Turkish Regional Cuisine
Turkey is the only place in the world where three continents converge – Europe, Africa and Asia. The European portion of Turkey is known as Thrace. Likewise, the Asian portion of the country is called Anatolia. With more than 8,000 kilometers of coastline, Turkey is bordered by the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara and Mediterranean Sea. Additionally. Turkey is divided into seven regions. Each region has distinct historical, environmental and climatic characteristics. These differences have influenced the produce cultivated, the livestock that is reared and the local food culture itself. As an aggregate, these factors have shaped the regional cuisines of Turkey.
Regional Cuisine from the Aegean
The Aegean Region is bordered by Aegean Sea to the West, Central Anatolia to the East, the Marmara Region to the North and the Mediterranean to the South. The mild climate and rich soil make the Aegean one of Turkey’s most fertile regions. Known for olive orchards and vineyards, the Aegean Region produces some of Turkey’s most prestigious olive oils and wines. Additionally, the Aegean is famous for an abundance of fresh produce including artichokes, grapes, pears and sweet melon.
The Aegean coastline, overlooking the Greek Islands, is dotted pristine beaches and idilic fishing villages. The Aegean Sea provides an ample supply of fresh seafood including the highly prized red mullet (barbun). With a shared cultural and culinary heritage, the local food shares many common traits with Greek cuisine. Local specialties include stuffed artichokes (enginar dolma), stuffed vine leaves (yaprak dolma) and red mullet pilaki (barbun balığı pilaki). Common in both Turkish and Greek cuisine, pilaki is a method of cooking characterized by the use of carrot, garlic, fresh herbs and tomato.
Regional Cuisine from the Black Sea
The Black Sea Region runs along Turkey’s Black Sea coast, bordering Georgia to the northeast. The notoriously wet climate, has proven to be ideal for the commercial farming of beans, cherries, corn, kiwi, rice, nuts and potatoes. The region, lined with seaside villages and pristine beaches, is famous for delicious Black Sea Anchovies (hamsi). The eastern half of the Black Sea Region, in the Rize and Artvin Provinces, is home to the descendants of Orthodox Christians who converted to Sunni Islam during the fifteenth century. The Laz population in these areas generally speaks Lazuri, a language related to Georgian and Abkhazian. With Balkan and Slavic influences, Laz cuisine features anchovies, cabbage and dairy. Black Sea regional specialities include cornmeal with cheese (mıhlama), anchovies with spiced rice (hamsi pilav), white beans in tomato sauce (kuru fasülye) and custard filled phyllo (Laz börek).
Regional Cuisine from the Central Anatolia
Central Anatolia, sometimes referred to as the Anatolian Plateau, extends eastward from the Aegean to Eastern Anatolia. The centrally located highlands of Anatolia are considered Turkey’s heartland. The dry and arid plateau varies in altitude from 600 to 1,200 meters. With hot dry summers and cold snowy winters, the extreme climate in Central Anatolia has yielded many unique techniques for food preservation including the dry-curing of meat. The region is mostly barren and primarily used for the rearing of livestock. The cultivation of produce is confined to the forested areas in the region. Although wheat and barley are the most important regional crops, apples, apricots, beans, chickpeas, lentils, potatoes, and sweet melon are also cultivated. Central Anatolian culinary specialities include a traditional wedding dish made with wheat and meat (keşkek), minced lamb pide (etli ekmek), roasted mutton (fırın kebabı), mini ravioli (mantı) and cured beef (pastırma).
The city of Konya is located in Central Anatolia. Konya, the birthplace of the Whirling Dervish and the home to the Mevlevi Sufi order, has its own unique culinary heritage. Among Mevlevis, the kitchen is a holy place, where those who are “raw” become cooked and those who were “unripe” ripen. Mevlevi cuisine features slow roasted meats, legumes, dried fruit and bulgur.
Regional Cuisine from Eastern Anatolia
Eastern Anatolia is a rugged, mountainous region with harsh snowy winters. Due to the climate and elevation, Eastern Anatolia includes vast areas of wild or barren wasteland. The area is home to the fabled extinct volcano, Mount Ararat, which is said to be the finally resting place of Noah’s Ark. Although most of the region is incompatible for cultivation, wheat and barley are grown in Eastern Anatolia. Additionally, livestock is the major source of income and sustenance. As a result, the regional cuisine is primarily based on grain and meat. Eastern Anatolia is known for ayran, cheese, honey and yoghurt. A dish of beans, meat and vegetables (keledos) and bulgur meatballs (kürt köftesi) are renowned across Turkey. Additional regional specialties include meat roasted on a horizontal spit (cağ kebab), roasted wheat flour with honey and walnuts (kavut), yoghurt and cottage cheese dip (jajı) and goose preserved in salt water and then air dried (Kars Goose).
Regional Cuisine from the Marmara
The Marmara Region, located in the northwest corner of Turkey, is home to the only city in the world to straddle two continents: the amazing city of Istanbul. Once the capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Empire, the regional cuisine is a reflection of the many different culture that have converged upon the metropolis. The cuisine in the region will forever be linked to the Ottoman Palace chefs who created a fusion of Mediterranean, Central Asian and Caucasian Cuisine with Middle Eastern influences. Today, the regional cuisine is also well-known for an endless variety of street food.
Olive groves can be found through the Marmara Region. In the northern areas bordering Greece and Bulgaria, the area is covered with vineyards and fields of sunflowers. The primary agricultural products include beets, corn, grapes, olives, rice, sunflower seeds and wheat. About 73% of sunflower production and 30% of corn production of Turkey comes from Marmara region. Regional specialties include sliced kebab with bread, tomato sauce, yoghurt and melted butter (İskender Kebab), thinly sliced fried liver (Edirne ciğer) and rice with currants and pine nuts (Sultan’s Pilaf).
Regional Cuisine from the Mediterranean
The Mediterranean Region is located in Southwestern Turkey and bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the West. The coastal regions of the Mediterranean have hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. In contrast, the interior of the region is semi-arid with hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. Due to the climate and fertile soil, the plains of this region are rich in agricultural resources. A wide range of fruits and vegetables are grown in the region including artichoke, apples, lemons, oranges, melons and pears. Other cultivated products include rice, wheat, barley, tobacco.
The Mediterranean city of Hatay is renowned for its unique cuisine. Located on the historic silk and spice trading routes of the past, the cuisine of Hatay is a fusion of influences from around the world. The result is delicious, spicy cuisine that features nut-based kebabs and yoghurt-based mezes. Mediterranean regional specialties include minced meat cooked on a skewer (Adana kebab), spicy minced beef served in a wrap (tantuni) and pistachio filled pastries (künefe and katmer).
Regional Cuisine from Southeastern Anatolia
Southeastern Anatolia is bordered by the Mediterranean Region to the West, the Eastern Anatolia Region to the North, Syria to the South, and Iraq to the Southeast. The region is known for long, hot summers and cold, rainy winters. Although it is only region in Turkey with oil production, the economy is based on the agriculture and livestock. Primary agricultural products include barley, cotton, lentils, nuts, tobacco and wheat. As a result of its location on historic silk and spice trading routes, the cuisine in Southeastern Anatolia defined by the use of spices. The most commonly utilized spices include dried sumac, hot red pepper flakes, paprika and mint. Southeastern Anatolia is also known for regional meat dishes including beef or lamb tartare (çiğ köfte) and crispy dough topped with spiced meat (lahmacun). Regional specialties also include soup made from lamb neck and rice (beyran), lamb cooked in an underground pit (büryan kebab), spicy rice baked inside a thin dough (perde pilav) and desserts made with pistachios (baklava).