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A Nurturing Environment

Early historical documents show that the basic structure of the Turkish Cuisine was already established during the Nomadic Period and in the first settled Turkish States of Asia. Culinary attitudes towards meat, dairy, vegetables and grains that characterized this early period still make up the core of Turkish Cuisine. Turks cultivated wheat and used it liberally in several types of leavened and unleavened breads baked in clay ovens, on the griddle, or buried in ember. "Manti" (dumpling), and "bugra" (attributed to Bugra Khan of Turkestan, the ancestor of "börek" or dough with fillings), were already among the much-coveted dishes at this time. Stuffing the pasta, as well as all kinds of vegetables, was also common practice, and still is, as evidenced by dozens of different types of "dolma". Skewering meat as well as other ways of grilling, later known to us as varieties of "kebap" and dairy products such as cheeses and yogurt were convenient and staple foods of the pastoral Turks. They introduced these attitudes and practices to Anatolia in the 11th century. In return they were introduced to rice, the fruits and the vegetables native to the Region, and the hundreds varieties of fish in the three seas surrounding the Anatolian Peninsula. These new and wonderful ingredients were assimilated into the basic Cuisine in the millennia that followed.

Anatolia is a Region coined as the "bread basket of the world". Turkey, even now, is one of the seven countries in the world which produces enough food to feed everyone and then some to export. The Turkish landscape encompasses such a wide variety of geographic zones, that for every two to four hours of driving, you will find yourself in a different zone with all the accompanying changes in scenery, temperature, altitude, humidity, vegetation and weather conditions. The Turkish landscape has the combined characteristics of the three old continents of the world : Europe, Africa and Asia, and an ecological diversity surpassing any other place along the 40th latitude. Thus, the diversity of the Cuisine has come to reflect that of the landscape and its regional variations.

In the Eastern Region, you will encounter the rugged, snow-capped mountains where the winters are long and cold, and the highlands where the spring season with its rich wild flowers and rushing creeks extends into the long and cool summer. Livestock farming is prevalent. Butter, yogurt, cheeses, honey, meat and cereals are the local food. Long winters are best endured with the help of yogurt soup and meatballs flavored with aromatic herbs found in the mountains, and endless servings of tea.

The heartland is dry steppes with rolling hills, endless stretches of wheat fields and barren bedrock that takes on the most incredible shades of gold, violet, cool and warm grays, as the sun travels the sky. Ancient cities were located on the trade routes with lush cultivated orchards and gardens. Among these, Konya, the capital of the Seljuk Empire (the first Turkish State in Anatolia), distinguished itself as the center of a culture that attracted scholars, mystics, and poets from throughout the world during the 13th century. The lavish Cuisine that is enjoyed in Konya today, with its clay-oven (tandir) kebaps, böreks, mcat and vegetable dishes and helva desserts, dates back to the feasts given by Sultan Alaaddin Keykubad in 1237 A.D.

Towards the west, one eventually reaches warm, fertile valleys between cultivated mountainsides, and the lace-like shores of the Aegean where nature is friendly and life has always been easy. Fruits and vegetables of all kinds are abundant, including the best of all sea food! Here, olive oil becomes a staple and is used both in hot and cold dishes.

The temperature zone of the Black Sea Coast, well-protected by the high Caucasian Mountains, is abundant with hazelnuts, corn and tea. The Black Sea people are fishermen and identify themselves with their ecological companion, the shimmering "hamsi", a small fish similar to anchovy. There are at least forty different dishes made with hamsi! Many poems, anecdotes and folk dances are inspired by this delicious fish.

The south-eastern part of Turkey is hot and desert-like and offers the greatest variety of kebabs and sweet pastries. Dishes here are more spicy compared to all other regions, possibly to retard spoilage in hot weather, or as the navites say, to equalize the heat inside the body to that of the outside!

The culinary centre of the country is the Marmara Region which includes Thrace, with Istanbul as its Queen City. This temperate, fertile Region boasts a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and the most delicately flavored lamb. The variety of fish that travel the Bosphorus surpasses those in other seas.

Bolu, a city on the mountains, supplied the greatest cooks for the Sultan's Palace, and even now, the best chefs in the country come from Bolu. Istanbul, of course, has been the epicenter of the Cuisine, and an understanding of Turkish Cuisine will never be complete without a survey of the Sultan's kitchen...
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