When choosing what to eat for dinner it’s uncommon to hear someone say “what about Turkish food?” People often crave Chinese or Mexican, but never a good Turkish meal. Why is that? Well for one Turkey doesn’t have one defining dish, like pasta for Italian food. The country’s location in Europe and varying geographical conditions have fostered regional differences in food. Although Turkey doesn’t have a signature dish, its influence on global cuisine is evident. Turkish cuisine has the privilege of being at the crossroads of the Near East and the Mediterranean, which has resulted in a long history of Turkish migration from the steppes of Central Asia to as far as Vienna in Europe. Many of the common Turkish dishes, baklava, kababs, dolma, dumplings and more, can be found in other cuisines. Their extensive history has allowed a rich selection of dishes which can be prepared and combined to make meals of an infinite variety. Turkey’s popular cuisine choices of soup, kebabs, and dolma show how the country’s improvisation and multinational influence come into play in their dishes.

Turkish cuisine traditions have survived over 1,300 years because of its advantageous location and Mediterranean climate. Turkey has access to the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Seas, which allows them to have fresh seafood of many different varieties. Located between the Far East, Asia and Europe has given Turkey a unique cooking background. Turkish people are descendants of tribes from Mongolia and western Asia who moved west to become herdsmen around 600 A.D. The Chinese influence can be seen through their use of noodles and dumplings, while the Persian influence can be seen through their use of rice, nuts and stews. The next heavy influence on the Turkish cuisine was established during the Ottoman Empire’s six hundred-year reign during the mid-1400s. The empire spanning from Austria to northern Africa, utilized its land and water routes to import ingredients from all over the world. Yogurt salads, olive oil, and stuffed vegetables became Turkish staples. After the fall of the empire and the establishment of the Turkish Republic, foreign dishes stayed as part of the Turkish cuisine (Turkey). Through some of Turkey’s staple dishes that are part of their history, the influence of the region as well as worldly impact can be seen.

Soup is a dish that is a constant at every meal, including breakfast. Turkish meals are generally soupy, consisting of some kind of stew or stock, so it’s not a surprise that there are over 300 different soup recipes. Though they are made differently in each region the popular ingredients are beef, chicken, legumes, flour, yogurt, noodles, fish, black cabbage, and fruit. The basic ingredient for soup is often yogurt, sweet or sour, which is one of Turkey’s main contributions to world cuisine. As the base it adds a milky flavor to soups or any other dish. Corbasi or soups are usually names after their main ingredients, for example, if it is made with mercimek (lentil) then it’s called Mercimek Corbasi. Lentil soup is one of Turkey’s oldest soups made with red lentils, carrots, potatoes, and onions. Locals like to add a spoonful of red pepper or chicken stock for extra flavor. This is popular all over the region as a breakfast specialty. Hamsi Corbasi (anchovy soup) is a thicker soup that comes from the north because of the main ingredients of Black Sea anchovies, which are seasonal during the winter. It is served in many ways with pilaf, dolma or even dessert. It is also popular in Istanbul when anchovies are shipped down to the city, where it’s not as fresh yet contains the important ingredients of butter and garlic. Lebeniye Corbasi originated in Gaziantep, a city in south-central Turkey, which has stood as an important trade center since ancient times. The city as well as the soup is famous for its pistachios and yogurt which is the main ingredients of the soup. Popular around the holidays, it is combined with beans and chickpeas as a refreshing, satisfying meal (Raffaelli). Soups is a dish, that is easily modified within each region to highlight their freshest ingredients. Cold soup, hot soup, seafood-based soup, vegetarian soup, beef soup, yogurt soup, and many more can be found on the table during a Turkish meal.

What goes well with soup? Kebabs, another popular dish most people don’t know originated in Turkey. The most recognized type is shish kebabs, however, “kebab” refers to any meat, fish or vegetable that is on a skewer and grilled, so the possibilities are endless. Kebabs have various cooking methods, depending on the ingredients and the way of cooking, like grilled or baked, they are often served with rice or bulger rice and beans. The Adena kebab comes from the South-Eastern province of Adana, a famous “kebab city.” It is made with ground beef or a mixture that’s kneaded together with onion, garlic, and other spices then packed around skewers. The spices are hot and creates a strong aroma as the kebab’s grill over the charcoal. Found on Turkey’s streets, the Doner Kebab, or “turning kebab” is what the Greek gyro and Arabic shawarma originated from. Lamb, chicken or beef, are slowly roasted on a vertical spit (stick) and thinly sliced off served over a bed of rice or wrapped in a soft tortilla. The kebab originated in Bursa, a city just south of Istanbul, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire when a new invention was created to roast meat vertically (A Kebab discovery in Istanbul). Other popular choices to skewer are eggplant, lamb liver, and beef with carrots, beans, tomatoes, and green peppers. This dish has spread in popularity because of its simplicity to create and ability to serve a large group of people. Kebabs are a staple of Turkish cuisine and can be found most anywhere in the world now.

The next most influential and traditional food from Turkey is dolma, a “stuffed” food. Most popularly vegetables stuffed with meat is a dish that originated from Turkey and now is served all over. Since Turkey has rich soil, it is able to provide the local, fresh vegetables. If someone were to go into a restaurant in Turkey, most often they would find either zucchini, bell pepper, tomatoes, eggplants or onion based dolma on the menu. Stuffing a vegetable can be a very time-consuming dish to make and usually is made with pride from the chef. In the Turkish culture it is common for a mother to size up her daughter-in-law by her dolma making skills. There are very specific steps people take to create the best dolma dish. First, a small cap or circle is delicately cut in the top of each vegetable, then the center is scooped out with a small spoon. Then the inside is salted, stuffed with the meat filling, the cap is replaced and steamed to perfection. For people who aren’t fans of vegetables, meat or fish that is stuffed is also considered dolma. Boneless chicken things, whole chickens or quail stuffed with rice, bulger, and spices are only some varieties from Turkish cuisine. Fish or other seafood are also deliciously stuffed in the Mediterranean region of the country. Fillings made with rice, bread, herbs, and tomatoes are found in many coastal restaurants. Dolma is served cold as well. Rice filled-dolma featuring nuts, dried fruits, and spices are typically served as a side dish for meals. According to Sarma Kofte, Cold dolma is cooked and then served with generous amounts of olive oil which helps the rice and other ingredients bind. Each region and even each family has its own recipe and way to make their dolma, whether is with vegetables or meat, hot or cold. This tradition has spread all over the world and variations can be found in other cuisines.

Turkish cuisine tradition has allowed for popular dishes like soup, kebabs, and dolma to spread globally with each place adding its own touch. Soup can easily be adapted to showcase the seasonal fruit and herbs. It is served at every meal as a side dish to accompany the main meal. Kebabs are popular all over the world as an easy way to make a delicious meal. Grilling meat and vegetables on a skewer makes a meal tasty and fun to eat. People in different regions add spices to add to the flavor. Dolma is a dish that can be found in homes and restaurants around Turkey. Although the dish can be time consuming, the different variations can be prepared to satisfy even the pickiest eaters. These three dishes and many more are a representation of Turkey’s global influence and impressive cuisine. All three can be found on tables around the world, as they are simple and delicious. Turkish cuisine presence has grown because of the flexibility of the recipes that people can make their own.

Works Cited

“A Kebab Discovery in Istanbul. Turkish Kebab Types and What Kebab to Eat.” Istanbul on Food – Culinary Tours, 8 Sept. 2017, istanbulonfood.com/a-kebab-discovery-in-istanbul-how-many-types-of-turkish-kebab-will-you-taste/.

“Köfte, Sarma, Dolma in Turkish Cuisine: Types and Characteristics and Nutritional Value.” Eating Habits of the Turks and Their Associated Behaviorswww.turkish-cuisine.org/culinary-culture-202/kofte-sarma-and-dolma-in-turkish-cuisine-225.html.

Raffaelli, Lucia. “Introduction to Turkish Soups.” We Love Istanbul, 12 Jan. 2016, www.weloveist.com/introduction-to-turkish-soups.

“Turkey.” Food in Every Country, www.foodbycountry.com/Spain-to-Zimbabwe- Cumulative-Index/Turkey.html.