Turkey: A culinary crossroad

Turkey’s history, culture and cuisine are all full of superlatives and surprises for non-historians. Ottoman Empire and Turkish Empire are terms that were used interchangeably. “Ottoman” came from Osman l, or Othman l, (1258-1326), who was the father and namesake of the dynasty that established the Ottoman Empire.

By the rule of the 10th Emperor/Sultan, Suleiman l (known to the Europeans as Suleiman the Magnificent and to the Turks as Suleiman the Lawmaker), in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire was vast.

According to my research online and through history books, Suleiman’s conquests brought under control of the empire the major Muslim cities of Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus, and Baghdad, and many Balkan provinces, including most of the Hungarian Empire, and most of North Africa. His armies and navies dominated the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea and the Red Sea and thus the major water trade routes in the entire region.

Suleiman was a fair skinned, red haired man who spoke five languages, was a master jeweler, a poet, a great patron of the arts and education, a renowned legislator and an excellent warrior - he was praised even by Shakespeare as a military prodigy, (“Merchant of Venice”).

His tolerant policy of allowing other cultures and faiths to flourish under his rule contributed to his successes on the battlefield and at the negotiating table, as inquisitions wrought terror across Europe. His policies of addressing poverty and hunger caused more than a few European serfs to migrate to his empire.

The Ottoman Empire existed roughly from 1299 - 1922. In that span of more than 600 years and across huge swaths of territory, the Turks facilitated and experienced cultural exchange through trade and conquest, that rivaled that of the Roman and European empires.

Textiles, technology and spices from the Far East and Africa, goods and currency from Europe - even crops and raw materials from the new world after 1500, all shuttled through the Ottoman Empire like pollen through a busy bee hive.

In culinary terms, the result was that the cross roads of the Ottoman Empire developed one of the most diverse and sophisticated cuisines of the world.

The Old 5Mile House is excited to share some of the tasty, healthy delights from Turkey this May. We’ll have fun, exotic dishes like pistachio crusted goat cheese with a pomegranate glaze on a bed of red onion marmalade, the classic fattoush salad, sizzling cumin shrimp, grilled lamb chops with a coffee/coriander rub, (the Turks brought coffee to Europe), juicy kabobs, crunchy falafel and more.

Robert Smith is the chef owner of the Old 5Mile House where they serve roadhouse food from around the world.


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The Union Updated Apr 30, 2013 11:02PM Published Apr 30, 2013 11:02PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.