Ethnic cuisines

The communities that made up the Ottoman Empire blended together by creating a common set of values. Their shared eating habits therefore differ only in the nuances.

All the ethnic communities live on these lands cook their dishes with almost same receipes, despite of their relegious, social and cultural differences. A few variations, however, stemming from different social and religious traditions, give rise to certain culinary differences, as recently published cookbooks especially make even more clear.

In her cookbook, 'Sofranız Şen Olsun' (May Your Table Be Festive), Takuhi Tovmasyan describes the Armenian family dining customs and eating habits she observed from her childhood on. Most of the recipes in this book, which reads like a novel, are conspicuously the same in name as those for Turkish dishes. The same is true of Sula Bozis's 'Istanbullu ve Kapodokyalı Rumların Yemek Kültürü' (The Food Culture of Istanbul and Cappadocian Greeks). In an exception to this, the eating habits of the Sephardic Jews who fled from Spain to the Ottoman Empire 500 years ago entered our lives as a food culture new and different to these lands. The food cultures of these communities also exhibit significant differences in Istanbul and Ankara. To appreciate this better, one needs to examine the history of these lands in depth.
The Balkans, the Mediterranean basin and the Asian and Middle Eastern regions make up the world's fertile triangle, the heart of which lies in Anatolia or, as it is known in the West, Asia Minor. On its long road to civilization, mankind over time discovered that these bountiful lands were in fact the world's 'food silo', for which reason alone they witnessed some of the most brutal wars in history.  The depth and richness of the Anatolian way of life derived largely from the attraction exercised by this geography.

In a cookbook entitled simply, 'Türk Mutfağı' (Turkish Cuisine), published and distributed by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Stefanos Yerasimos and his wife Marianna, in their article “Cuisines of the Greek community” in the Ottoman period, describe how there were 180 fasting days designated by the church and that all Greeks during the period were therefore forced to spend almost half the year on a strict diet. Due to this frequent fasting, bloodless seafood constituted an important source of nourishment for Greeks living on the coast, while those living in the rural areas further inland consumed vegetables, fruit and legumes as dietary staples. The communities that made up the Ottoman Empire blended together by creating a common set of values. Their shared eating habits therefore differ only in the nuances.

The most significant differences in the eating habits of Turkey's communities stem from the ritual dietary laws laid down by religious rules. At the same time, the society that comprised every religion and community in Istanbul from the founding of the Ottoman Empire onwards developed a common way of life that would last for centuries, a process during which foods cooked in olive oil had a central place. Even today the food culture based on olive oil is more characteristic of Istanbul than of Anatolia. Similarly, although it was not prohibited by their religion, Muslims from Anatolia avoided eating seafood, which was nevertheless consumed by Muslims from the Balkans.
In Ottoman Istanbul, the communities that came from the Balkans made significant contributions to the development especially of pastries and dairy products. The 'terbiye' method of cooking food in an egg-lemon sauce is a technique that came into Istanbul cuisine from Greek cuisine. Endless examples could be cited. But the differences between the cuisines of the Istanbul communities and of those living in Anatolia are quite profound. It is the natural conditions of geography that primarily determine the nature of cuisines all over the world. And the people who live in those geographies create their traditional dishes and recipes subject to those conditions. That is how it has been up to now, and in subsequent centuries as well natural conditions are certainly going to exert multiple influences on developing regional cuisines. What is important is that the process as developed up to this point be passed on to the future.

I am grateful especially to Diana Yumul and Alis Berberoglu for their help in preparing some of the recipes.

Roast turkey

A 2 kg turkey
200 gr ground beef or veal
100 gr sausage stuffing
100 gr ground ham
100 gr grated Parmesan
2 eggs
500 gr roasted chestnuts
25 green olives, pitted

Brown all the ingredients in 50 gr of butter for 15 minutes. Stuff and grease the turkey, then roast two hours in a medium oven. Serve slices of turkey with stuffing on the side. May be served with a side dish of oven-roasted potatoes.
Source: Levanten Katolik Mutfağından (From Levantine Catholic Cuisine) by Anita Marinoviç

Igado kon vinagre (Liver in vinegar sauce) - Jewish Cuisine

1 kg liver, chopped
For the sauce:
2 cups water
1/2 cup vinegar
2 large tomatoes, grated,
or tomato puree
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp flour
1/4 cup liquid oil

Chop the liver as for Albanian Liver and sauté in the oil. Remove from the frying pan and arrange in a skillet.
Preparation of the sauce:
Mix together the water, vinegar, grated or pureed tomatoes, salt and sugar. Add the flour to this mixture and mix in well. Pour the mixture over the liver. Just before serving, cook over a slow fire until thickened.
Source: Sephardic Cuisine of Izmir

Boiled Eggs Jewish-style
10 eggs
1 tbsp salt
1 cup olive oil
1 tsp ground red pepper
juice of one lemon
3 onion skins
1 tsbp ground coffee
Water as needed

Arrange the onion skins in a pot and the eggs over them. Then cover the eggs with onion skins. Sprinkle with the salt and ground coffee and add water to cover. Cook over a low fire for about 3-4 minutes. The white shells of the eggs will turn brown and the eggs take on an interesting flavor. Crack the eggs and carefully remove the shells. Slice very thin, arrange on a platter and drizzle with olive and lemon juice.
Source: Gökçen Adar

Topik - Armenian Cuisine

Slice the onions paper thin. Place the salt, sugar, pistachios and one cup water in a pot. Cover and cook. When cooked, add the black pepper, cinnamon, allspice and tahina, mix well and let cool. Cook the chickpeas and mash well. Then mix together with the pureed potatoes and salt. Then add the tahina and mix well. Spread the pureed mixture on a plate, cover with the onion mixture and serve.
This is the method suggested by Alis Berberoğlu. The topik may also be placed in a cheesecloth bag and shaped into balls.

1 medium onion (thinly sliced)
1/4 cup pistachios
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup currants
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp allspice
250 gr tahina (about 1/4 cup)
1 cup chickpeas (soaked overnight and skinned)
3 medium potatoes, boiled and pureed
1 tsp red pepper flakes