Some stories are not written or told but carried through the life itself from one generation to the other.
The Turkish cuisine is world-renown, having centuries-old recipes dating back to the Ottoman Empire era and sometimes even before that time. There are hundreds and maybe thousands of different dishes that are specific to Turkey. Not only the Turks but also the foreigners who visit Turkey love tasting these dishes and enjoying a rich meal. Most of these dishes are difficult to prepare as they take a long time and require patience. However, for most people, the delicious meal is worth all the effort.
Even though many Turkish dishes have regular, generic names, some of them have really interesting names that attract the attention of the people. These interesting names, for the most part, have an even more interesting story behind. Since these dishes are centuries old, there are many stories connected to how the dish came about or what happened while it was being made. It is possible that these stories are nothing more than just stories, however, it is nice to think that such old recipes have left their mark with a crumble of history. We have listed some of the most delicious Turkish dishes and told their extraordinary stories. Whether you want to believe them or not, that is up to you. Still, enjoy this quick ride to the depths of history.
Hünkar Beğendi is a dish that goes back to the Ottoman era, prepared in the palace, especially for the Sultan. Hünkar Beğendi is prepared by mixing flour, milk and roasted eggplants together and serving lamb stew on top of it. Hünkar Beğendi means “the sultan liked it”. The dish has a pretty saddening love story behind it.
The rumor has it, Sultan Abdülaziz of the Ottoman Empire was invited to France by Napoleon III. The Sultan accepted the invite and went to France. There, he fell in love with Napoleon’s wife but it was a forbidden love. After his visit to France, he invited Napoleon and his wife to Istanbul. However, Napoleon couldn’t come, thus, he sent the queen alone. This was the last time they saw each other because later on, Napoleon and his wife were sent to exile for a long time and Sultan Abdülaziz was killed. Even though the queen came to Istanbul over 40 years later, she was not able to see the Sultan as he was deceased.
So where does the dish fit into this sad love story? The Sultan did not like any of the meals the chefs were preparing for the queen. When the queen came to Istanbul alone, she brought one of her chefs to the palace. The queen’s chef prepared bechamel sauce in the palace and an Ottoman chef observed it. He then combined the bechamel sauce that he learned with the Sultan’s favorite lamb stew and obviously the Sultan loved it! It is also said that the queen loved the dish so much that she asked for its recipe.
Now, we don’t know exactly what happened or how things occurred but it is nice that this delicious dish that was found in the 1800s is still prepared today for us to enjoy.
Ali Nazik is a dish prepared with roasted eggplants mixed with garlicky yogurt and a special minced meat mixture placed on top. Yavuz Sultan Selim of the Ottoman Empire once really liked this dish that was served to him and he asked “Whose gentle hands have prepared this food?”, praising the chef and his talents. ”Gentle hands” is “eli nazik” in Turkish, however, in time the name evolved into “Ali Nazik.”
İmam bayıldı is a dish that is made of eggplants, tomatoes and green pepper and it is eaten cold. This one has a strange story. İmam bayıldı literally means “the imam fainted”. Why the imam fainted makes up the whole story.
In the times of war where the food was scarce, there was an imam who made stock in his house full of all sorts of food. His wife, on the other hand, was not happy about this situation because even though they had plenty of food, they would eat the same meal every single day. You see, the imam was holding onto his stock for much worse days, in case they completely run out of food. The wife tried convincing him into using the food in the stock but the imam was not convinced. One day, the wife had enough of it, invited the neighbors and shared most of the stock with them and prepared this dish with whatever that was left there. When the imam came and saw the meal, he was surprised but the wife told him that it was a special night and so the imam couldn’t be angry with her. After they have had their meal, the imam warned his wife not to waste food again, he went into the stock and realized it was all empty. And, drum roll, he fainted. Thus, the dish got its name.
There is also another story that says the imam loved the dish that his wife made so much that the dish got the name. In this case, “imam bayıldı” would mean “imam loved it”. Both cases are possible but I think the first one is a lot more entertaining for sure.
Vezir parmağı is a Turkish dessert. Vezir parmağı literally means “vizier’s finger” and it does resemble a finger. Well… sort of. The story of this dessert is a pretty epic one and it could be just that, a story! According to the legend, the Sultan and his vizier went on a hunt one day. During the hunt, the vizier accidentally cut the Sultan’s finger with his sword and said that there must be a reason for it that they couldn’t understand just yet. The Sultan got angry as he was in so much pain and ordered his vizier to be taken into the dungeon.
On another day, the Sultan went for hunting again. This time, they came across cannibals. The cannibals ate everyone in the group except for the Sultan. Because they had a rule, they wouldn’t eat anyone who had a missing body part. When the Sultan got back, he ordered the vizier to be taken out of the dungeon and thanked him for saving his life and apologized for putting him in the dungeon. The vizier told the Sultan that he forgave him and said that if he didn’t put him in the dungeon he would probably be dead too. To celebrate the Sultan’s survival, a feast was prepared and the chefs made a special dessert that day which then was called “vezir parmağı”. So that’s how the Sultan got away from being eaten by the cannibals. I guess the vizier was right, every cloud has a silver lining.
Aşure is a dessert that has the oldest story possible. Aşure is made of many different ingredients such as wheat, chickpeas, dried beans, dried grapes, apricot, hazelnut, rose water, milk and sugar. The dessert is prepared in big caldrons and shared with neighbors and friends.
Aşure dates back to the time of Noah’s Ark. When Noah built the ark to survive the flood, he had limited food on the ship. After months of staying on the ship, the food stock was scarce. So they collected all the food they had at hand to prepare a kind of soup in a big cauldron. They basically prepared what we know today as Aşure.
Sütlü Nuriye is a dessert that resembles baklava but it is prepared with hazelnut and milk. The story of the dessert is pretty interesting. After the military coup in 1980 in Turkey, a pasha bought baklava and thought it was expensive. He filed a complaint and the price of baklava was dropped immensely. However, it was impossible for the baklava makers to produce baklava at such a low price without going bankrupt. They finally found a solution. They made baklava with hazelnut instead of walnut and added milk which made the dessert much heavier. Finally, they were able to make a dessert similar to baklava without going bankrupt and people loved it. This new dessert was called Sütlü Nuriye. The name, although translates to "Milky Nuriye", was apparently made up and has no meaning to it.
Sütlaç is a dessert prepared with rice, milk and sugar. Even though it has simple ingredients, it takes a long time to prepare it due to the slow cooking process. It is said that this dessert was prepared for someone who had problems in their stomach. After eating it, they got better. The dessert was then called “sütlü aş” which means “food with milk” or “milky food”. In time, the name evolved into sütlaç.
Tarhana is a soup that is loved by the Turks and drunk quite frequently on cold winter days. The story is that Yavuz Sultan Selim once visited a house in the Anatolia while being dressed as a citizen. The hostess was a poor lady and she prepared this soup for him. The Sultan loved the soup she made and ask what it was. The woman replied by saying it was a “darhane” soup implying that she was poor and could only make this soup. The Sultan, in return, rewarded the hostess. The name changed in time from “darhane” to “tarhana”.
Dilber Dudağı is a dessert that dates back to the Ottoman Empire era. Its name means “Dilber’s Lips”. It is said that there was a chef who lived back in the Ottoman period. He was famous for making delicious dishes. He was in love with a lady named Dilber at the time but they never got together. So, he made this dessert resembling her full, fleshy lips as a memory of her love.
DUL AVRAT ÇORBASI
Dul avrat çorbası is a soup made of chickpeas, lentil, tomato sauce and flour. Dul avrat means “the widow woman” and you can probably tell from the name that it has a sad story. At the time, there was a woman whose husband passed away and she was left alone with her kids. Unfortunately, she was a poor lady who had to find the means to feed her children. This is the soup that she made for them with whatever she could find in her house, so that, they wouldn’t starve. Since then, the soup came to known as dul avrat çorbası or in other words widow woman’s soup.
ŞILLIK / ŞİLEKİ
Şıllık is a Turkish dessert, and believe me, the name is not a cool one like the others. Şıllık basically means “hussy” in Turkish but how the dessert got its name has nothing to do with that. It is a total misunderstanding. So, the original name of this dessert was Şileki in Kurdish which means wet or watery. Over the years, the name was deformed and it turned into “şıllık”. Yeah… How unfortunate.
Hanım göbeği is another Turkish dessert and it has a weird name, of course. Hanım göbeği means “wife's belly” but don’t worry it does not have a crazy story of a chef mimicking his lover’s belly or something. The dessert is called hanım göbeği because it simply looks like a belly button… kind of.
Analı Kızlı is a Turkish soup prepared with meatballs and chickpeas. The name “analı kızlı” means something along the lines of “With Mothers and Daughters”. For some reason, somebody thought that the big meatballs are like mothers and the little chickpeas are like their daughters. We don’t know if there is supposed to be some kind of metaphor there. In any case, it is pretty delicious in a non-cannibalistic way.
Kadınbudu köfte is essentially meatballs mixed with rice, dipped in eggs and fried. The name, however, is one of those strange ones. Kadınbudu means “women’s thigh”... The worst part is that it really doesn’t look like a woman’s thigh. Who came up with the name and why people agreed to use it, who knows? But there seems to be some sort of connection between women and food considering these strange names.