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İzmir cuisine looking to make a comeback

İZMİR - Anatolia News Agency | 2/24/2010 12:00:00 AM |

A group of entrepreneurs in the Aegean province of İzmir is trying to breathe new life into the region’s rich food culture.

A group of entrepreneurs in the Aegean province of İzmir is trying to breathe new life into the region’s rich food culture.

Binali Yılmaz, who established an association and opened the a7 city club restaurant with two of his friends after working as a chef in one of İzmir’s famous restaurants, told the Anatolia news agency his menu includes traditional dishes with recipes taken from history books and even grandmothers.

İzmir's cuisine has largely been affected by its multicultural history, hence the large variety of food originating from the Aegean, Mediterranean and Anatolian regions. Another factor is the large area of land surrounding the region which yields a rich selection of vegetables.

Yılmaz said the idea of offering traditional İzmir cuisine began forming three years ago while the subsequent developments have been promising. İzmir has a rich history and culture, he said, adding that many elements of this rich culture are unfortunately being forgotten, including traditional recipes.

The province’s food shows the influence of Cretan, Greek, Balkan and Turkish cuisine, and was reshaped according to the taste of the Levantines, Latin Christians who lived under the Ottoman Empire before the Republican era, the chef said.

Concern for the decreasing diversity of the city’s cuisine led people like Yılmaz and others to form the İzmir City Cuisine Association, he said.

“Many leading figures of the sector warned us that basing the menus on forgotten dishes was a great risk and it was not smart to have such a mission if we wanted a financially sustainable establishment,” said Yılmaz. “But to us, it was not a risk, but a pleasure.”

He said the association members believe in İzmir’s cuisine and have established a special kitchen where they cook experimental recipes. “We take some of our recipes from history books and some from old newspapers. There were also recipes we took from our grandmothers. We now have over 50 recipes for traditional İzmir dishes and we have prepared 20 different menus for these dishes according to the season.”

Yılmaz said they were still looking for new recipes and called on İzmir locals to share their knowledge. “Bring us your recipes, let’s work on them together and put the dish in the menu with your name,” he said.

Despite being rich and diverse, İzmir’s cuisine has not succeeded at a restaurant level, especially because it is very different from the dominant fast food culture, said Yılmaz. Despite this, he did say Aegean cuisine has become much more popular in recent years with the increase in demand for healthy food.

Restaurants include more Aegean dishes in their menus and the number of restaurants serving only Aegean cuisine is increasing, Yılmaz said.

“As the association, we’re aiming to create a brand out of İzmir’s cuisine,” the chef said. “We want to include the recipes we prepared to be included in the menus of lunches in schools and workplaces. It is especially important to be included in school lunch menus, because these dishes are the healthiest food for our children.”

Yılmaz said the cuisine could also be a driving force for İzmir’s tourism. “We will tell about our cuisine to tourism investors and tour agencies and will ask for their support in promoting İzmir with its cuisine, as well as its nature, sea and history.”

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