Culinary remnants of a Greco-Turkish debate


a few moths ago a small flame war had erupted on the origins of various dishes. As I was going through Sp. Vryonis book on "The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor" I came across the following (pp 481-483):

In matters of cuisine the conquerors undoubtedly absorbed some items from the conquered, but the problem is again obscured by the similarity in Buzantine and Islamic cuisine which probably existed before the appearance of the Turks. The Danishmedname gives descriptions of christian feasts but unfortunately they are not complete. Turkmen cuisine as described by Brockquiere was a very simple affair consisting primarily of the produce of their flocks -meat, milk, yogurt, butter, cheese supplemented by millet or other grains, fruit, honey, eggs, and a type of unleavened wafer (prepared on a portable hot iron in the manner of our own pancakes) in place of breads. The preparation of the unleavened cake was quite different from the baking of bread and indeed the oven (furnus) of the Armenians and Greeks is suspiciously absent. It is significant that the Anatolian Turkish terminology for bread and its preparation has many words of Byzantine origin. [1]

Much of the later elaborate turkish cuisine was foreign to the Turkmen nomads and belonged to a sedentary cuisine already common to the eastern Mediterranean world since Roman times if not earlier. A brief perusal of the pages of Athenaeus Deipnosophistae will confirm the assertion and therein the gastronomer will notice not only stuffed leaves but also the various oriental sweets. There is great similiraty between turkish sweets and those enjoyed by the Byzantines. The basic ingredients for these deserts were usually dough, sesame, wheat, nuts, honey, and various fruit. Thus the equivalent of the Turks borek, halva, baklava and other delicacies are to be found in various byzantine and classical texts. The byzantine pastilla seems to have covered a variety of sweets, usually made with boiled wheat and honey, or crushed nuts and honey, or sesame and honey, or similar mixtures. Another byzantine favorite was the so-called kopth or kopton (koptoplakoys) that was the same as the Turkish baklava. The delicacy was known to Athenaeus who gives the recipe. It was, he says, made of leaves of dough, between which were placed crushed nuts with honey, sesame, pepper, and poppy seed.[2] The borek are paralled as early as the second century of the christian era and throughout the byzantine world by the plakoyntas entyritas which Artemidorus and the medieval lexigographers mention. Such dishes as the cheese myzythra (mizitra in turkish), cured meat paston (pasdirma in turkish) were known to the byzantines and the roasting of meat on the spit, or shishkebab, was ancient in the Mediterranean area.

[1] Tietze, "Anat. Turkish". Loan words that deal with the baking of bread include, zimari, kulur, meleksi, sisre, pinavut, senedi. On further lexigographical material that has to do with bread and baking in modern turkish, ZH Kosay, "Turkiye halkinin maddi kulturune dair arastirmalar II", Turk etnografya dergisi, II (1957). For the unleavened bread in Seljuk times, MZ Oral, "Selcuk devri yemekleri ve ekmekleri",Turk etnografya dergisi, I(1956). Travelers observed specifically christian practices upon making bread in modern Anatolia among turkish women. most striking of which was the marking of the cross on the unbaked loaf (Hasluck, "Christianity and Islam" E.Pears "Turkey and its peoples (London 1911)).

[2] Athenaeus, XIV, Koukoules, Bios, Tietze, "Einige Weitere" on pastilla, pastillos, which passed into turkish as a loan word. Von Hammer, Geschicte des osmanischen Reiches, noted that Philadelpheia (Alashehir) famous in his own days for its halva has specialized in honey cakes when the Persian emperor Xerxes passed through the city in the fifth century. Herodotus, VII, "para Kallabhton polin en th andres dhmioergoi meli ek myrikhs te kai pyrou poieysi", On the identification of Kallatebos with the later Philadelpheia look article on "Kallabetos" in PW [???]. For the recipe of this type of halva in the sixteenth century, Dernschwam-Babinger "Inder andern ist ein solch weys confect, so man halwa nent, von mandeln, honing und ay weys".

Posted by Yannis Schoinas on soc.culture.greek, December 1993

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