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It is clear that Ottoman cuisine was unified and refined in imperial Istanbul, but the ultimate origins of many of its component parts are less clear.
It is a matter of mere speculation whether the origins of this imperial culinary legacy are to be traced back to Greek antiquity, the Byzantine heritage, or the Turkish and Arab nations, not forgetting Phoenician traditions; nowadays you may find support for any of these claims in various countries in the Balkans and the Near East.
Near Eastern specialist Maxime Rodinson notes as a rule of thumb that "despite everything, Latin Europe on the one side and Islam and the Byzantine Empire on the other were heirs of the civilizations of antiquity. Muslim culture, after all, developed from a base of eastern Hellenism. Thus, when we see a general similarity between dishes served in both East and West we need to show that they do not have a common, parallel origin in Graeco-Roman cooking before we adduce any oriental influence." Needless to say, determining the antiquity of a dish, which ones were widespread due to their presence in Roman or Hellenistic times, and which became widespread later, within the expansive Ottoman empire, can be difficult. The food historian, Iranologist and Ottomanologist Bert Fragner emphasizes the importance of New World foodstuffs in particular in defining sui generis Ottoman cuisine, as it adopted them more rapidly than France, Italy, and northern Europe.
The center of Ottoman cuisine was Istanbul, the capital, where the imperial court and the metropolitan elites established a refined culinary tradition bringing together elements of regional cuisines from across the empire:
...despite the disintegration of the Ottoman political empire, we can still see the survival of a large region which could be called the Ottoman culinary empire. The Balkans, Greece, Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent... are common heirs to what was once the Ottoman life-style, and their cuisines offer treacherous circumstantial evidence of this fact. Of course, they represent at the same time a good deal of local or regional culinary traditions. Besides, one should not forget that it is typical of any great cuisine in the world to be based on local varieties and on mutual exchange and enrichment among them, but at the same time to be homogenized and harmonized by a metropolitan tradition of refined taste.
Ottoman palace cuisine
This diverse cuisine was amalgamated and honed in the Imperial Palace's kitchens by chefs brought from certain parts of the empire to create and experiment with different ingredients. These chefs were tested and hired by their method of cooking rice, a simple dish. They were brought over from various places for the express purpose of experimenting with exotic textures and ingredients and inventing new dishes.
Each cook specialized in specific tasks. All dishes intended for the sultan were first passed by the palate of the Chesnidjibashi, or imperial food taster, who tested the food for both poison and taste. The creations of the Ottoman palace's kitchens also filtered to the common population, for instance through Ramadan events, and through the cooking at the yalis of the pashas, and from there on to the people at large.
Some of the more extravagant dishes remained as palace specialities and have had only limited diffusion:
- Roasted pigeon
- Ayva dolma and kalye (vegetable -or fruit as in this case- cooked without meat, with olive oil and tomato "salça" after a short sautéing)
- Kavun dolması (Stuffed melon)
Regional culinary influence
The traditions of Ottoman cuisine continue in Albanian cuisine, Algerian cuisine, Turkish cuisine, Serbian cuisine, Bulgarian cuisine, Greek cuisine, Azerbaijani cuisine, Iranian cuisine, Armenian cuisine, Georgian cuisine, Ukrainian cuisine, Cypriot cuisine, Sephardi cuisine, Romanian cuisine and Middle Eastern cuisine.
- Fragner, p. 53
- Rodinson, Maxime. "Venice and the Spice Trade," in Rodinson, Maxime, and Arthur John Arberry. "Medieval Arab Cookery." (2001). p. 204
- Fragner, p. 52
- Mehrdad Kia (2011). Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire. ABC-CLIO. pp. 230–. ISBN 978-0-313-33692-8.
- Coşkun Yılmaz; Necdet Yılmaz (2006). Health in the Ottomans. Biofarma.
- Jean-Paul Labourdette; Clémence Bonnet (4 February 2009). Petit Futé Istanbul. Petit Futé. pp. 186–. ISBN 2-7469-2337-8.
- Tarım ve köyişleri bakanlığı dergisi. Yayın Dairesi Başkanlığı Matbaası. 1998.
- Bert Fragner, "From the Caucasus to the Roof of the World: a culinary adventure", in Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper, A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East, London and New York, 1994 and 2000, ISBN 1-86064-603-4.
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