Ottoman cuisine is a delicious and unique blend of Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Western influences. It has been influenced by the empires that have ruled over it, such as the Ottoman Empire, Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, Byzantine Empire, and many others.
One could provide an anthropological examination as to why the Ottoman dishes are so varied, or perhaps a historical essay could be written. A dry, academic thesis may span an entire professor’s career. Or we can simply tell you that the Ottoman kitchen is perfect for finding recipes that’ll dazzle your guests. Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or a cute little tea party, the Ottoman Empire is brimming with recipes that’ll stun your guests with its richness in flavor, ostentatious yet not pretentious appearance, and textures that’ll excite the imagination. Not to mention that it’s super unlikely that any of your guests would’ve tried these dishes before. You don’t need a muse to crown yourself a culinary monarch. All you need is to know about these ten Ottoman delights.
In this blog post, we will be discussing some Ottoman foods, desserts, and drinks you can cook up at home for your friends and family to enjoy.
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1. Piliç Topkapı
This Ottoman dish is a king on the feast table—a star of its own show. You may have had chicken stuffed with risotto before but have you ever tried chicken thighs stuffed with a nutty yet sweet pilau? The aromatic spices in the rice are not unusual, considering this dish was created in a world where spice bazaars rule. Ambitious cooks may add more than one variety of raisins. After all, this dish was created for the bold, perfectionist cook. Baked in the oven until crispy, a serving of this dish seems nonchalant at first. When your fork makes its way into the dish, you’ll find the delightful rice inside, looking back at you like the presents that Santa brings.
Try it at home: Piliç Topkapı recipe
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Shhhh! Step carefully. You don’t want to reveal this exquisite dish to the rest of the world, especially if you can make it. Otherwise, you might find it becomes the only topic of conversation, the only dish you’re forced to recreate.
A favorite of the most famous sultan, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, this exotic dish is typically made with lamb. After the tender lamb is sauteed in butter with shallots, dried fruits and almonds are added. Glazed with honey and sumac, this dish is sweet, savory, and sour. Serve with saffron rice to really get that sultan feel; it’s quite possible to put your own twist to it by using chicken or even making a vegan version.
This is not comfort food. This honeyed yet nutty dish is excitement food. Reminiscent of the flavorsome Moroccan tagine, try this dish if you dare!
Try it at home: Mutancana recipe
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3. Vezir Parmağı
This airy dessert is a light, buttery cake-like pastry made from semolina. The little morsels are then drenched in a sweet yet zesty syrup.
There is a wonderful fable behind the dessert. One day, during a hunt, the vizier accidentally cut off the sultan’s finger. While the sultan was enraged by his pain, the vizier humbly mentioned that there ‘is good in every deed.’ The vizier was then sentenced to prison. On another hunt, the sultan stumbled across a caravanserai of cannibals. The cannibals ate all the men except the sultan, for the sultan was found to be “deficient” due to his missing finger. The sultan embraced the vizier and apologized for imprisoning him. The vizier’s reply: “There is good in every deed. If I had not been imprisoned, I would’ve surely been eaten for there isn’t a deficiency on my body’.
Shaped like a finger, this is the treat to be consumed during rough times as a reminder that there is always a silver lining or, in the words of the vizier: ‘there is good in every deed.’
Try it at home: Vezir Parmağı recipe
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4. Hünkar Beğendi
Translated literally as ‘The Sultan Loved It,’ if you like the name, then you best be prepared for flavors that await you. This dish is simply a chunky, tantalizing lamb stewed in a tangy tomato sauce. The sauce is then poured over a creamy yet smoky eggplant puree. Those that hate aubergines should be prepared to fall in love.
This silky, delicate dish may have been the result of a competition to create the ultimate dish for Napoleon III’s visit to Istanbul. It may not have been. But what it certainly will be, once you try it, is a regular order. This dish is indescribable because when you do attempt to define it, even your foodie friends will think you’re exaggerating.
Try it at home: Hünkar Beğendi recipe
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5. Patlıcanlı Pilav
Rice is a ‘Cinderella dish.’ On its own, it’s a humble staple, but each country has found a way to transform it into the beautiful princess that it could be from Italy’s risotto to the Afghani pulao, to the Spanish Paella to the Indian Biryani. However, there is one rice dish that shines amongst the greats: the Turkish Aubergine Rice. A colorful yet dark dish where the fluffiness of the rice is of the utmost importance. If you skip the yogurt topping, you’ll notice that this vegan dish smells like a spicy, exotic perfume. That’s because the Eggplant Rice is seasoned with the kind of spices that’ll have you wax lyrical to all your friends.
Try it at home: Patlıcanlı Pilav recipe
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Somewhere between a börek and a mantı, these stuffed dumplings will have you saying, ‘Oh. My. Goodness’ with every bite – if you can get your hands on them, that is. Soft tulum cheese is caressed with a touch of onions and parsley. Then, the filling is hugged by an unleavened dough that’s rolled so thinly that you can barely taste it. Sprinkle with walnuts roasted with butter.
Perhaps, if your cook is feeling unconventional, they may add a tomato sauce, but it’s completely unnecessary. This was mentioned in Grand Vizier Mehmet Kamil Paşa’s book about 19th-century food for a reason. ‘English Kamil,’ as he was known due to his Anglophilia, was a fan because this is the kind of taste that transcends borders.
Try it at home: Piruhi recipe
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Though it has an amusing sound (‘mooh-lah-ma’), this dish is cheese heaven. Yellowy-orange cheese is melted down, thickened with cornflour and a touch of that buttery goodness makes this mouth-watering dish a delicacy for those that love their cheese. Originating in Turkey’s Black Sea (North of Turkey) area, this dish is typically made with Trabzon cheese, although a high-quality, aged cheddar may work as a substitute.
Trabzon cheese, however, has its own distinctive flavor. Made from unpasteurized milk, this cheese has such a rich, complex flavor that you may find yourself trying to find a way to import it into your country. Just like fondue, one normally dips slices of bread into this hint of paradise.
Try it at home: Mıhlama recipe
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8. Düğün Çorbası
Literally known as the ‘Wedding soup,’ this soup will warm you up in the winter. If you were to go time-traveling, you’d see a cauldron over an open fire in Ottoman Palace kitchens. Succulent lamb, usually from the tender neck, is boiled for hours until it’s softer than your pillow, and the meat should fall apart. Once that’s ready, one would throw in a few vegetables like carrots and onions; then, the soup is thickened with egg yolks, lemon juice, and perhaps even flour.
Normally made with pressure cookers today, if you ever get a chance to see this dish cooked in its historical manner, you may resist the urge to utter: “Double, double, toil and trouble” because what’s being created is nothing short of magic.
You’ll find your host will throw in a pinch of paprika and drizzle butter all over. Each mouthful will have that juicy lamb taste with a hint of that lemon tanginess.
Try it at home: Düğün Çorbası recipe
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Served in religious ceremonies, particularly weddings, this stew has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Turkey by UNESCO in 2011. Its ingredients are straightforward: wheat grains, a hint of oil, chicken or meat, and a lovely tomato sauce. Alternatively, some make Keşkek with barley, but either way, this dish contains whole grains, protein, and healthy fats that’ll keep you warm during winter. A comforting dish reminiscent of a savory porridge that may even steal chicken noodle soup’s infamy for being a ‘sick day’ food.
One plate is so filling you won’t need to eat anything alongside it. Fortunately, we now have pressure cookers to assist with making this meal, but this slow-cooked dish is a far more salivating and viscous version of the European gruel.
Try it at home: Keşkek recipe
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10. Demirhindi Şerbeti
This treat made its way to Italy, where it was called the ‘sorbetto’. The French then refined that to ‘sorbet.’ Yet, the origins of ‘sherbet’ were not an Italian iced treat, nor an American drink, nor a British powder. The origins were an Ottoman created sweet drink with enough spices that would make mulled wine envious. Containing a dizzying amount of ingredients that would make an herbalist’s eyes light up with joy, this drink was even mentioned back in the 11th century in Avicenna’s ‘Cannon of Medicine.’ Just as an example, tamarind has antioxidant benefits, cinnamon warms you up in the winter, fennel assists with digestion, cloves help fight tooth decay, and that’s just the beginning of the list of ingredients!
Try it at home: Demirhindi Şerbeti recipe
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