It is no surprise to learn that when something is not cultivated or practiced for a period of time, things fall apart. This holds true for a cuisine. Generations ago, our grandmothers were usually in the kitchen preparing authentic meals from their homeland. They no doubt learned the craft from their mothers and grandmothers. What happened in recent years all over the globe is that women have often left the kitchen for careers and mealtime is given nary a second thought. With this shift in our culture, we have lost a great deal of this tradition. Not only are people generally eating store-bought or "quick" meals, we have also lost a sense of family tradition that comes along with choosing produce from the local shops, preparing a meal, bringing the family together, eating and enjoying the company that a meal creates. This has consequences that spread beyond the kitchen and out into our culture in general, often with negative impact.
Today's article in the Hurriyet Daily News had an interesting article written by Ipek Emeksiz and titled "Ottoman Cuisine Refreshed with Contemporary Touches". It discusses the trend that some Turks are harking back to the days when Turkish Cuisine was an art. In particular, Professor Ozge Samanci, a food historian from Yeditepe University in Istanbul has written a book titled "The Flavors of Istanbul". In the book she explains that Ottoman cuisine has gone through many changes throughout the years, and certain foods have become less popular, for example lamb and butter dishes linked to high cholesterol. Foods such as dolma (stuffed grape leaves) and su boregi have become less mainstream because of the time involved in creating these dishes. Today people want fast and healthy and many of the Ottoman dishes simply do not fit under these categories.
Luckily, a shift is happening in the food community in Turkey. Many restaurants are recreating the meals and the rituals that their forefathers had practiced concerning foods and their rich traditions. It is a resurgence that is needed to keep the rich history and Ottoman culture alive in this day and age. As you may know, in Turkey everything has a significance. Everything you eat, every person's name, every saying has a story behind it. It is these details in Turkish culture that need to be maintained and its cuisine is the one rock that holds it all in place. Its importance is more than just a meal.
In the same vein, Turkey's viticulture has been stagnant for literally hundreds of years. Consumption per population is extremely low, as most Turks choose to drink the native drink Raki or no alcohol at all. Ironically, Turkey produces the most grapes but they are sold as table grapes and not as wine grapes. Here again is a shift in the culture. Grape growers are being introduced to wine making techniques. Turkish wine producers are using modern techniques and experts from outside of Turkey are assisting to develop some outstanding wines. These producers often use Turkey's indigenous grape varieties which have thankfully been saved from near extinction do to neglect for centuries.
Kayra is a winery that has welcomed the assistance of expert Daniel O'Donnel from Napa Valley. His expertise and the quality of Turkey's indigenous grapes (such as Okuzgozu and Bogazkere) have catapulted Kayra to one of the most highly-regarded of Turkish Wineries. (Kayra also has a Wine Center in Istanbul that offers classes and lectures about Turkish wines. It is this progress in the fields of food and wine in Turkey that strengthen the present and future of Turkish culture while keeping the past alive.
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