Istanbul cuisine is, in a sense, an imperial cuisine. Bearing traces of widely divergent cultures from the Adriatic to the Middle East, from the Caucasus to North Africa, Istanbul cuisine underwent a transformation with the First World War. One of the most significant consequences of this sweeping urban economic and demographic transformation was the breakdown of a lifestyle catering to the refined tastes of the elite class. The void was filled by the popular habits and culture of the existing Istanbul people, who came from various regions in Anatolia.

ANATOLIA COMES TO ISTANBUL

Up to the 1950s Istanbul cuisine consisted basically of a limited variety of dishes going back to palace cooking and the ‘new and economical’ dishes invented during

Vegeterian Turkish cuisine

the years of privation. One of the most significant consequences of the economically motivated mass migration from Anatolia to Istanbul that began in the 1950s was the appearance in the city of foodstuffs from the rural sector. Limited at first to what the migrants prepared in their own homes, these local Anatolian flavors were later introduced to Istanbulites by the restaurants that were starting to open on a small scale, the first examples perhaps being the makers of ‘lahmacun’ or Turkish-style pizza. During the 1990s, Istanbulites developed an increasing interest in Anatolian cuisine, which they got to know first through southern and southeastern Turkish cooking and later through Black Sea cuisine. Although the number of restaurants devoted to the latter remains small, Istanbulites today have made the acquaintance of black cabbage, pickled green bean ragout, ‘mihlama’, anchovy bread, cream corn soup and many other anchovy dishes as well as a variety of baklava made by the Laz people of the Black Sea.

HERBS ARE THE THING

And of course there are the famous herbal dishes of the Aegean region and its legendary olive oils. Many wild herbs from golden thistle to foxtail rapidly gained

Kebab

respect and were quick to appear on Istanbul menus. The Anatolian people who have settled in Istanbul remain  firmly attached to their native cuisines. This is probably best appreciated at the Kastamonu markets set up weekly in Kasimpasa and Balat, where all the region’s natural products can be found, from greens like spinach and borage to dairy products like yoghurt and ‘kaymak’ or thick Turkish cream, not to mention ‘tarhana’ and bulghur. The countless new tastes I encounter at this market, which I’ve frequented for years, offer a special bonus every Sunday. And because every merchant in the market can give you several different recipes for each product he sells, you will soon become knowledgeable about the food culture of the various regions. I personally believe that the use of these newly discovered herbs together with what we already know is going to give rise to a new synthesis in Istanbul cuisine. firmly attached to their native cuisines. This is probably best appreciated at the Kastamonu markets set up weekly in Kasimpasa and Balat, where all the region’s natural products can be found, from greens like spinach and borage to dairy products like yoghurt and ‘kaymak’ or thick Turkish cream, not to mention ‘tarhana’ and bulghur. The countless new tastes I encounter at this market, which I’ve frequented for years, offer a special bonus every

Turkish food

Sunday. And because every merchant in the market can give you several different recipes for each product he sells, you will soon become knowledgeable about the food culture of the various regions. I personally believe that the use of these newly discovered herbs together with what we already know is going to give rise to a new synthesis in Istanbul cuisine.This synthesis reminds me of the revolution that was experienced in French cuisine when the populism that developed following the French revolution unleashed a flood of people from the French rural sector into Paris, where the two cultures merged to produce the rich French cuisine. Mastering the fine points of the restaurant business, these chefs, who later returned to their native regions and opened high-quality establishments that drew visitors to the locale, marketed their regional cuisines in the best possible way. The same process is going to take place here in Turkey, albeit slowly. If local governments and non-governmental organizations like Tema, a foundation dedicated to fighting erosion, and the Association in Support of Contemporary Living support such efforts, it should not be at all difficult to achieve this goal.

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