called as “zerde” in Turkish because it has saffron in it. In Persian “zerd” means yellow. As there is no sugar, desserts are made of honey or molasses. For that reason they are precious and expensive. During Seljuqs era, sugar which was made of sugarcane was so expensive that the cost of a kilo of sugar was equal with the cost of two well-fed cattle. Because of that it was sold at pharmacies as medicine.
Höşmerim that is made of fresh and unsalted cheese in the western provinces of the country, also known as cheese halva, is a dessert which is delicious and hard to prepare. Maraş ice-cream, which has stiffness close to resin is made of creamy milk by adding sahlep and by grinding them at the mortar, has also turned into a Turkish brand. Since the geography of Anatolia is rich in terms of fruits, desserts are made of fresh and dried fruits. Sweet pumpkin, cooked apples and quinces, and dried apricots dessert (hasefe) are popular and they are served with either grated or crushed walnut on them. Light milk-based desserts like tavukgöğsü (chicken breast with white pudding), kazandibi (caramelized milk pudding), keşkül (milk and almond pudding), sütlaç (milk pudding with rice), and muhallebi (milk pudding) belong to this geography.
Holy books describe the paradise as a place in which rivers of honey run. There is a sura in Quran which mentions the bees and honey, The Bee (An-Nahl). In this surah, it is commended that “There is a healing power of honey for human beings.” The prophet would advise honey to stomachaches. Bee is a favorite animal in Islamic culture. It is the symbol of following the duties assigned to it to be beneficial to human beings. Because of these traits of it, it was accepted as the symbol of some cities and states in the ancient times. Ephesus was one of them. The taming of bees and their hiving were first done in Anatolia and it is a great civilization phase. Bees’ building their houses in a hexagonal shape is really noteworthy. If they built them quadrilateral, since they are round, when they got into them, the corners would be empty. If they built them round, when the houses came together, there would be empty spaces between them. Between the shapes, hexagon is the closest one to the round and when hexagons come together, there are no unnecessary empty spaces between them.
Honey was used as a medicine in the ancient times. During the 400’s BC, Hippocrates would cure lung diseases and heart diseases with honey and he would apply honey to open wounds. Since it is a good antiseptic preserver, it was used in embalming in the ancient times. 13 kilograms of honey was found in a wooden pot that had been preserved for 4000 years in the tomb of Tutankhamen. The Greeks learnt beekeeping from the Egyptians. They would use honey to protect the deceased. The corpse of Alexander the Great was preserved in honey. The Assyrians would enshroud their dead by applying honey to them. The heads of the executed people would be brought to the center in a bag made of hair which was full of honey and so they would be identified. The peasants would even keep their butter by covering it with honey.
During the Ottoman Empire, the guests would be offered a spoon of honey before meals. During those times, sherbets were made especially with honey. Sugar was rare and hard to find as it is a product of industry. Before the WWII, honey was the only sweet in Anatolia. In places where they grew grapes, molasses was also preferred. There were desserts that were prepared especially with honey. Honey baklava of the Black Sea Region whose sherbet is prepared with honey is famous. Chestnuts with honey are also famous. Bezdirme, a kind of pastry done with honey and oil was served to the guests in İzmir. They would prepare sünger bazlaması (a kind of pastry) by pouring it to the honey plate. It was common to eat yoghurt by adding honey to it.
Although honey was abundant, it was desirable. When Fatih Sultan Mehmet founded Divan and a peasant came and told him “Oh, Puissant Sultan; good morning, may what you eat be honey and cream, and where you go be meadow”; he was really pleased and did many favors to the peasant. He explained the situation to those who were astonished by this as “What could he do? He wished the best food and place for me that he knows.”
Honey is categorized according to the types of flowers from which the bees collect honey as pine honey, chestnut honey, and flower honey or according to the regions that the bees collect honey from as Macahel, Anzer, and Erzurum honey. Turkey ranks the first in pine honey on earth. It is abundant in Marmaris. It is not too sweet and its color is dark. Its crystallization period is long. Flower honey is sweeter and it has an aura. In the past, the honey coming from Hakkari was preferred. Wallachia (Romania) was also a famous honey producer. The honey coming from the famous Anzer plateau of the Black Sea Region is also famous but since it is rare, it is expensive. The first days of the newly married couples are called as honeymoon. Honey dreams are interpreted as a good thing and as having fun. Honey is present in idioms and proverbs. (The honey of the person with a sour face is sour, too). Drop some honey on the floor and eat it. (It is used to show that a place is really clean). Free vinegar is sweeter than honey. Honey lipped. Sweeter than honey. Honey eyed. Talking about honey won’t make a mouth taste it. Lay it on with a trowel. (The Turkish equivalent includes honey and implies that the speaker makes the listener want to live the same experience). The one who eats honey all the time will be fed up with it. Bon appetite, enjoy your meal as if it is honey or sugar. Put some honey on somebody’s mouth (arouse one’s appetite). Talk sweetly. Don’t eat honey with the ugly but carry stones with the beautiful. If the sea were honey, the poor wouldn’t find a spoon. Collecting honey from all the flowers (It is used for womanizers). The royal won’t be corrupted and the honey won’t go off. The bee knows which flower to collect honey from. Interrupt one’s sentence with honey. I could eat other people’s lap but not your honey. All the sweets are poisonous except honey and all the hot tastes are cure except poison. The bear has forty tales; all on honey.
Strabo narrates how Pompeius’ enormous army lost the war against Pontus King Mitridates’ army. Roman army set up the headquarters on the Black Sea coasts. The soldiers laced into the honey made from poisonous rhododendron flowers, and got as full as a tick. Those who didn’t eat honey so much evaded just by feeling woozy and daydreaming; however, those who overate it lost their self-control and fainted. Mitridates’ soldiers immediately strangled those fainted soldiers. The type of essential oil of flowers from which bees make honey is important. If the flower is poisonous, so is the honey. Honey with a bitterish taste made from wild rose – also called mountain rose – of the Black Sea region is named as mad honey. A little tea spoonful of this mad honey a day is told to be curative for stomach and intestinal diseases. However, if it is eaten more, it might cause nausea, vomiting, perspiration, dizziness, and other serious intoxications such as fainting, blood-pressure drops and even heart arrest after a period of 3-5 minutes to 2 hours. Mad honey intoxication is a common food poisoning in our country. One can recover in a short time if they get medical attention on time.
Molasses (pekmez) is a viscous liquid which is usually produced by boiling and concentrating fruits such as grapes and mulberries. It can be drunk, and people used to consume it by dipping bread into molasses with tahini. It is especially consumed by children, patients and women with babies because of its hematinic and energizing features. Zile molasses, which is made by adding egg white, is another member of molasses family. People used to make dried fruit roll-up (pestil, bastık) by sun-drying the molasses, and churckhela (köme, cevizli sucuk) by dipping walnuts on a string into molasses paste. “Pestil (dried fruit roll-up)” is derived from a Greek word “pastilos” which means dried fruit puree. Chickpea made from pea, pistachio, hazelnut, almond and chestnut are popular dried nuts which are consumed especially at winter nights.
Berlingot (akide şekeri) was first made to offer the Ottoman sultan and the viziers on important days by the bodyguards of the sultan and the janissary soldiers; and it was named as “akide”, which showed the loyalty of soldiers. “Akide” means “faith”. In the past, berlingot was given as a present to the newlyweds, new home-owners and shop-owners. There used be plain, hazelnut, rose, cinnamon, sesame, violet and clove berlingot. It used to be sold in colorful glass jars at candy shops. The best berlingot makers were Haci Bekir and Hafiz Cemil in Istanbul. Berlingot was one of the two favorite candies in the times when chocolate was not common. The other was Turkish delight (lokum). The name, “lokum”, was derived from an Arabic word, “rahatu’l-hulkum”, which means “throat comfort”. The best Turkish delight is made by the Turks. It is a kind of cubical soft candy made by boiling sugar syrup with starch. It has many types such as plain, rose and hazelnut Turkish delight. It became popular in Europe in the 18th century, and it is worldwide-known today. “Nöbet şekeri” is another type of candy. To make it, water and sugar are boiled; it is held for a long time, and crystallized. It is believed to be curative for a group of diseases such as cough. Mesir paste (mesir macunu), which was made by Hekimbasi Merkez Efendi in Manisa in the 16th century in order to cure the sultana, consists of 41 different types of spices. It is a worldwide-known candy and energy paste. Creamy candy (kaymaklı şeker) of Afyon, white candy (beyaz şeker) of Konya, pishmaniye (pişmaniye) of Izmit, palace halva (saray helvası) of Mudurnu, cekme halva (çekme helva) of Kastamonu, gulbeseker (gülbeşeker) of Edirne, candied chestnut (kestane şekeri) of Bursa, and almond paste (badem ezmesi) of Bebek are popular types of desserts. Pishmaniye is a kind of stringy havla which is made by roasting flour in butter and turning the mixture into sugar wax. If something goes wrong while preparing it, pishmaniye doesn’t taste good. According to a narrative, this is the reason for the name “pishmaniye”. According to another narrative, the origin of the word, “pishmaniye”, is a Persian word “paşmina”, which means “wool”. Palace halva and cekme halva have similar tastes. Gulbeseker is a kind of rose puree paste which is made by scrubbing the rose leaves with sugar, and sun drying the mixture. Its name means “sugar rose” in Persian. It was also used as an energizer. Cezerye, carrot puree of the southern provinces is an energizing sweet.
Ashure (aşure) is the dessert of Muharram month, in which people believe that many important events took place in Muslim history. Muharram is the first month of lunar calendar. “Ashure” means the tenth day. According to anecdotal history, people who survived the biblical flood on Noah’s ark prepared this dessert by mixing the remaining grains, fruits and nuts. Therefore, people in different cultures prepare the ashure in similar ways. People try to include seven different ingredients in ashure. The ingredients might be wheat, peas, beans, rice, apricots, grapes, mulberries, plums, figs, peanuts, orange peels and apples (or pears).
It is decorated with pomegranate, walnut, almond, currant, hazelnut and cinnamon. It is offered to 7 neighbors at least, like donut and halva. The number of the days of the week, the land, the heavens and the hell is seven. The Muslims turn around the Ka’bah 7 times. They stone the devil with 7 pebbles. A cattle can be sacrificed by up to 7 people together. Koran is recited in 7 dialects. Prostration is performed with 7 organs. Surah al Fatihah is composed of 7 verses. The companions of cave are 7 people.
Greek people of Turkish nationality call Noah’s Pudding “koliva” and cook it abundantly in the first month of the year. They add dried nuts instead of legumes to Noah’s Pudding. They also cook it for the funeral. They consider the remains of the legumes and the water in which they boil it to be sacred, and they pour them into the sea. Armenian Noah’s Pudding is similar to Greek’s one. They call it Anuş abur. It means “sweet soup”. Alewis fast during the first 12 days of the month called Muharrem. They don’t have sahur meal, they don’t drink water or eat meat. They fast until stars are seen. At the end of fasting days, they cook Noah’s Pudding with 12 ingredients. In Sicily, people cook a sweet called cuccia, similar to Noah’s Pudding, during the Santa Lucia epulation on the 13th of December. The same sweet is cooked in Liugria, Italy, as “mesciua”.
In some parts of Anatolia, Noah’s Pudding is cooked a bit juicy. It’s very tasty and nutritious but very difficult to cook. The ingredients are cooked separately. Each ingredient is added at a specific time and the sugar is added at last. Each ingredient is very important for this sweet and all must be present in Noah’s Pudding.
Jam is made with various fruits and it is consumed for lunch and served to guests. It is known that there are about 60 kinds of jam in the court kitchen: fig, rose, walnut, resin, sour cherry and water melon. Sometimes they serve jam, instead of candies, to the guests. Jam is made at home and people take jam to the house they visit as a present. Every woman must be able to make jam properly.
Western people drink wine together with the meal but in the East people drink water. There is a saying in Turkish: “Water drunk together with the meal is the tanner of the stomach.” However, drinking just before or just after the meal is not recommended as it makes digestion harder. It is said that one must drink the best water in the world. Water carriers delivered the water from the most reliable fountains to people in the people in the town.
People eat compote together with the meal, especially rice and pastry. It is called hoşaf (hoş-ab) and it means “nice water” in Persian. It made from peach and sour cherry or with raisin, dried apricots, dried apple. Then, some clove and cinnamon are added. It makes digestion easier. It makes the flavor neutral so that one can enjoy the meal until the end as if it is the first bite. Stum, which is made from grape, is also favorite. In every house, fresh or dried fruit and vegetables are available. Rose hip and medlar are now much less popular. Mulberry, grape, apricot, apple, pear are dried, and then they are consumes separately or added into compote or sweets. Peppers, tomatoes, eggplants are dried in order to be consumed during the winter. Melon and watermelon were introduced to the Central Europe by Turks. Turnip juice, spicy or plain, is consumed together with kebab.
Coffee was introduced to the Ottoman world via Arabic countries in the 16th century. It became very popular in Istanbul and other cities. It started to be considered as an accepted drink to offer to the guests. It is also considered to be a medicine as it can awaken people, help digestion and make one calmer. Turks drink coffee when they are ill. Today, “Turkish Coffee” is worldwide known as a trademark. The best coffee is Mocha.
In Turkish poem it says, “KahveYemen’den gelir, Bülbül çemenden gelir”. Anatolian people learnt Chienese originated tea, which was common among the Turks stayed in Turkestan, via Caucasian migrants. Tea was demanded so much that it couldn’t be compared to anything else. Even today tea is consumed as food or for pleasure by rich-poor, urban-villager, and literate-illiterate people.
Before tea and coffee, fruit and spice sherbet which was consumed hot or cold according to the season was on demand. Especially puerperal sherbet served to people visiting the woman who had given a birth was very popular, which was believed that it helps the mother to produce more milk for the baby.It is consumed hot or cold according to the season. It is delivered to neighbors and relatives in a jug with a red riband if the baby is a girl, and blue if it’s a boy. Sherbet and syrup, soup or wine comes from the Arabic root, drink. Drinking syrup before coffee is a tradition. It is produced with fruit, spice or redolent flowers. It has types such as tamarind, cherry, sour grape, pomegranate, cinnamon, clove, violet, rose syrup.
Alcoholic beverages couldn’t find a place in Turkish cuisine because alcohol is forbidden in Islam. However, rakı which was produced secretly from fruit and grains by Greek people (Rum) has been recognized as the beverage of this region. It comes from the Arabic word arakü’l-hamr, which means the sweat of wine. Wine produced from the Anatolian grapes by non-Muslims has been popular among European people. Kefir from camel or cattle milk, koumiss from mare milk are Central Asia originated alcoholic beverages of us. Although some ulema allowed under some circumstances , they were not appreciated in Anatolian region.
Milk and Dairy Products
French tradition of eating cheese after meals originated in the east. France is known for the many variety of cheese. However, Turkish cuisine is not behind it. Edirne and Ezine white cheese, İzmir and Erzincan Tulum cheese produced by wrapping in goat skin or filling in large earthenware jars, Ayvalık’skelle cheese, Van herby cheese produced with garlic and many different fresh herbs, Mihaliç cheese produced from the milk of curly sheep, string cheese getting its name from shape of slices which look like tongue, Kars gruyere cheese learnt from Russian migrants and having large pores, Antep cheese produced from sheep milk and having no salt, Urfa cheese produced by cooking, greenish Trabzon minzi cheese produced by filling the barrels, Erzurum civil cheese produced from the non-fat milk, Diyarbabıkr’s plaited cheese and Kıbrıshaloumi, Karşkashar, smoked Circassian cheese all serve different flavors. In the past, Ezine white cheese and sheep cheese of DebreYuruks of Macedonia were the most widely accepted and wanted white cheese.
Turkish cream is both consumed during breakfast and served on desserts like semolina cake, baked shredded pastry. “Honey with cream” is an expression used to describe two things that fits to each other very well. Olive is a food which is praised in holly books. Places where olive grows the best are within the boundaries of Ottoman geography. Among the hundreds of different kinds Ayvalık’syuvarlama, Nizip’skapan, Tire’s çekişte, İzmir’s memecik, Mardin’shalhalı, Aksihar’suslu and domat, Artvin’sbutko, Antalya’s tavşanyüreği, Mersin’s sarı ulak, İznik’sçelebi oils are the famous ones. Some of them are classified as for oil and some are classified as table olive. Aegean’s olive is suitable for oil, but Marmara’s is suitable as table olive. Dishes made with olive oil are not accepted that much, because oily dishes are regarded as heavy meal or smelly. However, olive is liked by most people.
There is not one table without yoghurt in the east. Even yoghurt and bread together is considered as a dish; and an original dessert by putting honey and grape molasses in it. A German professor said that “Turks finding the yoghurt is enough in terms of contributing to the civilization.” According to the myth an angel taught Prophet Abraham how to produce yoghurt for the first time. Scientific researches show that yoghurt is a Turkish discovery. Even its name is derived from the word “yoğurmak”. It is the plasticized form of milk. It found a place in world languages with this name. Some call it “katık”. It was mentioned as a holy food in the Uighur documents dating back to 10th century found in the Turfan valley. The spread of it was thanks to Turkish migrations.
Europe became acquainted with yoghurt thanks to Turks in sixteenth century. Francis I of France had diarrhea with high fever. The doctors were helpless. The mother of the king wanted help from Suleyman the magnificent. The doctor who was sent by ship made yoghurt out of the goat milk he brought with and the patient ate it. The King recovered. Yoghurt was named “The milk of eternal life” and it became a part of medical literature as medicine. In Europe yoghurt is called “Bulgarian Milk”. The reason is that a Bulgarian named Dr. Grigorov discovered a bacteria (lactobacillus bulgaricus) which is used to ferment yoghurt.
Yoghurt is a dairy product fermented by lactic acid. It is a strong intestine antiseptic. As most diseases result from indigestion, the importance of the yoghurt is considerable. Protein in milk provides the body with power without doing any harm to the stomach. Milk fat contains lecithin which is needed by nerves and brain. It contains vitamin A which is important for eyes; vitamin E which helps to grow up; vitamin B2 which is good for nerves and brain and vitamin D which improves the bones. It also contains a lot of calcium. Some people can not drink milk or eat cheese, but yoghurt is loved by a lot of people.
There is another reason why yoghurt is favoured a lot in Europe. Nobel winner Russian bacteriologist from Pasteur İnstitute Dr Metchinkoff stated that yoghurt kills the bacterias which cause smell and it prolongs human life. It is no surprise that Caucasians who live to be 100 (or older) are said to owe this to yoghurt. Because of this high demand in Europe, yoghurt was sent to America. In 1932 yoghurt culture was produced by Dr. Russell at his clinic. Dr. Houser who was a nurtitionist of Hollywood stars recommended them yoghurt so as to stay beautiful, healthy and young. Therefore yoghurt became popular in America too.
In the past, yoghurt was indispensible at table. Field bean, spinach, gren pea, fried pepper-squash-eggplant can not be eaten without yoghurt. It is antidotal to the toxic of boiling oil. If a person is poisoned he/she eats yoghurt. The only thing you can not eat it with is fish.
When you add water to it, it becomes ayran which is delicious. It goes well with kebap, turkish pizza with ground meat, and bourek with minced meat. Yoghurt is mentioned in proverbs and Turkish short poems such as; “Everybody has his/her own style of eating yoghurt”, “If your mouth is burned while eating soup, you blow while eating yoghurt.” , “I put some yoghurt in the fridge, my beloved one is busy.” , “I stole some yoghurt, eat it and go, say whatever is in your heart then go.” “The bowl of the yoghurt is tinned, who gave birth to you?”
In old times you saw in the neighbourhood yoghurt sellers who carried yoghurts in bowls on the edges of the rod they carry on their backs. Almost everyone fermented yoghurt, ones who do not would have to buy it. You would cut the yoghurt with a knife and it looked fantastic. Unfortunately we do not eat much yoghurt anymore. It is seen less at modern tables. But it is not something good. We should restore its honour considering the importance given by the foreigners.
Yoghurt is made thick by filtering it through a cotton cloth and it is called condensed yoghurt. You can eat it at breakfast and you can also add it to soup or bourek. Skim-milk cheese which is prepared by adding an acid like vinegar or lemon (or without adding anything) and curd cheese which is produced by whey can be eaten at breakfast or can be used while baking bourek or cooking dessert. It is preferred by poor people because it is cheap. Lor (curd) is a Persian word and means the same. You put milk in the churning machine and then remove its fat. After removing the fat the remaining fatless and sourish part is called ayran and is used while cooking soup.The bevarage which is made by mixing water and yoghurt is another drink. This drink –which is widely known as ayran – is actually çalkalama; it is fatty and it tastes better. Kurut (keş) is made of fatless yoghurt or ayran without fat. Water of yoghurt is filtered through cotton bags, salt is added, it is put into pieces and is dried under the sun for 1 or 2 weeks. Or, ayran is heated until it is thick and is added salt and dried. Therefore it can be preserved (containing its vitamin) for a long time. In winter, it is smashed and added into soup or used while baking bourek or while fermenting yoghurt. Keş is a Persian word.
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