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AT THE BACKSTAGE OF ISTANBUL FOOD

As what Octave Maus says; “Constantinople is not a city; it’s a world!” it’s never easy to compare the cosmopolitan culinary culture of Istanbul with some other city. Talking about civilizations took important roles on this land Constantinople had always been “the zero point” of cultural wonders, trade, etc…

Honestly when it’s about provisionalism during Eastern Roman Empire, we do not need to boast about our geological location. Prof. Dr. Nevra Necipoglu (Byzantine Studies Research Center) mentions that it’s quite unclear if the strategical move of the capital of Rome in 4th century was logical or not! City had concerns about clean water supplement already, and the population was increasing day by day and it was causing difficulties for providing enough amount of food. Here, this was a perfect example of the importance of trade roads. However, thankfully, city did not disappoint the great emperor and the shores, climate, water and land came up with its fruitfulness to Constantinople in several years, centuries…

Culinary of Istanbul is difficult to place in borders; such as Alphonse de Lemartine says in Voyage en Orient, any brush of an artist can picture this place completely, as the details will catch their eyes. The gastronomy of Istanbul will stop you for a second to enchant you with its details.


This city fascinates a person who knows how to use it well, this city kills a person who is not willing to understand it. Isn’t it logical to question it? We are talking about the city with a population of 50 thousand people at the end of Eastern Roman Empire, and the city with a rising number of populations up to 20million today! Which will obviously affect today’s eating habits. To understand it today, we need to start all the way from the beginning chronologically.

We mostly read about Istanbul begins with Byzantium 7th century BC, however after our Yenikapı excavations, we believe there will be more information offered to us in several years not only about gastronomy but also about archeology, but for now we must take 2700 years of history in consideration that we clearly know.

Artun Unsal says; it’s fair that Antient Greek world’s eating habits transferred to Byzantium, and it’s combined with Roman Empire’s culture and it was inevitable to ignore the richness of Constantinople’s Food industry with the conquest of Ottoman Empire.

Byzantium: Most of the researches are held on Eastern Roman Empire. Due to this we can consider Antient Greek food culture refers Byzantium cuisine as well. Vegetables and herbs such as parsley, leek, dill, coriander, onion, garlic are the musts of tables. Stew meat or goat is important too however nothing beats the fish for a proper Byzantium meal. And oh, paximadi (peksimet) as well.

Eastern Roman Empire (Public): Well, well… obviously fish again. But, frankly speaking, lent or the other fasting periods involving in life after acceptance of Christianity in Constantinople. So, depending on the period of the year and according to the church people were tent to not to eat much. On the other hand, some historians are happy to tell public was so interested in olive oil marinated food, offal, especially fish -as meat has been prohibited for during fasting, vegetable based soups…

Eastern Roman Empire (Palace): Comparing to the public, not only in Eastern Roman Empire but also every monarchy in the world had the same situation. Palace had the glamour! In Prodromic Poems mention that palace eats fish, or may be a goat lays on garum sauce(fish sauce). And food in palace doesn’t only cover vegetables as a meal or fish as a sea food. Tables are elaborated with shrimps, lobsters, mussels, oysters… And walnuts, dried fruits and jams are additionals.

Ottoman Empire (Public): Here we are talking about a nomadic culture meets the permanent settlement in Constantinople. From 15th century we should mention about a combined cuisine of Greek, Turk, Armenian, Italian, French, Sephardic, Arabic… To involve in Turkic cuisine in a daily life, we should consider the 8th century when Turks accepted Islam. However, this will be referring to the daily consumption of food and beverages in public. As an example, rice is never simply enough, it had to tell you a story with other ingredients, on the other hand we cannot specify the Turks used too much spice and seasonings like Middle East did, or flavored sauce like Europe did. Difficult and elaborative to make and easy to share. This must be the underlined characteristics of Ottoman cuisine.

Ottoman Empire (Palace): Contrary to popular myth, Palace is exclusively enjoying the different kinds of birds and offal more than cattle. Instead of baklava and other syrup-based desserts fruit-based desserts were taking part better in Ottoman Palace. As it’s known rice and chicken soup used to be the most essentials. Stewed meat and savory pastry and vegetables with some fruit ingredients used to be the musts of palace cuisine. Sanem Yucesoy

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