Turkish cuisine is largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, which can be described as a combination of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines. The Ottomans fused various culinary traditions of their realm with influences from Middle Eastern cuisines, along with traditional Turkic elements from Central Asia (such as yogurt), creating a vast array of specialties and many with strong regional associations.
In researching Turkish cooking, I found one common denominator – the beauty in the simplicity of their basic cooking techniques. The food is not veiled under heavy sauces or covered by the overuse of herbs or spices…and in the taste the main ingredient comes to the forefront and the other flavorings is a ‘hint’ in the background. Of the spices, lemony sumac, pepper, allspice, cinnamon and paprika powder are the most common. A favorite garnish is a drizzle of melted butter with a little paprika and perhaps a dash or two of cayenne. Onions play an important role in the dishes. Garlic, currants, tomatoes or even yoghurt add another dimension to flavoring possibilities.
The Turks of historical times led a nomadic life, dependent on agriculture and on the breeding of domestic animals. So, to dine on Turkish food is to dine on centuries old recipes. Ancient Greeks introduced wine cultivation in Anatolia, eastern Turkey. The Persians introduced sweets, sugar, and rice. Skewered and roasted meats, the famous shis-kebab, show the nomadic heritage; as do flatbreads which are baked upon an overturned griddle called a sac. The sac is similar to a flattened wok. “Yogurt” is a Turkish word, her most famous contribution to world cuisine. Yogurt made its way north to Bulgaria and Eastern Europe during the Ottoman occupation. Olive oil production is thousands of years old and part of the whole Mediterranean culture.
In Topkapi, the sultan’s palace in Istanbul, chefs perfected these dishes with specialized recipes. Chefs would spend whole careers refining recipes such as pilafs, milk puddings, and desserts. Certain villages were known for producing chefs who would work in the palace. As a result of this imperial cuisine, the general population had a raised expectation and appreciation for excellent food. This appreciation still continues today. Though there is no singular food or method that can be instantly identified with Turkish food as in ‘pasta’ with Italy and ‘sauces’ with France, it is interesting to note that typically meat in small quantities is cooked with vegetables for flavor as well.
Turkish Cuisine is definitely a Jewel in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a charming and cozy little place with great quality food, and many have enjoyed pre and post theater dining here for generations. The décor is colorful; there are many kitschy trinkets that adorn the walls, colorful table cloths to the point of too colorful but in a way add to the ambience – which is friendly, inviting and relaxed. The service is great, a very friendly staff eager to explain the menu and tell you of their nightly specials. Order the spicy hummus and falafel (the BEST I’ve ever had – crunchy on the outside & creamy in the middle) – it is TOP notch. The warm flat bread is amazing. Try their appetizer platter. Their lamb and chicken entrees are always consistent – tender and spiced to perfection; the combo grill is my favorite. Don’t miss out on the desserts, they are not on the menu, but the servers will bring you a tray of choices to choose from (the Baklava is so good here).
631 9th AveFrnt
New York, NY 10036