Rumelian cuisine

The peoples of the Balkans and of Rumelia have added a wealth of cultural richness to Istanbul life. And Rumelian cuisine is one of the joys of Turkish cooking.

Rumelia was the first Ottoman province to be established on European soil. The Ottomans, who moved into the Balkans shortly after founding their state, lost no time in adapting its lifestyle to their own. What’s more, people were brought from Anatolia to be settled in the Balkan areas of Ottoman conquest, thereby creating one of the richest cultural syntheses in the world for the 400 years they occupied the region.
Ottoman cuisine is just one of the products of that long journey. It should not be forgotten of course that unusual adaptations are encountered at ever step along the way of this gastronomical adventure and that the cuisine itself underwent countless modifications. The bread called ‘pitta’, taken from northern India by the Turks who conquered that region, acquired a number of different names after it arrived in Anatolia. Known as ‘etli ekmek’ or ‘bread with meat’ in Konya, in the Black Sea region it was called ‘lahmacun’ or ‘pide’, ‘pitta’ becoming ‘pide’ in the process. Meanwhile, in the Balkans, ‘pita’ was the name given to a savory pastry made by piling up layer upon layer of fine ‘yufka’ dough with fillings of different kinds in between, which was then baked in the oven. Similarly, the dish the Bosnians call ‘mantı’ (a variety of ravioli) has no connection whatsoever with the dish of the same name made in Anatolia but is extremely tasty all the same.

The Balkan peoples identified so thoroughly with the Ottoman Empire that they are in evidence at every stage in its history. The people of Rumelia contributed a welter of cultural richness to the life of Istanbul, as is manifested even in its cuisine. The Albanians, for example, who came to Istanbul brought with them their expertise in dairy products, particularly those made with the milk of the water buffalo. And dishes made of offal, one of the most interesting chapters in Ottoman cuisine, are largely Rumeli in origin. The delectable starter known as ‘Albanian liver’ is a staple on the menu of many an Istanbul restaurant today, as well as being one of the most favorite dishes made at home. Not only that but the egg and lemon sauces that add flavor and richness to so many soups and stews are also Rumeli in origin. And the famous meat dish known as ‘Elbasan tava’ is a quintessential example of the Rumeli method of food preparation.
But Muslims were not the only people who came from the Balkans to settle in Istanbul; there were also numerous Christians and Jews, with the result that the rich culture emanating from Anatolia on the one hand and the vibrant and colorful culture of the Muslims, Christians and Jews from the Balkans on the other gave rise to the splendid diversity of taste and visual delight that is Istanbul cuisine.

When the Ottomans’ sway over the Balkans began to wane, the Ottoman citizens of the region set out once again for Anatolia, this time of necessity. This was a tragic and reverse migration. The people who had once spread to the extremities of Rumelia on horseback out of Anatolia were returning there, this time bringing the traditional lifestyles they had preserved in the closed communities in which they lived. Now however it was an extremely diversified cuisine that they encountered in their former homeland.
While they had been meticulously preserving their cooking habits in Rumelia —on their limited means, for example, producing their own animal fats— they found upon their return that margarine had long since superseded those fats in Istanbul cuisine. They also made the acquaintance of the new liquid oils which they had not previously encountered. Not only that but when these victims of forced migration returned to their original homeland they were compelled at first to live in ghettoes. But the people of Rumelia, who had submitted honorably to every manner of hardship over the centuries without ever losing their joie de vivre, once more succeeded in overcoming all these obstacles and making a normal life for themselves. Yet the Tuna and Arda clans never of course forgot the Florina Mountains and their harsh winds. And for this reason there were certain little luxuries they were unwilling to forego. Like donning their silk shalwar embroidered with silver threads and pinking and their vests with purple buttons, or searching for traces of the past in the grounds of the bitter Turkish coffee they brew on copper braziers, or gazing towards Thrace and humming a folk song once sung by their grandmothers, ‘I Stole a Hyacinth from Mavrova’...


Şile Paprika

1 kg ‘Charleston’ peppers (long, mild green peppers)
100 g white (feta) cheese
5 tbsp olive oil

Broil the peppers briefly over a charcoal fire (or gas flame) and remove the skins. Arrange in a skillet and sprinkle with the olive oil and crumbled white cheese. Cover and heat over a low fire until the cheese melts. Serve piping hot.

Soup with lamb necks and trotters

1 lamb neck
10 lamb’s trotters, cleaned
2 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp powdered coriander
4 tbsp butter
Bouquet garni (carrots, courgettes, onions, bay leaves, black peppercorns)

For the egg sauce:
5 tbsp flour
4 tbsp yoghurt
4 eggs
juice of half a lemon

Clean the lamb’s trotters first, smoke over a fire and wash. Place the cleaned lamb neck together with the trotters in a pot. Add the bouquet garni and the water. When it begins to boil, skim off the foam and simmer until the meat falls off the bone. Strain the broth through a sieve and tear the meat into shreds. Place the strained broth in a pan and let boil, then add the meat. Mix the sauce ingredients in another pot, and pour three ladles full of the broth over them. Slowly add this mixture to the boiling broth over a low fire and bring to a boil. Heat the butter in a skillet until it froths and add the powdered coriander. Pour the melted butter into the soup. Serve piping hot with vinegar and crushed garlic to taste.

Klepa (Bosnian ravioli)

1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 cup water, salt

For the filling:
125 g ground meat
1 onion, grated
black pepper

For the topping:
1/2 kg yoghurt
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 tbsp butter
red pepper

Prepare the filling by adding the grated onion, salt and pepper to the ground meat. In a bowl, knead the flour, salt, egg and water into a ball. Roll out with a rolling pin on a floured surface and cut into 5-cm squares. Fill a pot with about one liter of water and add the salt. Arrange bits of the ground meat mixture on the squares of dough, fold them over into triangles and pinch shut. Then toss them in the boiling water and cook for 20 minutes. Remove with a strainer and serve on plates topped with the yoghurt. Heat the butter in a skillet until it froths, mix in the red pepper and drizzle over the yoghurt.

Source: Bosnian Dishes, Selma Peşteli

Mahluta (Lentil Biryani)

1 cup green lentils
1 cup rice
2 onions
2 medium tomato or
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp butter or 1/2 cup olive oil
black pepper

Boil the lentils and strain. Brown the finely chopped onions in a pot. Add the tomatoes and stir. Add salt and water to the lentils and cook
for about 15 minutes. Then
add the rinsed rice and cook
minutes more. If desired, sprinkle with black pepper.

Source: Bosnian Dishes, Selma Peşteli

İzlivaça (Klukuşa)

2 cups water
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup olive oil

For the topping:
3 cloves of garlic (crushed)
3 tbsp butter
250 g yoghurt
red pepper

Mix the flour, salt and water. Pour into a greased pan 35 cm in diameter and drizzle with the remaining oil. Place in the oven until browned on top. When cool enough to handle, break apart coarsely with your fingers and pour the garlic yoghurt over it. Heat the butter in a skillet until it froths, add the red pepper and drizzle over the yoghurt.

Source: Bosnian Dishes, Selma Peşteli