Uncovering the Rich Tapestry of Turkish Food History

Get ready for a delightful adventure into the world of Turkish food history. This blog is about the story of Turkish food and its cultural importance. We will explore the delicious history of Turkish food, and we will try to investigate the historical roots and the influence of the region’s geography on Turkish cuisine. Join us to travel through time and tradition and by the end, you will be inspired to try your Turkish dishes at home. 

Turkish cuisine is a culinary delight characterized by its remarkable diversity and rich history. Rooted in the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkish food showcases a wide array of flavors and ingredients, each influenced by centuries of historical conquests and cultural exchanges. Iconic Turkish foods like kebabs, baklava, and börek have gained worldwide recognition. Turkish cuisine offers a delightful journey for the taste buds and has become one of the most popular cuisines in the world. 

Table of Contents

History of Turkish Food

Ancient Origins and Influences on Turkish Cuisine

Turkish cuisine has been deep-rooted in various civilizations that have inhabited the region over the centuries. Hittites, Phrygians, Persians,  Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines have all played a role in shaping the foundations of Turkish cooking. These influences brought unique ingredients, and spices, and cooking techniques that continue.

Ottoman Empire and its Impact on Culinary

The Ottoman Empire significantly impacted the development of Turkish cuisine. For more than 600 years, the Ottomans ruled a vast empire, which allowed them to access a wide range of ingredients and culinary traditions from different regions. Here are some ways in which the Ottoman Empire impacted Turkish cuisine:

  • Divers and rich food culture: The Ottoman Empire’s cuisine was a reflection of the empire’s wealth, hospitality, and cultural heritage. 
  • Influenced by various cultures and regions: The Ottoman Empire’s cuisine was influenced by various cultures and regions, including the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. 
  • Palace cuisine: the Ottoman Empire’s palace cuisine was sophisticated and refined cuisine that was influenced by the empire’s diverse population. 
  • Regional cuisines: outside the palace walls, the Ottoman Empire was a vast and diverse territory with a range of regional cuisines. Each region had its unique dishes, ingredients, and cooking styles that reflected the local geography, climate, and culture.

Modernization and Globalization of Turkish Food

More than any time, Turkish cuisine has experienced modernization and globalization. Traditional and contemporary culinary are influenced by urbanization, international trade, and increased tourism. Turkish chefs have adapted to changing tastes and incorporated global elements while preserving the essence of their heritage.

Traditional Turkish Food

Turkish cuisine is diverse and rich and relies less on seasonings and more on fresh ingredients rolled, kneaded, shaped, and cooked to perfection with care, dedication, and passion. Here are some of the most popular traditional Turkish foods:

  • Piyaz: Piyaz is a traditional salad or mese made from any kind of dry beans with onion, parsley, and sumac. The name “piyaz” comes from the Iranian word for onion. Piyaz dates back to the Ottoman Empire.
  • Ezogelin corba: it’s a dish-side soup made with red lentils, rice, onions, tomato paste, and spices. The soup is named after a woman named Ezo Gelin, who lived in Gaziantep.
  • Saksuka: it’s a dish made of sautéed vegetables in a thick garlicky tomato sauce. The history of saksuka is not clear, but it is believed to have originated in Turkey and has been stable in Turkish cuisine.
  • Kisir: kisir is a dish made from fine bulgur, tomato paste, and spices. The dish is often served as a side dish or as part of a meze or buffet. The origins of kisir are in the southeastern region of Turkey, particularly in the province of Hatay.
  • Mercimek kofte: it’s made from red lentils, fine bulgur, and spices. The origins of mercimek kofte are in southeastern Turkey. The disk is a popular appetizer.
  • Yaprak dolma: It is a dish made from grape leaves stuffed with aromatic rice, fresh Mediterranean herbs, and spices. The history of this dish back to the Ottoman Empire. The dish can be served warm or cold.
  • Inegol kofte: it is a type of meatball that was created by Mustafa Efendi, a Bulgarian immigrant to Inegol in the 19th century. The dish is made from ground beef or lamb mixed with grated onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, and spices.
  • Iskender kebab: it’s a dish that consists of sliced döner kebab meat topped with hot tomato sauce over pieces of pita bread and generously slathered with melted special sheep’s milk butter and yogurt. Its inventor, Iskender Efendi, lived in Bursa in the late 19th century and still his family has trademarked “Kebapçı İskender” and runs a restaurant in Bursa.
  • Baklava: Baklava is a dessert made of apparel-thin phyllo pastry, a sweet filling made with chopped nuts, and a coating of honey or syrup. It is believed the history of baklava goes back to the Assyrian Empire in the eighth century B.C.E. In Ottoman times, Baklava was an almost sacred part of Ramadan. The Ottoman sultan would famously give it in massive quantities to his most elite soldiers, the Janissaries, in what was known as the Baklava Procession.
  • Döner kebap: the döner kebab, literally meaning “rotating roast”, is a type of Turkish dish made with seasoned meat shaved from a vertical rotisserie. The first evidence of this dish being a common food in Istanbul dates back to 1855.
  • Lahmacun: lahmacun is a thin layer of dough topped with minced meat and a variety of vegetables, baked to crispy perfection, and eaten with fresh vegetables, herbs, and some lemon juice. The exact origin of lahmacun is a mystery, although most can agree it originated either in Turkey or Armenia. 
  • Dolma: dolma is a stuffed side made with vegetables, fruits, and seafood, and it is wrapped with grape, cabbage, or other leaves. The dish has been around for centuries, and its origin is debated among different cultures. Some believe it originated in Ancient Greece and some believe it was invented in Armenia, 3000 years ago, and called “udul”. The dish is often served hot or cold and is a staple in many cuisines.
  • Meze: meze is a culinary tradition in the Mediterranean region that involves serving small plates of food meant to be shared and enjoyed among friends and family over a long period. The word “meze” comes from the Persian word “mazzah” which means “taste” or “relish”. The origin of meze is Ancient Greece or Persia. Meze can be made with a variety of ingredients, including vegetables, fruits, seafood, and meat, and it is frequently accompanied by alcohol.
  • The Meze blog link
  • Börek: börek is a family of pastries or pies found in the Blakans, Middle East, and Central Asia. It is made of a thin flaky dough such as filo with a variety of filling, such as meat, cheese, spinach, Or potatoes. The first mention of börek is in the 13th century, börek became a favorite food in the Ottoman Empire during the 14th century and later became a cultural symbol of Turkish cuisine. The royal chefs would alter the pastry fillings from feta cheese to minced meat, and spinach to potatoes, or leeks for a variation in taste.
  • Menemen: menemen is a traditional Turkish breakfast dish made with scrambled eggs, peppers, tomatoes, and spices. The dish is named after a region in Turkey, and it is thought to have originated in the Aegean region of Turkey. Menemen has a long history dating back to the Byzantine era.
  • Pilaf: pilaf is a rich dish that is popular in many cultures and regions. Pilaf is believed to have originated in Persia, where it was first mentioned in recorded history. By the 13th century, pilaf had become a staple food in Turkish cuisine. Pilaf can be served as a single main dish or as an accompaniment to other dishes, such as meat and vegetable dishes, dolma, fruit, and sweets.
  • Manti: Manti is a traditional dumpling dish that is popular in Turkey. The dish has its origins in Central Asia and was brought to Anatolia, by nomadic Turkish tribes, during the 13th century. Manti is usually served with a garlic yogurt sauce, tomato sauce, and melted butter.
  • Köfte: köfte is a meatball dish made with a blend of ground beef or lamb. Onion, garlic, and various spices. There are many types of köfte in Turkey, including İnegöl köfte, Islama köfte, Şiş köfte, and Analı kızlı
  • Mercimek köftesi: it’s a dish made with lentils and bulgur that has its origins in the Middle East. It is a vegan dish that is high in protein and fiber and is often served as a meze or salad.
  • Lokum: Lokum also known as Turkish Delight, is a traditional Turkish confection with a long history dating back more than 500 years to the Ottoman Empire. The invasion of Lokum is attributed to Bekir Efendi, who came to Istanbul in 1777 from Anatolia. The Haci Bekir confectionary in the Eminönü district is still open to this day and run by his descendants.
  • Kumpir: kumpir is a traditional dish that consists of a baked potato filled with various ingredients, such as meat, cheese, and vegetables. Kumpir is a typical street food that Turks adopted as their own. 
  • Dürüm: Dürüm is a traditional Turkish wrap that is typically filled with various ingredients, such as kebab, döner, or liver, and is made from lavash or yufka flatbread. It is a popular street food in Turkey and can also be found in sit-down restaurants.

Role of Family and Tradition in Turkish Cooking

Family and tradition play a central role in Turkish cooking. Gathering around the table for a meal is an important tradition in Turkey, and it goes beyond just food. It’s a symbol of togetherness, a time for family members to bond, share story, and strengthen their connections.

Generation by generation, the art of Turkish cooking is passed down, with family recipes and culinary traditions evolving. Mothers, grandmothers, and elders are the custodians of these culinary legacies. Family members take pride in the preparation of meals, often working together in the kitchen. 

These traditions extend to special occasions and holidays, where elaborate feasts are prepared to celebrate cultural and religious events. Each region in Turkey has its unique customs and dishes, adding to the diversity and richness of the cuisine.

Dishes and Cooking Techniques Developed in Turkey

Turkey has made substantial contributions to the culinary arts community with a wide variety of foods and creative cooking methods. Here are a few notable instances:

  • Kebab: Turkey is renowned for its various kebabs, such as döner kebab, shish kebab, and Adana kebab. The kebab cooking method has been adopted worldwide.
  • Pide: pide is typically referred to as “ Turkish pizza”. It’s a boat-shaped flatbread topped with minced meat, cheese, and vegetables.
  • Manti:  Manti are tiny, flavorful dumplings filled with seasoned meat or lentils and typically served with yogurt and a drizzle of garlic-infused butter.
  • Tandir Cooking: Tandir ovens. Widely used in Turkey, allows for slow-roasting meats, especially lamb.
  • Simit: Simit is a popular Turkish street food known as a sesame-covered bread ring. It’s a simple yet delicious snack enjoyed.
  • Baklava: Baklava is a sweet, rich pastry made of layers of filo dough, nuts, and syrup.
  • Saç Cooking: the saç is a large, round, and shallow metal griddle used for preparing various dishes, especially in rural areas of Turkey, it’s perfect for cooking dishes like gözleme, a savory stuffed flatbread, and stir-fried meats and vegetables.
  • Turkish Coffee: Turkish coffee is famous worldwide for its unique preparation, the coffee is finely ground, mixed with water and sugar, and then brewed in a special pot called a “cezve”. It’s known for its strong and aromatic flavor, often accompanied by a piece of Turkish delight.
  • Turkish Tea: Turkish tea has a long, rich history, and it has become an important part of Turkish daily life and culture. People of all ages and backgrounds consume tea daily. Offering tea to guests is part of Turkish hospitality, and tea is most often consumed in households, shops, and kıraathane, which are men’s social gatherings.