It is hard to overstate the influence that Turkey has on global cultures and foods. This influence is partly due to geography; Turkey sits at the crossroads of the East and the West, the North and the South. Early Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires all claimed this land at some point, importing parts of their own culture and exporting the local culture. Turkey played an important role in the development of early Christianity and Islam. At the end of the Islamic conquests, the Umayyad Calif's order extended to the eastern edge of Turkey. The Mongolian empire, by the late 1200's had also taken part of Turkey. They played a major role in exporting Turkish culture--and Islam--East. One can find Turkic remnants spread across the Silk Road all the way to China. Finally, the Ottoman Empire was a dominant force in Euro-Asian politics for more than 600 years, all the way to 1923. Ottoman influence was not only cultural and political; it was religious as well. The Ottomans reestablished the caliphate (The Caliph is like the pope back in the days when he had armies and could depose kings in his empire.). In modern days there are strong movements within Turkey to secularize and become part of the E.U., and other Islamic movements that wand to turn Turkey back to Islam.
Start your meal with an herby Ezme. Eaten with freshly cooked bread (but good enough to be eaten with a spoon), this dish is a fresh tomato-cucumber-herb trifecta. Too lazy to dip it yourself? Try the Lahmacun. It has a very similar taste with the addition of meat and is served on a thin crisp flatbread.
Perhaps what Turkish food is most famous for is their grilled meats. One of their famous dishes that we were not able to try is Döner; perhaps we will save that for when we cover Germany (there is a story there...).
Many of the Turkish grilled meat dishes are available throughout the Middle East and all the way to India. The dish remains the same, though the spice bouquet changes. Try Shish tawook in an Indian restaurant or Shish kebab in a Turkish one and the similarities and differences will be apparent.
Kofta, a ground meat kebaba, is another common dish throughout the world. Again, try the Turkish one in contrast to the Afghani one for an exciting food exchange.
Most of the grilled meats are available as whole meat served as a plated meal, or as a breaded wrap.
Pide (Meat and Cheese)
One of our crew's favorites was the pide. The closest thing that pide could be compared to is Pizza in the West (or just one stop further west in Italy) or fatir in the Middle East.
Pide is available in several variants. We tried the beef stew pide and the cheese pide. The former is served with stewed beef and then baked together on a flat bread. The latter, for cheese-loving Americans, is like Christmas morning.
Take your time
A Turkish friend of mine tells me "Americans have the watch, we have the time." Whenever you eat international food, it is not just about the adventure of trying something new; it is also experiencing that "something new" in the way that it is meant to be experienced. For most of the world's cultures, that means experiencing it slowly and with friends or family. Don't just rush off from your meal. Take time to enjoy a good cup of Turkish coffee (remember don't take the last little sip since Turkish coffee has the grounds mixed in with the drink) and Baclava.
Foodie: it runs in the family
Our family is Cajun, and has a long heritage in eating great food. I hear my Aunts and Uncles talk about "that gumbo" or "that chili," and everyone at the table gives a knowing nod. My brothers, sisters, and children do the same, though, as inculturation sets in, there is often disagreement as to which étouffée or gumbo should be called "that" one. My eldest daughter has been an avid follower of the blog and a long time foodie in her own rite. She has been begging me to come along on one of our lunches and, with the help of an early dismissal, she was able to participate in this week's country. Check out her interview.