The many tastes of Istanbul gather in a new series of ‘Istanbul’s 100 Faces’

The many tastes of Istanbul gather in a new series of ‘Istanbul’s 100 Faces’

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
The many tastes of Istanbul gather in a new series of ‘Istanbul’s 100 Faces’

The author presents information on the development and variation of the Istanbul kitchen.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Culture Inc. has done it again. This time Culture Inc. has produced “Istanbul’s 100 Dishes,” (“Istanbul’un 100 Lezzeti” in Turkish) as part of its Istanbul’s 100 Faces series. Prepared by researcher Nilgun Tatli, the book offers a glimpse into the food culture of the city which has been enriched with the fusion of several cultures from Roman to Turkish cuisine seasoned with Greek, Armenian and Arabic offerings. The purpose of the book is to let future generations know about Istanbul’s culinary culture and encourage them to keep its heritage alive.

In the introduction to the book, the author presents information on the development and variation of the Istanbul kitchen, the organization of the kitchen and its hierarchy, the vessels and utensils used in cooking, the layout of the traditional Turkish table, table etiquette and what sultans were accustomed to eating and drinking.

“Istanbul’s 100 Dishes” contains 11 chapters devoted to soups, meat dishes, seafood, olive oil dishes, salads, pickles, beans, pastries, milk products and sherbets.

The book has many stories about the dishes which span from the Ottoman period to today, expounding on their names, the characteristics of the ingredients used in the dishes and many interesting details on the value of these ingredients. There are even menus containing the dishes prepared in the palace kitchens.

Tatli has gone to great lengths to ensure that the ingredients for the 100 recipes she provides are authentic. Most of them she has gathered herself. Her lengthy introduction to the book describes the typical work done in the kitchens at Topkapi Palace and how the kitchens there operated 24 hours a day to provide food for the place. 

The Istanbul kitchen developed under the influence of various cuisines such as that of the Circassian, Cretan, Crimean, Balkan, Arab, Greek Turkish, Armenian and European through the various conquests and discoveries throughout history. That is why it is so varied and rich.

Seasonal dishes 

Dishes changed according to the season. In winter there would be dishes with fatter lamb and beef, pastry, desserts with sherbet, honey, butter, jam, pastirma (smoked or dried spicy beef) and sucuk (garlic flavored sausage). During the summer dishes were eaten that gave weight to vegetables, chicken, turkey, fish and sherbet.

Tatli goes into some detail about the palace kitchens and how they worked to supply food for the thousands of people who worked and lived in Topkapi Palace. She also doesn’t hesitate to mention the differences between what was eaten at the palace and what normal people outside of the palace had available to them. Sugar for instance was a very expensive commodity prior to the establishment of sugar factories. She notes that many spices were actually grown on the palace grounds and in the gardens of wealthy families, including mint, rosemary, sweet basil, parsley, dill and thyme. 

Dishes cooked in the palace eventually made their way into the homes of regular people as the palace cooks would prepare the same recipes in their own homes substituting ingredients they were unable to obtain, such as using honey in place of sugar. Some of the names of the recipes bear this out – Sultan Murat Lokmasi, Hunkar Begendi, Davutpasa and Vezir Parmagi. Western influence only really began in the 19th century.

All of the recipes in the 250-page book are illustrated with very good photographs so one can see the finished product if it’s not a recipe the reader is already familiar with. The only sad thing is that the book is available only in Turkish. An especially sad fact given the increasing interest Ottoman era history and things are garnering with foreign visitors these days. 

“Istanbul’s 100 Dishes” can be found at the Istanbul Municipal Bookstore and other large bookstores in the city.