A Repertoire of Food from The Great Food Places
A survey of the types of dishes according to their ingredients may be helpful to explain the basic structure of Turkish Cuisine.
there may appear to be an overwhelming variety of dishes, each with a unique
combination of ingredients and its own way of preparation and presentation. All
dishes can be conveniently categorized into grain-based, grilled meats,
vegetables, seafood, desserts and beverages.
Before describing each of these categories, some general comments are
necessary. The foundation of the cuisine is based, on grains (rice and wheat)
and vegetables. Each category of dishes contains only one or two types of main
ingredients. Turks are purists in their culinary taste, that is, the dishes
are supposed to bring out the flavor of the main ingredient rather than hiding it
under sauces or spices. Thus, the eggplant should taste like eggplant, lamb
like lamb, pumpkin like pumpkin, and so on. Contrary to the prevalent Western
impression of Turkish food, spices and herbs are used very simply and sparingly
For example, either mint or dill weed are used with zucchini, parsley is used
with eggplant, a few cloves of garlic has its place in some cold vegetable
dishes, and cumin is sprinkled over red lentil soup or mixed in ground meat when
making ‘kofte” (meat balls). Lemon and yogurt are used to complement both
meat and vegetable dishes as well as to balance the taste of olive oil or meat.
Most desserts and fruit dishes do not call for any spices. So their flavors are
refined and subtle.
There are major classes of meatless dishes.
When meat is used, it is used sparingly Even with the meat kebabs, the
“pide” or the flat bread is the largest part of the dish alongside
vegetables or yogurt. Turkish cuisine also boasts a variety of authentic
contributions to desserts and beverages.
For the Turks, the setting is as important as the food itself. Therefore,
food-related places need to be considered, as well as the dining protocol. Among
the great food places where you can find ingredients for the cuisine are the
weekly neighborhood markets (‘pazar’) and the permanent markets. The most
famous one of the latter type is the Spice Market in Istanbul. This is a place
where every conceivable type of food item can be found, as it has been since
pre-Ottoman times. This is a truly exotic place, with hundreds of scents
rising from stalls located within an ancient domed building, which was the terminus
for the Spice Road. More modest markets can be found in every city center, with
permanent stalls for fish and vegetables.
The weekly markets are where sleepy neighborhoods come to life, with
the villagers setting up their stalls before dawn in a designated area to sell
their products. On these days, handicrafts, textiles, glassware and other
household items are also among the displays at the most affordable prices.
What makes these places unique is the cacophony of sounds, sights, smells and
activity, as well as the high quality of fresh food, which can only be obtained
at the pazar. There is plenty of haggling and jostling as people make their way
through the narrow isles while vendors compete for their attention. One way to
purify body and soul would be to rent an inexpensive flat by the seaside for a
month every year and live on fresh fruit and vegetables from the pazar. However,
since the more likely scenario is restaurant-hopping, here are some tips to
learn the proper terminology so that you can navigate through the cuisine (just
in case you get the urge to cook a la Turca) as well as the streets of Turkish cities, where it
is just as important to locate the eating places as it
is the museums and the archeological wonders.