UNESCO Cultural Heritage in Turkey: A Culinary Odyssey

Embarking on a journey through the heart of Turkey is like unraveling the pages of a vibrant storybook. In this article, our topics aren’t historical sites or ancient artifacts, but rich flavors and rich traditions of Turkish cuisine. 

Before we dive into the world of Turkish cuisine, let’s learn about UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) identifies and protects places around the globe that hold outstanding cultural values. These can range from historical landmarks to intangible cultural practices that shape the identity of a community. Our focus in this blog is dishes that not only taste amazing but also hold a key to the cultural tapestry of Turkey.

Table of Contents

The Rich Tapestry of Turkish Cuisine

at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkish cuisine has been shaped by a myriad of civilizations, and each of them impacted the culinary canvas. From the Ottoman Empire to the Silk Roads traders, the Turkish culture has absorbed a gastronomic legacy that is unique and extraordinary.

Key Elements that Define Turkish Food

  • Spices and Aromatics: Turkish cuisine is a symphony of spices, each playing a unique note to create dishes that dance on the plate.
  • Flavors: sweet and savory, tangy, and rich Turkish cuisine is a celebration of contrasts. 
  • Cooking Techniques: from slow-cooked stews in clay pots to the art of layering thin sheets of dough for baklava, Turkish cooking techniques are steeped in tradition.

Turkish Delights on the UNESCO Stage

Turkish cuisine is more than just a collection of recipes, it’s a living testament to the intangible cultural heritage that ties communities together.

Gaziantep Baklava

Gaziantep, a city in Turkey, is famous for its baklava, a traditional sweet pastry made with layers of filo dough and filled with chopped nuts, typically pistachios. Gaziantep is located in the southeast of the Anatolia Region in Turkey and has a long gastronomic history that has been at the core of its cultural identity since the Iron Age. 

There are more than 100 baklava shops in the city, which supply 90% of the baklava consumed in Turkey. The baklava in Gaziantep is made with locally grown pistachio nuts. 

This city has several food festivals that showcase its rich culinary heritage and traditions. The Gaziantep Pistachio Festival takes place every October and is the most important local event in the city. Visitors can indulge in various pistachio-based dishes and desserts.

Turkish Coffee Culture and Tradition

Turkish coffee is a traditional culture, which has been passed down through generations. The tradition is a symbol of hospitality, friendship, refinement, and entertainment. 

The process of making Turkish coffee involves freshly roasted beans being ground to a fine powder, then mixed with cold water and sugar in a coffee pot called a cezve. The mixture is brewed slowly on a trove to produce the desired foam, and it is served generally in small cups, often accompanied by a glass of water. Turkish coffee houses, known as kahvehane, have been a popular gathering place for people to meet, converse, and share news for centuries.

Turkish coffee plays a vital role in social occasions such as engagement ceremonies and holidays. It is used to symbolize the couple’s commitment and compatibility. The bride prepares Turkish coffee and observes her coffee-making skills, and the bride sometimes adds salt to Turkish coffee to test the groom’s demeanor. 

Turkish coffee is not just a drink but a way of life, and it continues to be celebrated and practiced in modern society.

Ceremonial Keşkek Tradition

keskek turkey

Keşek is a traditional Turkish ceremonial dish prepared for wedding ceremonies, circumcisions, and religious holidays. The dish is prepared by cooking wheat and meat in large cauldrons over an open fire. The wheat is washed with prayers the preceding day and then carried to a large stone mortar, to the accompaniment of music from the davul drum and zurna double-reed pipe. At the mortar, it is hulled by two to four persons using gavels in a fixed rhythm. Cooking is usually carried out outdoors and towards noon the strongest of the village youth are called to beat the keşek with wooden mallets, while the crowd cheers and zurna players perform musical pieces. 

The preparation of keşek is a social practice of solidarity based on joint labor and sharing in ceremonies where community participation is high. Keşek is deeply rooted in Turkish culture and is considered a symbol of solidarity, community, and sharing.

Turkish Traditional Flatbread

Turkish flatbread is a staple in Turkish cuisine and comes in many shapes and sizes, with different textures and toppings depending on the region of Turkey where it is made. One of the most popular types of Turkish flatbread:

  • Bazlama: also known as “village bread” as it is often sold at markets.
  • Pide: a fluffier, more bread-style flatbread that is similar to focaccia.
  • Yufka: a very thin flatbread used for wrapping and making things like gozleme and borek.
  • Lavash: a very thin, crisp flatbread topped with nigella seeds.

Turkish flatbread is a versatile food that can be enjoyed with a variety of dishes, such as hummus, soups, stews, salads, and grilled meats. It is a delicious and easy-to-make bread that is a staple in Turkish cuisine.

Exploring UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy in Turkey

The next stop on our culinary tour is Turkey’s UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy, each of which is a thriving center of culinary innovation, creativity, and tradition.

Gaziantep: The Culinary Jewel of the South

Known as the culinary capital of Turkey, Gaziantep is a treasure trove of flavors that has earned it the title of a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Famous for its succulent kebabs, delectable mezes, and the world-renowned Antep baklava.

This city hosts the International Gastronomy Festival, a celebration where local and international chefs come together to showcase the richness of Gaziantep’s culinary heritage.

Hatay: A Culinary Tapestry of Diversity

Hatay is positioned at the crossroads of civilizations, its cuisine incorporates flavors from the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Anatolia. The multicultural nature of the city can be seen in the gastronomy of Hatay, which includes dishes like cumin and coriander.

The Annual Antakya Gastronomy Days bring together chefs, food enthusiasts, and visitors to experience Hatay’s culinary delights, workshops, and cultural events.

Denizli: Balancing Tradition and Innovation

Denizli, another UNESCO City of Gastronomy, focuses on locally sourced ingredients, dishes like yapark sarma and tandır kebab preserving culinary traditions and innovation.

This city hosts the International Denizli Kebab and Dessert festivals.

We delved into the acknowledgment of Turkish culinary heritage on the global stage. Dishes like Gaziantep baklava, the art of Turkish coffee preparation, and the craft of pide making, turn them into ambassadors of Turkey’s rich cultural legacy. We explored the UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy, which proved to be vibrant hubs where culinary creativity and tradition harmonize. 

Turkish culinary heritage stands not just as a local treasure but as a global cultural feast.