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The Flavours of Istanbul

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The wide range of climatic zones across Turkey make it one of the few countries that can grow all its own food.
Tea is cultivated in the mountains by the Black Sea and bananas in the sultry south.
The Anatolian plain in between is criss-crossed by wheat fields and rich grasslands on which cattle graze, providing top quality meat and dairy produce.
Fruit and vegetables flourish everywhere and fish abound in the salty seas that lap the nation's shores.
Freshness is the hallmark of this varied cuisine, drawn from the many cultures that were subject to nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule.
The Anatolian Step The steppe stretching from Central Asia to Anatolia is one of the oldest inhabited regions of the world.
Dishes from this vast area are as varied as the different ethnic groups that live here, but are mainly traditional and simple.
To fit in with a mainly nomadic way of life food generally needed to be quick and easy to prepare.
Turkey's most famous culinary staples, yogurt, flat bread and the kebab, originate in this region.
The common use of fruits, such as pomegranates, figs and apricots, in Turkish savoury dishes stems from Persian influences, filtering down with the tribes that came from the north of the steppe.
From the Middle East, further south, nomads introduced the occasional fiery blash of chilli.
Its use was once an essential aid to preserving meat in the searing desert heat.
Ottoman Cuisine It was in the vast, steamy kitchens of the Topkap Palace that a repertoire of mouthwatering dishes to rival the celebrated cuisines of France and China grew up.
At the height of the Ottoman Empire, in the 16th and 17th centuries, legions of kitchen staff slaved away on the Sultan's behalf.
Court cooks usually specialized in particular dishes.
Some prepared soups, while others just grilled meats or fish, or dreamed up combinations of vegetables, or baked breads, or made puddings and sherberts.
As Ottoman rule expanded to North Africa, the Balkans and parts of southern Russia, influences from these far-flung places crept into the Turkish imperial kitchens.
Complex dishes of finely seasoned stuffed meats and vegetables, often with such fanciful names as "lady's lips", "Vizier's fingers" and the "fainting Imam", appeared.
This imperial tradition lives on in many of Istanbul's restaurants, where dishes such as karniyarik (halved aubergines (eggplant) stuffed with minced lamb, pine nuts and dried fruit) and hünkarbeÄ?endili köfte (meatballs served with a smooth purée of smoked aubergine and cheese) grace the menu.
Bazaar Culture A visit to the market that spills out around Istanbul's Spice Bazaaris an absolute must.
A cornucopia of fine ingredients is brought here daily from farms that surround the city.
Apricots, watermelons, cherries and figs sit alongside staple vegetables, such as peppers, onions, aubergines and tomatoes.
Fine cuts of lamb and beef, cheeses, pickles, herbs, spices and honey drenched pastries and puddings are also on offer.
Ä°mam bayildi Aubergines, stuffed with tomatoes, garlic and onions, are baked in the oven until meltingly soft.
Levrek pilakisi This stew is made by simmering sea bass fillets with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, onions and garlic.
Kadayif Rounds of shredded filo pastry are stuffed with nuts and doused with honey to make a sumptuous dessert.
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