Turkish Influence on Arab Food
By: Lindsey Penn/Arab America Contributing Writer
Although Turkey is not a part of the Arab world, because of the Ottoman Empire, there is quite a bit of shared history and culture between the countries in the Arab world and Turkey. The Turkish (specifically the Ottomans) influenced Arab culture, and the same can be said for the Arabs influencing Turkish culture. Because of the intertwining, there are a lot of similarities between some Turkish dishes and Arab dishes.
The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire started in modern-day Turkey (then Anatolia), created by small Turkish tribes. As time went on, the Empire grew to be one of the most powerful in the world. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Ottoman Empire continuously expanded to occupy almost all territory in southeast Europe, which includes Vienna, Hungary, the Balkans, Greece, parts of Ukraine, the Middle East and North Africa. The mass amount of territory that the Ottomans conquered arguably made it the most powerful dynasty at the time.
Slowly, though, the Ottoman Empire began losing power and control, shrinking back from its European territories. Eventually, in 1922, after the First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and lost the remaining territory. Those territories became the countries that currently make up the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. Today, what’s left of the “Ottoman Empire” is Turkey, and its cultural influence over parts of the Arab world.
The Ottomans’ large territory also meant influencing the cuisine in those areas. For example, Ottoman meals were simple but tended to have a broth-based because it is healthy. The broths would be made with beef or chicken stock usually, and they would add yogurt, rice, minestrone (ground), vegetables (dried or fresh) and roots (also dried or fresh). The Ottomans had a variety of soups in their cuisine. They would also eat red meats such as lamb and veal, seasoned with tomato paste, onions, and garlic and cooked slowly over a fire. Then, there were also kebabs, prepared in pans or grills.
Side dishes were vegetables, pickles, green salads, yogurt, fried potatoes, and more. The Ottomans had many dishes that they would eat, but those are just the most common ones. They also used a lot of olive oil in their food. Other foods include pasta, fish, broad beans, lentils, okra, and, of course, baklava.
Turkish Food vs. Arab Food
As mentioned before, the Turkish (Ottoman) influence on cuisine around the world still exists, although many cultures have adapted the foods to give them a twist. This includes some Arab food, which has been changed to fit local produce availability or preferred taste. The following are only a few dishes that are similar between Turkish and Arab cuisines.
A very popular dish in Turkey, the Arab world, and Greece, dolmas (Turkish) or dawali/grape leaves (Arabic) came from the Ottoman Empire. The dish is stuffed grape leaves, and made differently from country to country within the Arab world and outside of it. In the Arab world, the filling is usually made with rice, lamb or beef, onions, tomatoes, garlic, dried mint, 7-spice (a spice mix), cinnamon, and coriander. It can also be made without the meat in the filling. In Turkey, the filling is made with rice, olive oil, onions, pine nuts, currants, allspice, fresh mint and fresh parsley. There are quite a few differences between the two versions, but both are delicious. That being said, the commonality between all recipes is that it takes a long time to make.
Another recipe that has become popular all around the world is baklava. This sweet pastry has many different versions all around the world, but originated in the Ottoman Empire, with Turkey and the Arab world long considered the masters. The traditional version of baklava (Turkish) or baklawa (Arabic) includes pistachios, orange blossom water, phyllo dough, and butter. It can include walnuts, although pistachios are the more common.
Halva/halawa is another dessert coming from the Ottomans. Other places have their own version of it, but they have different ingredients, and can almost be considered another dish entirely. In the typical Turkish and Arab recipes of halva/halawa, the main ingredients is tahini paste. The difference comes in the toppings or extra ingredients, which can include pistachios or cocoa. Another thing to note, though, is that Turkish halva can also include semolina flour to make a different texture.
Rose water isn’t necessarily a recipe, but a common ingredient. The Ottomans began using rose water in their dishes, and people in Turkey and the Arab world have continued using it. In Arab cuisine, the rose water is used in desserts (and some people have also started using it for skincare). One popular Arab dessert that uses rose water is mahalabiyya, a milk pudding with rose water. Turkish cuisine also includes it in desserts, such as the dessert lokum (or Turkish delight).
Yogurt is also not necessarily a recipe (although you can make it yourself), but is a popular side dish or ingredient in both Arab and Turkish culture. Although the invention of yogurt can’t be credited to anyone, the Ottomans used yogurt and spread its use to other cultures as they conquered other places. Interestingly enough, both Arab and Turkish cuisines have cucumber and yogurt dishes. In Turkish, the dish is Cacık, and is more like the Greek tzatziki sauce where the cucumber is finely diced. However, in Arabic, the name of the dish is kheyar bileban, and is more like a salad with cucumber chopped and the yogurt on top.
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