Winner of the James Beard/ KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year 2000 and Winner of the Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food 2000.
October 19, 2021
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Mangia Bene

    Travelers in the Middle Ages noted the frugality of the poor rural population of Anatolia, which was content with raw cucumber and melon. They also mentioned onions and garlic accompanied by bread. The yogurt was excellent, and the Turks were big eaters of vegetables. Garlic came from the region of Izmit (Kocaeli) (Nicomedia) and lemons from Chios, Cos, and Mersin (Içel) in Cilicia (Çukurova). Vinegar was a specialty of the region of Brousse. Olive oil and olives were from the region of Erdek, Aydincik, and Edremit. Spices were transported through Egypt from Arabia and the Indies. Venice played an important role in the importation of spices to the Ottoman Empire and, above all, to Istanbul.

    Tommaso Alberti traveled to Istanbul in 1609 and left some impressions about the food. The Turks ate lots of bread that was soft and perfect, he wrote. The soup was served with a sauce made of different fruits, including lemon juice and sugar, and was followed by meat. One always eats with the hands, Alberti noted, because the the food is "delicately" cooked and perfect. I think he meant that many of the foods were meze--that is, finger food. Antipasti and pasta were not eaten. After the meat, the Turks finished with several tortes, pies filled with cheese or fruit. Alberti marveled at the kitchen equipment, such as the huge cauldrons and gold serving platters.