Meats have a special place in Turkish Cuisine. Even in the time of the Seljuk Turks, a mediaeval Turco-Persian Empire, Turks were cooking various kebabs. This is because animal husbandry was the main economy of the residents. Turks were cooking kebabs in three different ways. Kuyu Kebabı (Well); cleaned sheep cut into pieces and wrapped in its own skin. To make this, meat is placed into the hole within the skin and the top is closed. A fire is burned till it’s ready. Second is Tandır Kebabı. Tandır is an oven consisting of a clay-lined pit. Cleaned sheep or lamb are hung in a tandır to cook. The third and final one is Çevirme Kebabı (Turning / Rotisserie). A long pole is passed through the animal’s mouth to its rear. This spit is mounted over a fire. Although it’s possible to see these traditional ways of cooking, boiling and grilling are the usual methods of cooking meat in modern Turkey.
In Turkey, the meaning of kebab and meat are wedded to each other. If you say that you want to eat meat, the Turks will suggest you eat kebab for sure. It’s very normal because you may see numerous types of kebabs in Turkey. Döner Kebab and Iskender Kebab are the most common kebabs and are also a favorite of the fast-food dishes in Turkey. Döner Kebab was originally made with lamb or beef, but fast-food stores also offer ones made with chicken. Iskender Kebab is a famous kebab dish from the Bursa Province. Iskender Kebab is served covered in a sauce made from butter, with tomato juice, yogurt and oiled pita slices underneath the meat to soak up the juices. The main difference between Iskender and Döner kebab is the meat. Iskender is from arias which eat thyme grown up in the Uludağ Hills. Apart from all these, Adana Kebab, Cağ Kebabı, Urfa Kebabı, Orman Kebabı, and Çökertme Kebabı are other delicious kebabs variations cooked in Turkey.
Köfte, or meatball in English, is always a favourite in both, the home, or, in fast-food venues in Turkey. The word “köfte” is preceded by the name of a town which refers to the technique of cooking köfte there, or, the ingredients or spices specifically used in that region. İnegöl Köfte, Bursa Köfte, Akçabat Köfte are well-known köfte dishes in Turkey. Kadınbudu köfte is a traditional specialty. Boiled rice, minced onion, grated kashar cheese, thyme and salt are kneaded. After it is streched slim and long, it is coated in flour and then beaten with egg and finally it is fried. Preparing kadınbudu köfte takes time and requires skill. It originated in Anatolia.
Çiğ Köfte is a raw meat dish in Turkish and Armenian Cuisine. It’s made with beef or lamb and is usually served as a meze. In Turkey, çiğ köfte (raw minced meat simmered in spices) became a very popular fast-food dish but these days almost all çiğ köftes are made meatless as prescribed by law. There is also a vegetarian version, where scrambled eggs and Kısır are used instead of meat.
Soujouk (Sausage) is a form of raw sausage commonly eaten with breakfast. Yumurtalı-sucuk means soujouk with egg and is a delicious breakfast specialty. Pastırma (Pastrami) is another meat delicacy in Turkey, and it is air-dried cured beef. It’s eaten at breakfast with eggs and some people love it as a meze for raki (Turkish whiskey). You can also put it in kuru fasulye dishes to enrich the aroma. Kayseri Province is famous for its pastırmas.
Turkey is also rich in seafood. Four seas surround the Turkish mainland and residents of the coastal cities are experts in preparing their local fish. Each month has its preferred fish along with certain vegetables to complement the taste. For example, the best bonito is eaten with arugula and red onions, while blue fish are eaten with lettuce, turbot goes with coos lettuce. Large bonitos are usually poached with celery root. Mackerel, usually hunted in the Sea of Marmara, is stuffed with chopped onion before grilling. Summer fishes, younger and drier, are usually poached with tomatoes, green peppers, and, sometimes they are fried.
There are various way of cooking fish, but generally fish is grilled, fried or cooked by a slow poaching method (Buğulama). Buğulama is fish with lemon and parsley that’s covered while it’s cooking so that it’s steamed. Additionally, it’s common to cook hamsi (Black Sea Anchovy) in salt or in dough. Hamsi, the prince of all the fish known to Turks, is a symbol of the Laz region. Laz people know numerous ways of making dishes with hamsi including hamsi börek, hamsi pilaf, hamsi desert or hamsi jam. Other common fish foods are balık dolma (stuffed fish), balık İskender (influenced by İskender kebab), fishballs, fishsoups and mussels. Octapus and and calamari are ever present on the table with Raki as a meze.
In Turkish Cuisine, it is impossible to see other meat on the table because of Islamic law. Muslims only eat halal meats. This means food that is permissible according to Islamic law. Meat cannot be from a forbidden cut or animal. Escargot, pork and horsemeat are haram (not halal) food and that’s why they don’t exist in the Turkish kitchen.
Photo Credits: Andrzej Szymański