From the diaspora of humans out of Africa 70,000 years ago until 12,000 years ago, we have no clear understanding of our ancestors. But afterwards, humans started working together to cultivate crops, cook meals, create communities, and moved from competing to survive to collaborating to thrive.

Anatolia was the birthplace of this remarkable advance. Asia Minor offered both the fertile soil and evolving culture for the growth of miraculous ideas that have governed most of the world’s humans since 4000 BC, including the founding of monotheistic religions by Abraham in Harran. The agricultural explosion at Çatalhöyük and Alacahöyük continues today and Turkey remains one of only seven countries to still produce more food then it consumes. Many of the staples that the entire world adores today originated in Asia Minor’s rich farming tradition -olive oil, honey, wheat, chickpeas, cucumber, and many more. The associated meals richly adorn today’s dinner tables. 

This early agriculture offered early mankind a sustainable and healthy diet that allowed our ancestors to thrive. Our eating habits had evolved over thousands of years so the collection of wild grains like einkorn wheat into a sustainable agricultural system in Göbeklitepe was only a nudge forward biologically. Over time, we modified many of these crops to increase the ease and amount that could be harvested. 

Nearby in southeastern Turkey are neighboring cities Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa, which both claim to be the gastronomic capitals of Anatolia. Both cities are blessed by rich agricultural traditions with fresh ingredients and sophisticated culinary approaches which differ from the traditional Mediterranean cuisine of western Anatolia.  Over the centuries, Gaziantep chefs have used local produce to create Turkish dishes with a twist. Most meat dishes are kebabs that are often accompanied by pistachios, olives, and fruits such as apricot, plum, and apple. Meat stews with yoghurt are a staple, and locally grown vegetables are often stuffed with bulgur, and lentils along with the meat. But save room for world-renowned baklava and Antep pistachio cookies, sütlü zerde (saffron and rice dessert with milk), and katmer (buttery pastry with sweet paste fillings) in your flavor tour of this region. 

Far to the west, the Aegean coast of Anatolia boasted agricultural riches and Mediterranean specialties like olives, eggplants, and artichokes. The sea yields omega-3 rich fish and as a result of this diversity, the region’s cuisine explodes with taste. The region’s food is associated with longer life, and having fun with the extra years of joy. 

To the north, Ottoman cuisine thrived with its mixture of Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and Balkan cuisines. The high-quality foods satisfied the sophisticated palate of the court and its many visitors from around the world.  Vegetarians tend to eat healthier and Ottoman zeytinyağlı meals were often free of meat and cooked with heart-healthy olive oil. Classic examples of these zeytinyağlı dishes are dolma (stuffed vegetables), taze fasulye (green beans), and yaprak sarma (stuffed vine leaves). However, some Ottoman meals did contain meat, a reflection of the Central Asian traditions brought by the Turks. The most famous ones are kebabs, döner (sliced meat on a vertical spit), and köfte (meatballs).

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