Culinary

A large majority of the world’s food crops are found in a region stretching from the Mediterranean through Central Asia and India, known as the Fertile Triangle.

Especially in the 50-60 years following the Second World War there was an enormous increase in the diversity of food people put on their tables. Thanks to new production methods that reshaped developing food technologies, we now produce and consume foodstuffs that are very different from natural foods. The process of transition from consuming food at the source to consuming food far from the source got under some 150 years ago. In the nutritional system brought about by this process, future generations in particular are going to be unaware of the wonders of nature that lie behind the tons of foodstuffs they consume throughout their lives.

For a few centuries now research has been being done on the origin of the world’s sources of nutrition. On the world map, the region from the western Mediterranean to eastern India and China, between the African Sahara and the equator, and from Mexico to Peru and the Colombian Andes in Latin America have been identified as the home of the main food crops grown in the world. But as experts point out, the majority of sustainable foodstuffs on our tables are produced across a large swath of land that extends from the Mediterranean through Central Asia to India, known as the fertile triangle. These are the regions where not only the growing of crops but also the domestication of animals began. Human beings naturally moved into these regions where sources of food were readily available.

When it comes to nutritional systems and the cooking of food, the cuisines that grew up inside the fertile triangle still influence culinary models today. The world’s leading chefs are continuously reinterpreting the cooking techniques that developed in this region, whose cuisines are characterized by a number of basic foodstuffs and methods of preparation. The Turks are among the rare peoples who in different periods of history have settled in all the areas inside this fertile triangle, from north to south and east to west.

AN EAST-WEST SYNTHESIS
Settling in the west of the fertile triangle in the Ottoman period, the Turks combined their  eastern culinary traditions with those of the west to create the eminently rich Ottoman cuisine.

Bringing the technique of rolling paper-thin dough characteristic of Central Asian and Far Eastern cuisines to the west, the Turks produced such a delicate palatal pleasure as baklava, which remains one of the most difficult things to make even today. A close look at the ingredients used in baklava reveals that literally all of them come from natural sources. Sweets or dishes with sugar were once regarded as the most valuable food one could serve a guest, and as such baklava is still consumed today. Perhaps the adaptation of the baklava technique to savory dishes is even going to open up new horizons in our cuisine.

WHO INVENTED OLIVE OIL DISHES?
The question of who invented olive oil dishes has been a subject of debate in Turkey for years. The use in particular of rice and spices in stuffed vegetables cooked in olive oil is eastern in origin. Cooking techniques and dishes using rice constitute the foundation of nutrition among the peoples of the East in any case. The olive oil used, on the other hand, is a product of Mediterranean culture. The ‘dolma’s or stuffed vegetables cooked in olive oil that are unique to Istanbul were originally influenced by the meat-stuffed dolma of Central Asia. It should be remembered that Istanbul for a long time was a world capital inhabited by people of highly refined tastes.

FROM ‘MANTO’ TO ‘MANTI’
One of the best-loved dishes in Turkey is a kind of meat ravioli known as ‘manti’. Its homeland is Central Asia, where it is known as ‘manto’. About ten times the size of its Turkish counterpart, ‘manto’ is cooked by the widespread Asian technique of steaming. Made in a variety of shapes and by a variety of methods in Turkey, ‘manti’ like ‘manto’ is either boiled or steamed - some varieties are even fried - and usually served with garlic-flavored yoghurt. Having already undergone a transformation in Anatolia, when manti came to the Balkans, it took the form of ‘börek’ (savory pastry) baked in the oven despite using the same ingredients. Although its name has remained fundamentally the same in all the lands to which it spread after leaving Asia, manti continues to be consumed in different forms. Another foodstuff of Asian origin is eggplant, which came to Anatolia from China and quickly found a place on the table in a number of different dishes. Yet while the staggering number of recipes for eggplant is a source of pride in Turkey, it is not widely used in China at all. In western cuisines meanwhile it is the Italians who make the most use of eggplant in their Mediterranean cuisine. In Turkey, the diverse communities that lived together for many years under the Ottoman Empire especially used their ingenuity to create numerous eggplant dishes.

An eggplant dish cooked in olive oil whose history is associated especially with Istanbul, ‘İmam bayildi’ (often translated as ‘The Imam fainted’, meaning that he liked the dish so much he swooned), has long since taken its place in world culinary literature. Gastronomy is continuing to evolve, undergoing various changes at every step in the world. Regardless of the degree to which western-style trends have come to dominate the cuisines of metropolitan communities today, it must not be forgotten that  due to influences of climate and geography cuisines are always going to derive their strength from the areas where farming first yielded up its riches.

Bosnian Manti
Also known as ‘ Pita Manti’, the Bosnian manti is often cooked by the Bosnians in Turkey.

Kandilli Manti
Originated from Edirne, this manti is stuffed with rice and liver and cooked in owen. Chicken meat and broth is added during cooking.

Bundled Manti
Bundled manti is the most common type of manti in Turkey. The most renowned bundled manti comes from Kayseri.