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Greek V Turkish Food


Adam Balic
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Don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but there are some interesting things here. I wrote a lot about Turkish vs Greek food in a discussion on raki elsewhere, but I'll just say one or two things:

Turkey is a huge country, and Istanbul is the center of what was a huge empire that went far beyond the borders of what is Turkey today, and included Greece, the Balkans, the Levant, Egypt.... All these cuisines share certain things, and were influenced by Istanbul, but maintain distinct regional differences. And Istanbul cuisine, for its part, was enriched by all of these areas. The modern border of Greece, Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Bulgaria etc. say a lot about political developments at the turn of the century but very little about who actually lived/lives where and where cultures blend or are defined. In addition to those who identify as Turks and speak Turkish as their mother tongue, there are Greeks, Kurds, Zazas, Circassians, Laz, Roma, Arabs, Georgians and Armenians here, and I've left out lots, like Greek-speaking muslims from Crete...

Even within Turkey itself, cooking varies extremely from region to region. What people are most accustomed to thinking of as "Turkish Food" is that of Istanbul - dare I reiterate, the center of an empire - and home to many different ethnic groups. The population of Istanbul in the early 1900s was around 600,000, and at least 250,000 of these people were ethnic Greek. There were (and are) also large numbers of Armenians and Jews, and Armenians in particular are noted for being fine cooks, both of the traditional Ottoman cuisine as well as some interesting things that are uniquely their own. (Topik, for instance...) So though many Turks and Greeks are always trying to claim and distinguish what is "uniquely theirs," I think "Ottoman" cuisine is a more appropriate term for the cuisine than any one ethnic term, because it was shared by all of these peoples. Of course pork doesn't show up in the cookery of Jews or Muslims, whatever their mother tongue may be.

The range of ingredients available in Istanbul is still tremendous. But there are many things commonly used in other regions that are hard to find here. When your average Istanbullian goes to the Çiya restaurant, an Antep/Kurdish restaurant in Kadiköy, he doesn't recognize most of the dishes. Heck, most have never heard of hummus or baba ghanouj, much less ever tasted it. But they are both common in Antep.

Once you leave Istanbul and head out into the various provinces, things change incredibly. Probably the richest of the other areas is the southeast, especially the cities of Antep and Urfa, known as the center of kebab cookery, as well as the best baklava.

Cooking in the Black Sea is heavily based on fish, especially hamsi, a small sardine-like fish. They also use lots of corn and kale, and have some interesting cheeses including some string cheeses.

Central Anatolia is overall a little less interesting though there are good things. Bulgur is a staple. I spent a week in Arguvan, near Malatya, and ate bulgur pilav, bulgur pilav with boiled mutton, boiled mutton with bulgur pilav, yogurt with bulgur, ayran (yogurt with water), ayran soup (ayran with chickpeas, bulgur and mint), some cheese. Aside from some parsley and tomatoes and cucumbers, that was about it, though there are a few other dishes that change from place to place. They also have dishes based on hulled wheat, one of which is ashure, a pudding with pretty much every dried fruit and nut you can think of in its rich versions.

When large numbers of Greeks left Istanbul at various times and went to Greece, they kept cooking their favorite dishes, giving rise to many dishes there known as "politiko" (Istanbul style), but the dearth of ingredients took its toll; and many of these dishes never made it outside of their homes. But Greek women from Istanbul are renowned as cooks. The rest of Greece changes extremely from region to region. The north has the greatest variety of foods, as they are closer to Istanbul; and Thessaloniki was also a major urban center. But overall I think of the cooking traditions of Istanbul as "cuisine;" that of Greece as "food." (Lest I be thought biased...well I guess I am but I'm also part Greek...) They make some damn good food in Greece though. ;) Still, most of the country was rural, and in the south, dirt poor. Olives, bread, cheese and wild greens formed the staples for much of the population, lamb on Easter perhaps.

The bechamel on mousakka is a fairly recent development by a chef named Tselemendes, who thought Greek cooking needed changing, lightening up (and he did this by putting bechamel on a dish that probably contains a good cup of olive oil in it...?) ;)

Regarding the pita/bread thing: In Greece, pita is for sandwiches made of gyros, souvlaki, keftedes etc., period. I have never seen served in a restaurant to be eaten with "mageirefta" ("cooked" foods - that is, moussaka etc.). Most Greeks can't fathom the idea of eating without a hunk of good bread, and it was the thing I most missed in the US after living there for 4 years. In Seattle, I went to a Greek restaurant with some friends and was shocked to see that they had NO BREAD! The said "we have pitta." Bleah. It would be like going to a good restaurant in the US and being told that they had no bread but could heat up some hot dog buns. Only worse, because bread is SO central to Greek eating. But the spread of gyros in the US, incidentally made in a way that would also be unrecognizable to most Greeks in Greece and which I call "Greek Spam" (and this is an insult to the Spam company) has given people the idea that Greeks sit around and eat pita all the time. Even the pita is different in Greece; it tends to be very chewy; the stuff they pass off as pita in the US is like flat round Wonder Bread.

Anyway, I have eaten in exactly one Greek restaurant in the US that served something that really tasted Greek, and that was the Parthenon in Chicago. That was a long time ago and I have no idea how they are doing now. There must be plenty of others, especially in New York, but I can't speak of them. Mostly it's a watered-down version, changed to fit American tastes. (Like Gyros with globs of cucumber filled sour cream and lettuce...I mean what the hey?)

I would dearly love to say that I had eaten at even one good Turkish restaurant in the US but I haven't, which isn't again to say they don't exist, and New York probably is as good a bet as any. The pictures looked pretty decent... I've seen lots of them start out okay, then as soon as they get a bit of a following, start cutting corners on quality and ingredients to save money, and end up going out of business.

But I did have one of the best lahmacuns of my life from an Armenian bakery in Hollywood. :)

Oh, I've enjoyed this rant! :biggrin:

Edited by sazji (log)

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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Wow what a great post, thank you very much. I guess the food is also evolving all the time as well. Being from Melbourne I was under impression that souvlaki was nearly always lamb (and the books I have on Greek food tend to say that Pork is restricted and regional), but on a recent trip to Hydra all I saw was pork souvlaki and the Greeks I spoke to say this is common across Greece now.

On issue with Turkish food is the dearth of in depth English language books (I have book by Arto der Haroutunian, which is great but hardly a weighty volume). It is kind of odd given the depth of the cuisine and the number of cooking books I have heard described in Turkey itself.

Edited by Adam Balic (log)
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Turkish and Turkic style cooking is very widespread and you'll find different influences, regional differences, uses, ingredients and dialects right across the former Soviet replublics including Crimea in Ukraine , The Caucasus republics and regions and Central Asia as well as in Russia itself regions like Kazan and Tatarstan but always a common thread is found in Turkic cooking as much as ethnicity.

On the other hand Greek food is just another part of what is known as Balkan region where Turkish influence has been strong and common dishes with slightly different ingrediets may be found from Slovenia to Hungary to Moldavia to Greece.

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[...]Central Anatolia is overall a little less interesting though there are good things.  Bulgur is a staple.  I spent a week in Arguvan, near Malatya, and ate bulgur pilav, bulgur pilav with boiled mutton, boiled mutton with bulgur pilav, yogurt with bulgur, ayran (yogurt with water), ayran soup (ayran with chickpeas, bulgur and mint), some cheese.  Aside from some parsley and tomatoes and cucumbers, that was about it, though there are a few other dishes that change from place to place. They also have dishes based on hulled wheat, one of which is ashure, a pudding with pretty much every dried fruit and nut you can think of in its rich versions.[...]

Ashure, that's so interesting! There was (or is?) a traditional food in rural East Coast states of Peninsular Malaysia which they called "sura." I believe it was JustKay who found out that that's short for "asyura," which is really a Malay spelling that sounds the same as Turkish "ashure." Their version of the stuff has almost everything you can think of in it, including chicken. It's a complex, viscous dessert, redolent of various spices, most notably cardamom, and rich with nuts and coconut milk and animal fat, and it was one of the best things I ate in the village I was living in from 1975-77. It's evident that there is a common origin for Central Anatolian ashure and East Coast Malaysian asyura/sura. Amazing, no?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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An exciting discussion. Having spent the summer eating my way through the balkans and Turkey, I'll add a few thoughts.

To talk of "Turkish" or Greek" cuisine conjures up mental maps of those nations, and lurking in the background someplace is the ghost of 19th century nationalisms and their attendant baggage: the [*Insert Nation Name*] Cookbook. Most of the cookbooks I have read that propose to describe "Greek" or "Turkish" or even "Romanian" national cuisines have been at best innacurate, and at worst big steaming cow patties of misinformation. It would be best to speak of a Balkan cuisine or an Ottoman cuisine, both of which have melded and have regional and class distinctions, and have permuteated over seven hundred years to create related cuisines.

To speak of "Turkish" cuisine, to give one example, we can see the various cultural layers in something as simple as baked goods. We have things such as flat breads, which reflect an ancient nomadic past harking back to a time when there were no bread baking hearths. In order to produce "cakes" this tradition developed the layered-flat-bread phenomenon known to us as everything from baklava to borek. In the meantime, Europeans had been settled for generations in the Pera/Galata district of Istanbul and brought with them french bakers and Italian confectioners, so today some of the best french-style breads and cakes to be had are found in Istanbul. And the bakers widely acknowledged as the best in Turkey are the Hemshin - Muslim Armenians from the eastern Black sea region (which is known for excellent big yeasty loaves of bread in the Trabzon area as well as nearly indigestable corn bread.) (Oh, and you don't see pita bread in Turkey at all. Doners come wrapped in flat bread or in french bread.)

Until 1920, the main Greek cities were Istanbul, Smyrna, and Trabazon. Greeks were a part of this Istanbul/Pera culture until the events of 1923 (referred to as "the Catastrophe in Greek) displaced multiudes of Constantinople, Smyrna, and Pontic greeks to the Greek mainland. They brought more eastern regional flavors to modern Greek cuisine. They also brought their upper-class desires for fine french style baking and confectionary with them, along with their love of baklava.

Furthermore, certain tastes are regional within the cuisine. Istanbulis are marked by an affection for eating mussels - avoided by most Turks - and for kokorec, the grilled gut-and-chittlin' roll that is part of the ritual feast eaten by Greeks at Easter time. The Kokorec obsession is getting very big in Istanbul these days, with special Kokorec restaurants popping up in chic neighborhoods as a way of saying "We are classy Istanbulis, not internal immigrants from Bingol or Hatay!." Needless to say, the Kokorec tradition is one of many Greek-oriented food traditions that marks the specific local cuisine of Istanbul.

Is one better than the other? No. They are different but related. I prefer Turkish versions of kofte. I prefer Greek fish dishes. And in general, I prefer not to eat anything cooked in Bulgaria, but when I have to it will usually be roast chicken. But that is another story...

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Don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but there are some interesting things here. I wrote a lot about Turkish vs Greek food in a discussion on raki elsewhere, but I'll just say one or two things:

I'm reading it now.

There are Turkish threads here and in the ME/Africa forum.

Where is Turkey again? :biggrin:

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There are Turkish threads here and in the ME/Africa forum.

Where is Turkey again?  :biggrin:

Geography would say part in Europe and part in Asia. Looking at Turkey's desire to get into the EU, I'd say that politicaly it's the former :smile: .

Plus you might want to read the title of the thread again... you know, the part about Greece :wink: .

Edited by albiston (log)
Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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Eeeeeew, kokoreç. Or, as my friend Brenna calles it, "shit sandwiches." Actually I liked it in Greece, and exactly once here, when it was gotten from a Turkish immigrant from NE Greece. But the common version in Istanbul had a thick core of pure fat down the middle. Can't do it.

One Turkish cookbook that I really did like was "Classical Turkish Cooking" by Ayla Algar. It has recipes for several things that nobody ever includes but which many Turks might really miss, like Kandil Simidi. (yum.) Beware the boza recipe though; the advice to "get the fermentation started" by using regular yeast is a bit of (mis)information that has been repeated several times, probably by people who are just using boza as a starter. The fermentation in boza, which creates acid, is a completely different one from that in bread/wine, which creates alcohol. I'll post a recipe for getting it going in anyone is interested.

The info about Ashure was interesting! The Armenians make a similar one called Anoushabour (sweet soup). But for Muslims and especially the Alevis, Ashure is a holy dish, made in huge quantities (may as well, it's complicated) during the month of Muharrem and shared with all the neighbors, many of which are also making it and sharing it. The Great Ashure Exchange. Many of these are not nearly as sweet as the pudding shop variety.

By the way, there is pita in Turkey, they call it pide, and many döner (gyros) and nearly all kebap places serve it. A bit different but still a flat bread about half an inch in thickness, small and round for the single-döner-sandwich version. It's sliced through the middle (there is no pocket), it's very chewy and spongy. Pide is also one of the few breads that have not been horribly altered due to 90s economics and the bread mafia, which has caused the once wonderful bread in Istanbul to change to a fluffy product similar to supermarket "French" back in the US. There is a govt. regulation that says a loaf of a particular size must contain a certain amount of flour but they use more yeast and other additives and make it balloon to the desired size; it's all air. If some bakery makes it according to regulations, he starts receiving threats. It's gotten a little better but people now seem to have developed a taste for it...

Souvlaki/lamb -- Another one of those oft-repeated things. Greeks eat lamb and lamb and lamb. You can get lamb souvlaki in restaurants, but lamb is expensive, even in Greece. (Or post Euro, perhaps "especially" in Greece.) I don't think I've ever seen a street version that is anything but pork.

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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Yes, there is pide, and it is flat, but it is not quite the same as the middle eastern pita bread that became widely known as the bread for felafels worldwide. A whole book should be written about the variety of flat breads available at Istanbul kebab houses. For my money, the breads that are served with buryani kebab (pit roasted lamb) are the winners. Every time I visit Istanbul my first lunch stop is the Fatih meat Market near the Aquaduct. Lamb, lambn, and lamb.

Then I wind up having kokorec someplace in Sikedji... sure, it is a fatty shit sandwich. But it is a very good fatty shit sandwich.

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On issue with Turkish food is the dearth of in depth English language books (I have book by Arto der Haroutunian, which is great but hardly a weighty volume). It is kind of odd given the depth of the cuisine and the number of cooking books I have heard described in Turkey itself.

I'd second Sazji's recommendation of "Classical Turkish Cooking" by Ayla Algar. I've cooked a lot of the recipes out of this book.

In more-or-less decreasing order of desirability (to me, mostly based on how much is covered in the book), there is also "The Sultan's Kitchen-A Turkish Cookbook" by Ozcan Ozan, "Classic Turkish Cooking" by Ghillie Basan, "Turkish Cookbook" by Nevin Halici, and "The Ottoman Kitchen" by Sarah Woodward.

I agree, though, that the offerings are pretty slim when compared with books covering regional foods of, say, Italy or Spain.

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For my money, the breads that are served with buryani kebab (pit roasted lamb) are the winners. Every time I visit Istanbul my first lunch stop is the Fatih meat Market near the Aquaduct. Lamb, lambn, and lamb.

Then I wind up having kokorec someplace in Sikedji... sure, it is a fatty shit sandwich. But it is a very good fatty shit sandwich.

Oh, well, I'll stay away from it and ther'll be that much more "boklu sandviç" for you, how about that? ;)

Büryan...very nice. The meat market by the aqueduct is great; most of the people selling there are from the Siirt region and you practically hear more Arabic than Turkish there. There are some amazing cheeses sold there, made up in the mountain meadows of the region and several interesting local ingredients that are hard to find elsewhere. And if you feel profligate, you can get some really good honey there too.

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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I agree, though, that the offerings are pretty slim when compared with books covering regional foods of, say, Italy or Spain.

Very, very true. Nearly all the cookbooks I've seen focus on Ottoman cuisine, and are the same things that every other one publishes. There is a couple here who wanted to do an Istanbul cookbook, drawing from all the different peoples here; they came up with 4000 recipes. And decided to open a restaurant instead...I hope they continue with the book though. Most of the existing books also ignore the rest of the country. It's also true that lots of ingredients are hard to find unless you actually go to a particular region, especially local cheeses and herbs that are used. And there is a green long/stubby medium hot pepper they serve at one Urfa style restaurant here that I've never seen for sale *anywhere* in Istanbul except at a vegetable seller on the same block. Every time I serve it to friends they say "oh-my-god...ow....hot....wow...where can I find those?" :raz: Amazing though. Now there are some cookbooks coming out here (but only in Turkish) that are taking on some other regions, but most of them are overviews, trying to take on the whole country with maybe one or two recipes from each area. Still it's a start.

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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Sazji: Yes, the Fatih Meat Market is one of my favorite places - I was always buying liters of fresh salgam juice from the seller there. Salgam is one of my favorite edibles in the whole universe: sour red carrot/beet?/vegtable juice, bright red and often spiced hot. Available in small bottles from most kebab sellers. Also one of the world's best hangover cures. The one problem with drinking liters and liters of salgam a day - as I would - is that your digestive system converts that bright red into a stunning shade of blue.

Er, Brenna (Macrimmon?) - one of the absolute greatest voices in Turkish/Canadian traditional music - doesn't like Kokorec? I'm stumped!

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  • 2 weeks later...
Sazji: Yes, the Fatih Meat Market is one of my favorite places - I was always buying liters of fresh salgam juice from the seller there. Salgam is one of my favorite edibles in the whole universe: sour red carrot/beet?/vegtable juice, bright red and often spiced hot. Available in small bottles from most kebab sellers. Also one of the world's best hangover cures. The one problem with drinking liters and liters of salgam a day - as I would - is that your digestive system converts that bright red into a stunning shade of blue.

Er, Brenna (Macrimmon?) - one of the absolute greatest voices in Turkish/Canadian traditional music - doesn't like Kokorec? I'm stumped!

Wow, two of the three foods that I absolutely cannot get down, right here in the same thread. (I'll let you guess the third!) Shalgam looks beautiful, it smells delicious, but a sip is almost enough to make me flash my hash. And I've tried it so many times. But wow, to pee (?) blue...I might have to learn to love it if for that reason alone!

Yes, alas, Brenna doesn't like kokoreç. :) But we both love sütlaç. I stayed with her in 1996 for a couple months, and whoever went by Sütiş or the (unfortunately now defunct) Cennet Pastanesi in Elmadağ had as his/her duty to bring home sütlaç for whoever was there at the time. ;)

By the way, if you like Brenna's music and haven't seen it, make sure you get the film "Istanbul Hatirasi - Crossing the Bridge." She's featured beautifully in the film.

Another couple restaurants worth a visit next time you're here are "Sahre" (Antep food) which is in the Haseki district (right near Yusufpasa - Aksaray) and Yeşil Edessa (Urfa-kebab) a block in from the Yusufpasa tram station. Both are excellent, and Sahre serves food similar to that of Çiya across the Bosphorus, for much less money. I'll do a post especially about it soon.

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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Yes, I saw the film last August in a theater off Istiklal Caddesi. It was strange watching a film that presented Beyoglu as so exotic while actually sitting in Beyoglu. And when I got hungry watching the German rock star eating all that good food I knew that all I had to do was walk outside the theater and there it all was waiting for me.

And no, it wasn't the pee that was blue from salgam...

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Ooh...blooh pooh. Hm. Well, now is *that* worth keeping şalgam down for? :blink: How much do you have to keep down, I wonder? By the way, şalgam is Turkish for "turnip;" I guess turnip must figure heavily in the recipe.

Earlier on in the thread someone had asked about tavuk göğsü (don't know if that will display right...you can choose Turkish encoding if you're curious!). I've never seen it in the US; one issue I think is getting extremely fresh (as in killed that day) chickens. If it's not fresh enough, the breast doesn't separate easily into thin fibers, and what you get is thick pudding with strings of chicken meat in it, not the goal. I cheated once in the US by putting the chicken breast with some milk in a food processor... the taste was right, the texture was a little off. My mom, who was decidely unsure about the whole idea, ate about half of it in a sitting!

Was at the Siirt pazari the other day, the fresh crop of dried figs are in now. Mostly what's available around the city is from Aydin, large and packed together, but they are selling small "mountain figs" (loose, pale tan and very good) from the east. Also got some very lovely honey from Van.

New place to try: Melengeç (http://www.melengec.com/) that was recently opened by the wife of a friend of mine. The food centers around various wild greens of the Mediterranean. The most interesting is the one that gives the restaurant its name: melengeç, (also known as menengiç) which is the Turkish name for the Terebinth tree (Pistacia terebinthus). The new shoots are gathered in the spring and cooked with meat. I haven't tried it yet, never even knew it was edible, though I've eaten the fruits dried, roasted, as well as made into "coffee."

The Antep place was wonderful, even though my friend got stuck in rain traffic and couldn't make it. Not the kind of variety of Çiya but some of the best kebab I've eaten - a yogurtlu kebab with a wonderful sauce of fresh tomatoes cooked with hot peppers rather than the rather thin stuff that shows up at lots of fairly decent restaurants. Unfortunately it's one of those middle-upscale places where the waiters all seem a bit too artificially formal. Still worth eating there though!

Edited by sazji (log)

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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  • 2 months later...

what a nice thread adam and fellow egulletians!

i am sorry i have missed all this fun, nevertheless i would like even at this late stage to add a few points to this exciting topic

at the macro level food and cooking are affected by major historical events

the major 20th century event that affected greek food and cooking was the 1922 completion of the Minor Asia War that sent hundreds of thousands of Greeks from Minor Asia and other parts of Turkey to Greece

the immigrants brought very little with them in terms of personal effects, but quite a lot in terms of culture and cooking

their recipes gradually spread over the greek society of the times and what emerged was a much richer and satisfying cuisine

the vocabulary of this fusion - cuisine contains many words that have turkish origin, but not necessarily the same meaning in culinary terms

at the micro level, there are areas in greece where the fusion was strong and visible even before the 1922 events, but this is a topic of a book, not a message

another exciting angle of research concerns the thread of tastes and recipes through the centuries

one cannot underestimate the huge contribution of the Persian culture and cuisine to what we call today turkish cuisine - and respectively greek cuisine

the enigma of Byzantine cuisine also needs to be addressed

this is the second book to be written! :biggrin:

athinaeos

civilization is an everyday affair

the situation is hopeless, but not very serious

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