- Placed with an unrivaled beauty, Istanbul has always been a desirable city for centuries due to The East and West Festive; Istanbul Cuisine. Byzantion, Constantinople, Dersaadet, Nova Roma, Asitane, Deraliyye… All the old names of the city reflect the long historical past of Istanbul. Istanbul, the capital of two great empires and a port city where East and West trade routes festive, became a capital with a rich culinary culture during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, and it makes “The East and West Festive; Istanbul Cuisine ” a part of this enormous culture.
The Byzantine capital, Constantinople, and the Ottoman throne, Istanbul, is the city that are preferred primarily due to the advantage offered by the geography it is located in, and develop in the historical process. Istanbul is the crossing point between Europe and Asia; it also provides the passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
Transportation to the city is provided from the Black Sea, Aegean and Marmara seas. It is possible to reach Istanbul both by land and by sea. Istanbul also has the feature of being a safe harbor geographically; In particular, the Golden Horn is a natural shelter away from the effects of strong winds or stunning southwesters, and the waves of the Black Sea and Marmara seas.
In this respect, it is possible to say that Istanbul is a hospitable settlement with its geographical climate characteristics. The geographical features of Istanbul played a decisive role in the fact that the city was home to three empires. As a port city at the intersection of this “three great empires” and commercial routes from the West, it has transformed into a settlement where rich and diverse food materials flow, feeding the Istanbul Cuisine culture.
And at the same time, Istanbul has always been, in Robert Mantran’s words, a “stomach-city”; For this reason, Istanbul is not a city that produces, but a city that always consumes a lot.
Istanbul Cuisine From Byzantion to Constantinople
Before the city of Istanbul became a “capital”, it was a small Greek colony known as Byzantion, which was founded in 660 BC. Every ship going from the Mediterranean and Aegean to the Black Sea comes from the waters of Byzantium, which is rich in its own products, especially fish. Once a year, large flocks of toric would descend into the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus.
Roman coins with embossed acorns and dolphins show that fish was an important value at that time. As a matter of fact, the bonito, which has been the symbol of the city since the Byzantion period, from Rome, Byzantium and Ottoman to the present day has always been important in Istanbul Cuisine.
The habit of consuming fish and seafood in the city continued during the Byzantine Empire as well. These were the most important consumption items of Istanbul Cuisine, and many fish such as mackerel, bonito, tuna, horse mackerel, sea bass, mullet, anchovy were on every table in Constantinople, regardless of wealthy or poor. The Bosphorus was as rich in seafood as shrimp, mussel and lobster. Salted or smoked sturgeon and caviar were imported from the Black Sea.
During the Byzantine era, Constantinople not only became the center of commerce and imperial power, but also developed into a refined culinary capital. Exotic products from distant lands, such as the best foods and spices from the lands of the Byzantine Empire, were used for elegant tables in the city. The tables of Constantinople, the heir to the ancient Roman cuisine, included fish, seafood, fish sauce garum, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, grains (wheat, barley), exotic spices, cheeses, poultry and red meat (mutton, pork).
The importance given to local fruits and vegetables, seafood and fish was remarkable in Istanbul Cuisine. According to Andrew Dalby, Byzantine cuisine was a synthesis of previous cuisine cultures. The tradition of spices and exotic flavors, which is an important feature of the ancient Roman cuisine, has survived in this cuisine.
Eating habits during the fasting days of Istanbul Cuisine
Health and nutrition rules based on the Christian calendar and the theory of hilts played an important role in shaping the Byzantine cuisine. The consumption of meat and blood was regulated by the Orthodox Church. Almost 40% of the 365-days were arranged as “fasting days.” Animal products such as meat, butter, and even fish were not consumed on fasting days. These foods were being replaced by grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, olive oil and seafood. The chefs of the elite had developed special dishes for these meatless and butter-free days. Shellfish and legumes such as broad beans, lentils and chickpeas were often consumed on fasting days.
In the Byzantine period, leavened white bread was common in the cuisine of Constantinople. Bread was also flavored with spices, such as gummy bread and aniseed bread. The empire had land suitable for growing grapes and producing wine. Wine was the most consumed alcoholic beverage. Some Byzantine provinces were famous for their sweet, aromatic wines; especially Bithynia.
While it was said that sweet wines made from different grape varieties were produced here, physicians also talked about their medicinal properties. During the early Byzantine period, many famous wines were produced in Syria and Palestine, conquered Carthage and Egypt, the Aegean islands, the Peloponnese, and Italy. There is information in the sources that quality wine is produced in islands such as Crete, Lesbos and Rhodes.
Olive was also an important element of the Istanbul Cuisine. There were many recipes for olives; such as olives marinated in vinegar, green olives preserved in brine or honey vinegar. Constantinople, a port city, was an important stop on the trade routes from the east and west. Sugar, eggplant, lemon, rice, rose petals were the new ingredients brought to the city from the culinary flavor of the East during the Eastern Roman Empire. Mastic produced in Chios was especially used in making bread, cake and wine. Spices abounded in Constantinople. Spices were imported from the Far East by Arab traders and later Venetian traders.
Spices and aromatic herbs such as saffron, gum, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, cloves are used in the kitchen and also in medicine for their therapeutic benefits; It was also used in religious ceremonies. Of course, it has to be said that they were expensive, but their availability in Constantinople did not mean that everyone could reach them.
The Ottoman Empire had the same flora and fauna as it covered the same territory as the Byzantine Empire. While Istanbul continued to be the center of trade and power after the Ottoman conquest, the same foods unique to Thrace, Anatolia and the Black Sea, or exotic foods from afar, continued to flow into the city as a part of Istanbul Cuisine. Most of the products used in the Byzantine period continued to exist in the city, which was the Ottoman throne after the conquest in the 15th century.
Through interaction with Byzantine culinary culture, Ottoman tastes began to fuse with new foodstuffs such as saltwater fish, seafood, olive oil, caviar and waxy fish roe. For example, peksimet in Turkish (Greek paximadia), lakerda in Turkish (Greek calakerta), fava in Turkish (Greek phaba) are among the foods inherited from the Byzantine period in Istanbul cuisine. Already, the Christian community (especially because of the fasting days) continued to be fed with fish, seafood and olive oil as they were accustomed to in the Ottoman period.
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