Discover Turkey, Foods

Turkish Cuisine (Part Four of Seven): The Marmara Region

This article is Part Four of a seven-part series exploring the cuisine of the seven regions of Turkey. Turkish culinary culture is renowned as one of the world’s best and is considered one of the three main cuisines of the world because of the variety of its recipes and flavors. Fresh, local and seasonal produce are at the heart of Turkish cooking culture. It has been a fascinating experience to learn about the rich cuisine of this historic nation. Even though many of its dishes and foods bear the same name — for example, Kebabs and the legendary Lentil Soup — the preparation and the ingredients used can differ widely within each region.

 The Marmara Region (Marmara Bolgesi in Turkish) occupies the northwest corner of Turkey. It is bordered by Greece and the Aegean Sea to the west, Bulgaria and the Black Sea to the north, the Black Sea Region to the east, the Central Anatolia Region to the southeast, and the Aegean Region to the south. At the center of the region is the Sea of Marmara, which gives the Marmara Region its name. The largest city in the region is Istanbul. Among the seven geographical regions, the Marmara Region has the second-smallest area, yet it has the largest population. It is the most densely populated region in the country.

The Bosphorus, known as the “Strait of Istanbul” and historically as the “Strait of Constantinople”, is a 30km-long (18.6 miles) waterway which divides Europe and Asia and connects the Marmara and Black Seas. It is a natural strait and the world’s narrowest strait which is used for international navigation. Its name derives from the Greek myth of Io, lover of Zeus, who was transformed into a cow to conceal her from his jealous wife Hera. She plunged into the straits to escape a gadfly, hence the name Bosphorus, meaning “ox’s ford” or “cattle strait”.

The Marmara region has seen thousands of tribes and their individual civilizations pass through from one continent to the other. The famous city of Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, is at the center of the history of this region. A magnificent city, its roots reach deep into the past and heavily influence its present and its future. Along with its incredibly rich history, Istanbul possesses a natural beauty beyond compare. Having been to Istanbul, I can attest to the statement that it is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It is a huge cosmopolitan metropolis that is vibrant, chaotic, exciting, and full of life. A visit to this part of Turkey is an experience not to be missed.

The city of Istanbul extends to both the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus. It is bordered by green groves with beautiful shores that stretch along the internal Marmara Sea. Small, beautiful islands face the city in the middle of the region, and adorn the huge Marmara Sea like jewels in a necklace. Many characteristics of the Black Sea climate to the north of the Marmara Region influence this area, separating it from the typical Mediterranean climate that prevails to the south of the region. The amount of annual rainfall is enough to facilitate growing a variety of fruits in the growing season, while frequent snowfalls enliven winter holidays.

One of the main peaks of Turkey, Uludag, is the most prominent mountain in this region. It is a popular destination for winter skiers and summer hikers. At the foot of Mount Uludag lies “green” Bursa, gaining its title from the dense forests covering the mountains and its wide verdant meadows. Bursa is another center of historical importance and its rich past is kept alive in the architectural designs of its mosques and tombs. Ancient Iznik (Nicea) and the charming city of Edirne on Thrace, the European side of Turkey, are similar to Bursa.

The Marmara Region sits at a low altitude so valleys and plateaus characterize the area, with important rivers and lakes within the region. Bordering Greece and Bulgaria, the land in Thrace is covered by wide fields of sunflowers and vineyards, while olive groves are found all over the region, and there are lush gardens in Balikesir on the Anatolia side. Wheat, sunflowers, corn, sugar beets, rice, olives and vineyards are the agricultural products grown in this region. About 73% of sunflower production and 30% of corn production in Turkey comes from the Marmara Region.

Because of its close location to Europe, linked by the Trans-European motorway (TEM), the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles Straits allowing passage from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, and its ports on the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea and other contributing factors, the Marmara Region is advanced in industry, commerce, transportation, and tourism. The primary industrial complexes are in the Istanbul-Bursa-Kocaeli triangle. Ship construction takes place here along with the production of processed food, textiles and leathers, furniture for the home, paper, as well as cement, petrochemical and automotive products.  

There are too many provinces and cities within the Marmara Region to cover the cuisine in one article. For our purposes, we will look at the foods considered to be the ten most popular foods, counting down from ten to one (one being the most popular). (Source: tasteatlas.com.)

Top 10 Most Popular Foods of the Marmara Region:

#10 – Kestaneli Baklava (Chestnut Baklava) (Marmara Region):

Although the plump and round Chestnut Baklava is mostly associated with the city of Bursa in the Marmara region, it is also a nationwide favorite.  This delightful treat is made by wrapping phyllo pastry sheets around whole candied chestnuts, kestane şekeri in Turkish. However, like most other types of baklava, Kestaneli Baklava is typically topped with ground pistachios.

#9:  Bayramic Beyazi (Canakkale Province):

Bayramiç beyazı or beyaz nektarin is a variety of small nectarine that is grown in the Turkish province of Çanakkale. Slightly bigger than a cherry, this crunchy fruit has smooth skin with color ranging from light green to pink. Juicy, refreshing and aromatic, Bayramiç beyazı are best enjoyed fresh. They are also perfect for jams or cakes.

#8:  Mihalic Peyniri (Bursa Province):

Mihaliç Peyniri is a Turkish cheese originating from Bursa. This cheese is named Mihaliç because it was first produced in the town of Karacebey, which was originally named Mihaliç. In the past, it was made from raw sheep’s milk. Today, it is made from cow’s milk or a combination of goat, sheep, and cow’s milk since sheep’s milk is no longer produced in sufficient quantities. This cheese is stored in brine to harden and develop a firm, yet slightly elastic texture. Then it is salted and dried before being sold in slices or balls. When aged, its texture becomes crumbly and grainy. Mihaliç has an intense and salty flavor and is a great substitute to use in place of parmesan cheese. After being grated, one of its most recommended uses is in baked dishes and various salads.  

#7:  Pacanga Boregi (Istanbul):

Pacanga boregi is a Turkish variety of börek that is especially popular in Istanbul. There it is regarded as a traditional Sephardic Jewish specialty of the city. It is made by stuffing yufka or phyllo pastry with pastirma (salted, aged, dried beef) and kasar cheese.

Apart from the basic ingredients, some cooks also like to add peppers and tomatoes to the filling. The dough is rolled, then cut into rectangles and fried. This borek can also be baked but frying is the traditional method and used most often. Pacanga boregi is served hot and typically eaten as an appetizer.

#6:  Kemalpasa (Bursa):

Kemalpaşa is a delicious, melt-in-the-mouth Turkish dessert named after the place of its origin, the city of Bursa. It is made with a special, unsalted cow’s milk cheese produced in the town, along with flour, semolina, eggs, and baking powder. The dough is traditionally shaped into small balls that are first baked in the oven then boiled in sherbet. Besides the standard version, there is also a packaged version of dry Kemalpaşa. In winter, the dessert is usually served with cream. In the summer, it is typically served with a scoop of ice cream. An interesting side note:  This sweet treat is so popular in Bursa that it even has its own festival, celebrated annually on the 14th of September.

#5:  Inegol Kofte (Inegol, Turkey):

This famous Turkish meatball dish was invented by Mustafa Efendi, a Turkish immigrant from Bulgaria who came to İnegöl in the late 19th Century. Inegol Kofte are made with breadcrumbs and a mixture of ground beef or lamb, and seasoned only with onions. They are grilled and typically served as a main course. Although these delicious meatballs are found all over Turkey today, it is claimed that the best Köfte are prepared in İnegöl. They do look delicious!

#4:  Hunkar Begendi (Istanbul):

Hunkar begendi is a traditional Turkish dish. A flavorful lamb stew, it is served on top of creamy, roasted eggplant purée. The purée is often thickened with milk and cheese. The whole dish is sometimes topped with a tomato-based sauce or garnished with freshly chopped parsley. It is believed that the dish is native to Istanbul and was first prepared for the wife of Napoleon III in the late 19th Century.

#3:  Iskender Kebap (Bursa):

A specialty of the city of Bursa, İskender kebap is named after İskender Bey, a butcher who first prepared this flavorful dish. It consists of thinly sliced lamb that is grilled and then combined with a spicy tomato sauce and pita bread. Traditionally, melted sheep’s butter and yogurt are drizzled over the dish at the table when it is served. It is recommended this dish be paired with şıra, a Turkish beverage known to aid digestion.

#2:  Lokum (Istanbul):

Lokum are succulent, sugary cubes based on a gel of starch and sugar. Traditionally, lokum is flavored with rose water, lemon, bergamot orange, mastic, or mint. However, the Turkish favorite remains a lokum of plain jelly combined with pistachios. There are also other varieties which use ingredients such as cinnamon, dates, hazelnuts, or walnuts. In most Turkish homes, these cubes are typically offered with tea and coffee after breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

These sweet treats were invented by Bekir Affendi, who came to Istanbul in 1777 from Anatolia. His first shop, Haci Bekir, is still in business and is still run today by his descendants. The name of these sweets means “heal or soothe the throat” and comes from the Arabic term rahat-ul. Its other popular name, “Turkish Delight”, was coined in the 18th Century when an English traveler took some of the sweets back home. Since he could not pronounce the Arabic name, he coined his own term. The original recipe called for corn flour, refined beet sugar, honey, and water. The treat soon gained popularity, and today it is one of the most famous symbols of Turkey.

#1:  Doner Kebab (Bursa):

Doner kebab is a delicacy known throughout the world. It consists of grilled pieces of meat shredded from a vertical skewer and typically seasoned with fresh herbs and spices. Originally, the meat used in Doner was exclusively lamb. But today in Istanbul, kebabs are prepared with a combination of lamb and beef, and sometimes only with beef.

Meat grilled vertically on a skewer is not a new thing, It was mentioned in 18th Century Ottoman travel books. The sandwich form of Doner kebab, which means rotating kebab, appeared in the early 1970s in Berlin, Germany. It is believed that Kadir Nurman was the first to place the shaved pieces of meat into a flatbread and serve it with vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce, onions and cucumbers and a squirt or two of sauce. Before that, all the ingredients were just served together on the same plate. Along with many of the Turkish variations on Doner kebab, there are also numerous other regional variations in countries such as Armenia, Vietnam, Austria, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.

TURKISH CUISINE CULTURE:

It is said that three major kinds of cuisine exist in the world: French, Chinese and Turkish. Fully justifying its reputation, Turkish cuisine is always a pleasant surprise for the new visitor to Turkey. Turkish cuisine is world renowned for its diversity and flavor, drawing influences from all corners of the former Ottoman Empire. Turkish people are passionate about food with each region taking pride and boasting about their own specialties.  Generally, food is spicier and richer the further south and east you travel, while in the western regions, olive oil, seafood and vegetable dishes are more prevalent.

First and foremost, food in Turkey is always a special occasion and always to be enjoyed with gusto. From home-cooked meals shared by family and friends to symbolic religious or celebratory feasts, to the street theatrics of roadside sellers, food is closely intertwined with the fabric of society in Turkey.


Copyright (c) by North America TEN and Mary Bloyd.

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