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Turkish Cuisine

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Turkish cuisine is renowned as one of the world's best. It draws its influences from all corners of the former Ottoman Empire, and each region has its own specialities. Turkey is self-sufficient in food production and produces enough surplus for export as well. This means that Turkish food is usually-made from fresh, local ingredients and is all the tastier for it.

A main meal will usually start with the meze, a variety of small cold and hot dishes which are made for sharing. In many restaurants a waiter will bring these round on a tray for you to inspect and make your choice. In any case, it is common for a Turk to have a look at the food being prepared in the kitchen before deciding on what to eat, so if you are not sure, don't feel shy about asking. Meze includes anything from dips such as taramascdata and cacik (yoghurt, garlic and cucumber) to dolma (anything stuffed with rice such as vine leaves or peppers), karides (prawns) or arnavut tiger (cubes of liver fried with spices and onions). Turks have hundreds of ways to prepare aubergine and imam bayddi is one of the best; aubergine cooked in olive oil and filled with tomato and onions, its name literally means 'the priest swooned' - presumably due to the delicious taste.

The main course is usually meat or fish. Turks always eat bread with their meal and main courses are usually served with rice. Typically a goban salatasi, a 'shepherd's salad' of tomato, cucumber and onion, dressed with olive oil and served with lemon, will be placed in the middle of the table to share. Lamb is the most common meat and this and chicken are prepared in a variety of ways and usually grilled. §is kebab (cubes of meat on a skewer) is popular and well known. Kofte, which are like small lamb burgers are well worth trying and those who prefer something a little spicier should order the Adana kebab, which is also made of minced lamb but with the addition of peppers and formed around a skewer. There are numerous variations and regional specialities of the kebab. Somewhat rich but very tasty, is the tskender or Bursa kebab, named respectively after Alexander the Great and the town in which it originated, which is slices of doner meat layered with yoghurt, tomato sauce and pitta bread. Turks are also fond of stews or what they term sulu yemek (food with sauce) and there are restaurants which specialise in these and will usually have large containers of the different varieties on display.

Istanbul and the coastal resorts are big on fish and seafood. Mostly fish is simply grilled to bring out its natural flavour and there is a wide variety of seafood meze including midye tava (or mussel kebab served on a skewer). It is worth asking for recommendations but some of the most tasty are levrek (seabass) and kalkan (turbot). Fish is often sold by weight and many restaurants will show you the freshly caught fish to make your choice before cooking it. Do check the price, however, as it can work out to be relatively expensive.

Mostly a meal will be rounded off by a plate of fresh fruit, beautifully prepared and placed in the centre of the table for sharing. Karpuz (water melon) and kavun (melon) are popular. Those with a sweet tooth will be delighted by the sticky, honeyed desserts. There are many varieties, of which baklava (layers of filo pastry and pistachio nuts soaked in honey) is perhaps the most common. Also worth trying is the siitlag, a cold, slightly sweet milky rice pudding. The adventurous might want to order tavuk gogusu, a milk pudding made from pounded chicken breast - it sounds strange but is actually delicious, and when well made it is impossible to tell it is made from chicken.

Turkish breakfast kahvalti usually consists of fresh white bread, honey, beyazpeynir - cheese similar to feta, literally translated as 'white cheese'- tomatoes, cucumber and black olives, washed down with black tea. The Turkish equivalent of a fry up is menemen a type of omelette with peppers and other vegetables or eggs fried with sucuk, a garlic sausage.

Soup has a special place in the Turkish diet and is drunk at any time of day. There are cafes which only serve soup and are popularly frequented after a big night out. Mercimek (lentil) and domates (tomato) are common as are more exotic soups such as i§kembe (tripe), yayla (yoghurt with mint) and dugiin (literally 'wedding' soup) which contains egg and lemon.

Borek can be served as part of a meze or as a snack on its own. It is frequently translated on menus as 'pie' which is completely misleading. It is actually different variations on filo pastry filled with cheese, minced meat, egg, potato or spinach - or combinations thereof. Sigara borek and muska borek are respectively small cigar and triangle-shaped filo parcels usually filled with cheese, which come as a part of the meze. Su boregi is layered pastry which is soft and runny and can be served with sugar or white cheese as a snack, and can taste more like thin layers of pasta than pastry.

Fast food
Turkey is full of street vendors selling all sorts of different snacks, from the better known doner kebab, which can be made of chicken or lamb to kokoreg, which is lamb entrails cooked on a skewer- popular with the locals, but not for the timid. Turks have their own variety of pizza, pide, a type of pitta bread with toppings such as cheese, minced meat, egg and sucuk (garlic sausage) as well as lahmacun which is a very thin flat bread spread with minced meat, which is rolled up before eating.

The concept of choosing not to eat meat is somewhat alien to the average Turk, so it can be difficult for them to grasp that, for example, a strict vegetarian would not want to eat vegetables cooked in meat stock. Many Turks do not even count chicken as meat but use the term to refer only to red meat. Although strict vegetarians should bear this in mind, there are plenty of options available such as the vegetable meze dishes and snacks such as borek or pide with cheese or egg toppings and fillings, as well as the obvious choices such as omelettes, toasted sandwiches and soups. Those who eat fish will find that they have no problems as seafood is popular in all coastal areas.

Soft Drinks
Common fruit juices include visne - sour cherry juice - and §eftali - peach. Another favourite drink, particularly in hot weather, which is credited with curing all ills, is ayran, a yoghurt drink, which is often salted and, therefore, somewhat of an acquired taste. Bottled mineral water or su is cheap and easily available and fizzy drinks are sold everywhere.

Alcoholic Drinks
Alcohol is freely available in Turkish resorts and cities. It is only if you are heading off the beaten track or to particularly conservative areas that you may have to check whether or not restaurants serve alcohol. The traditional tipple is raki, an aniseed based spirit, which is sometimes known as lion's milk. It is clear but turns cloudy when water is added. Most people do dilute it with water although some drink it only with ice. It is unusual for a Turk to drink alcohol without eating at the same time. Raki traditionally accompanies a fish meal. It may also be consumed between meals. Melon and/ or white cheese are often served alongside it. Turkey is credited with being the first nation to produce wine and in recent years this traditional art has experienced something of a renaissance. Local wine producers have been studying the latest methods used in other countries and importing or developing grapes, and this, combined with the favourable local conditions has produced some excellent results. Most people will be pleasantly surprised by the varieties of both red and white wine available. Two of the biggest local producers are Doluca and Kavaklidere. Those who prefer beer will not be disappointed in the well-known local brand, Efes. There are also locally produced vodka, brandy, whisky and gin, which are a lot cheaper than imported brands although they can be a little rough and ready.

Usually Turkish tea or gay is brewed in a sort of combined kettle/ tea pot which is placed directly on the hob and has water boiling in the bottom section and tea brewing in the top so it can be made weaker or stronger as required. It is drunk from small tulip-shaped glasses, always black and usually with plenty of sugar. Unless you specifically ask for Turkish tea, hotels will assume you want English tea and often present you with a cup of boiling water and a tea bag on the side.

Turkish coffee or Tiirk kahvesi is the perfect way to finish off a good meal. When ordering you specify whether you want it sade (plain), orta (with some sugar) or sekerli (very sweet) and it is brewed with the specified amount of sugar mixed in with the coffee granules. It is served in small cups. It is quite an art to know-when to stop drinking as one sip too many and you will end   up with a mouthful of the sludgy residue which falls to the bottom of the cup. Even this has its uses, however, as you may find a local willing to tell your fortune from it - cover your cup with the saucer, wait until it becomes cold when you will be asked to turn it upside down, turn it around several times and then your destiny will be divined from the shapes which are formed. It is said that it was the Ottomans who introduced coffee to Europe when their retreating army left bags full of it at the gates of Vienna.

Turkish Delight
One of Turkey's most famous exports, lokum or Turkish delight as we know it, comes in many flavours and not only the rose, lemon and pistachio varieties which are common elsewhere. It is often served with Turkish coffee at the end of a meal. There are now some Turkish Delight factories where you can book a tour to watch it being made and sample the wares.

Cumhuriyet Caddesi Selbasi Sokak No:6 Harbiye - Sisli / Istanbul
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