Category Archives: History

VIDEO: The History of Tea (via TED-Ed)

Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water – and from sugary Turkish Rize tea to salty Tibetan butter tea, there are almost as many ways of preparing the beverage as there are cultures on the globe. Where did this beverage originate, and how did it become so popular? Shunan Teng details tea’s long history.

Credit: TED-Ed, Shunan Teng, and Steff Lee

Poppies and provisions in Gallipoli (via Hurriyet Daily News)

The end of April is the time for poppies to pop up in fields. Throughout May, and well into the month of June, fields of green wheat stalks celebrate the spring, dotted red with poppies.

The poppy is also the symbol of martyrdom. Ancient Greek and Roman tombs were ornamented with pods of opium poppies representing the final eternal sleep, death. It is no wonder that the sleep-inducing opium poppy is associated with death, which some consider as the deepest sleep, but the white and lavender-colored opium poppy flower has never been the symbol of martyrdom.

It is the striking blood-red field poppy that was associated with the quivering souls that dropped dead in battlefields. The battlefield of Waterloo is most striking when covered with a scarlet-red blanket of poppy flowers. The painfully beautiful poppy represents the fragility of human life.

Life in the battlefield is a story of survival. Food and water supply is a major logistics problem, often not implemented as planned. Dr. Ahmet Uçar, who has conducted research on the battlegrounds in Çanakkale, gives interesting numbers based on the accounts of soldier’s provisions on the Turkish side. The “Provisions and Forage Law” was the guide to determine the daily food intake of each soldier.

According to the official Turkish records, each soldier was entitled to 600 g of flour, 250 g of meat or 125 g of potted or cured meat such as pastırma, sucuk or kavurma, 86 g of rice, 10 g of oil, 20 g of onion and salt. The meat provision almost never met the ideal standard from the very start of the Gallipoli war. The registrars show that the amount was initially cut down to 62 g, and then further reduced to 31 g, and eventually the meat supply totally disappeared.

The soldiers were also entitled to legumes and/or vegetables such as chickpeas and beans, supposedly at a quarter of the amount of the meat. The most common dish was a stew of dried beans or chickpeas with a little meat and rice or bulgur pilaf to go with it. Compote with raisins would usually accompany the pilaf serving both as a sweet and as beverage. Gruel or soup was served but only in back lines.

Actually, all cooking had to be done at the very back lines, never at the front trenches, as smoke would easily give away the positions of the soldiers. That meant the food transferred to front line soldiers usually consisted of cold bulgur pilaf. The ones in the front trenches were given a few olives and peksimet (dried, twice-cooked bread) to keep in their pockets, together with some hazelnuts and raisins if available.

The Gallipoli battle was not only about fighting for land; it was also a battleground for finding adequate food and water supplies. Turkish soldiers had little resources, as the whole country was practically on fire and villages were starving with very little food to sustain them. However, these guys knew their land and could forage wild greens and even at times find water sources. The only thing they could not find was the time. Most even did not even have the time to nibble those last crumbs of peksimet or the handful of olives.

Life was as frail as poppies.

Written by: Aylin Öney Tan

Ramadan in the Ottoman palace kitchen (via Hurriyet Daily News)

Preparations for the holy month of Ramadan began in the kitchen of the Ottoman palace at least two or three months in advance. Food writer Nilgün Tatlı says that even the number of cooks employed at the palace increased for the month.

The dishes prepared in the palace kitchen were chosen according to what was in season. (Hürriyet photo)

Many traditions were observed at Ramadan, the holiest month of the year in the Islamic world, during the Ottoman era, especially at the sultan’s court. İftar (fast-breaking time) was a special ceremony at the palace. Everything was prepared many hours before iftar time.

When the month of Ramadan began, it was a time of great excitement and liveliness for the people of the palace, Nilgün Tatlı, a food culture writer and researcher, told Anatolia news agency.

“Preparations for Ramadan would begin at least two months before the holy month. Cutlery and crockery would be made ready for iftar meals. New prayer rugs and clothes would be purchased for the people working at the palace. General cleaning was done at the palace, and many pots and trays were re-plated with tin.”

The number of people working in the palace kitchen increased during the Ramadan, as well, Tatlı said.

Seasonal food used

“According to the season that Ramadan coincided with, the court would use seasonal foods, including figs, grapes, cherries and pomegranates from İzmir, apricots from Malatya and Damascus, peaches from Bursa, various honeys from Ankara, olives and olive oil from the Aegean region, okra from Amasya, melons from Manisa, and roses from Isparta would be brought to the palace kitchen. Dairy products would come from Kanlıca, vegetables from farm gardens, and fresh fish from the Bosphorus,” she said.

These foods were preserved in cellars built under the palace buildings. “These rooms were built with special stone that kept the foods cool and free from moisture,” Tatlı said.

Dishes prepared in the palace kitchen

The dishes prepared in the palace kitchen were generally very healthy ones, and the style of service was considered as important as the cooking style. Many of these dishes were made with various vegetables and fruits.

“A plate of appetizers including dates, nuts, cheese, honey and olives eaten before the main course. The starters were usually chicken soup with rice, zucchini soup, lentil soup or yogurt soup. Veal dishes prepared with apricots, dates and plums were among the main courses until the 15th century. After the 15th century, imported tomatoes, beans, eggplants, zucchini and peppers were added to the veal dishes. Substantial dishes like stewed fruit, sherbet, rice, and pastries were preferred. Pancakes were the most preferred foods for sahur (the morning meal eaten in Ramadan).”

A great deal of fruit was consumed at the palace, and desserts had an important place in the food culture of the Ottoman court, Tatlı said.

Güllaç (a dessert made with milk, pomegranate and a special kind of pastry) was the symbol of Ramadan in Ottoman times just as it is today. The most often-consumed sweets were baklava, stewed fruit, and candied pumpkin,” she said.

There were similarities between the meals prepared in the palace kitchen and those prepared in the kitchens of ordinary people. “The meals cooked in the palace kitchen were also given to the families of the kitchen staff. The rest of the meals were sold to citizens at a low price,” Tatlı said.


Written by: Nilgün Tatlı

Taken from Hurriyet Daily News

Turkish coffee, a 500-year-old tradition (via Star2)

Tucked in a narrow alley in the middle of Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, is a tiny cafe that proudly proclaims to serve coffee “so thick even a water buffalo cannot sink in it”. That term can be simplified in one Turkish word Mandabatmaz, which incidentally, is the name of the cafe.

The cafe’s name may be given in jest, but its message is no joke. Turkish coffee (Turk Kahvesi) is incredibly thick and dense, and it has a consistency similar to hot chocolate.

It is not unusual to hear the locals describe the beverage as “black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love” and you’d be surprised to know that for a tea drinking country, Turkey, and its people, is fiercely passionate about coffee.

“To us, tea is just a beverage … but coffee? It’s a culture,” says attache at the Turkey Embassy Tourism and Information Office in Kuala Lumpur, Kaan Yilmaz.

And if you’re in Turkey, don’t say no to an invitation to have coffee as it is considered rude to turn down the offer. That’s how serious they are about their coffee culture.

Turkish coffee is recognised by Unesco as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and this year, Turkey proudly celebrates the 500th year coffee made its way to Istanbul – all the way from the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

The most important part of Turkish coffee is its preparation. — EAEEAE, Wikimedia Commons

In 1555, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent learned of the beverage from the Ottoman governor of Yemen, and unofficially made it the official drink of the government. It became an integral part in ceremonies in the Ottoman court as well as among commoners.

“This was the birth of Turkish coffee. Coffee became the shining star of the court’s social life, and the sultan appointed his own kahvecibasi to prepare the imperial cup of Turkish coffee,” adds Yilmaz.

It is reported that the kahvecibasi (coffee maker) had over 40 assistants to prepare and serve coffee for the sultan and his court. The equipment used to make the coffee was on display at the A Drop of Pleasure: 500 years of Turkish Coffee exhibition organised by the Turkish Coffee Culture and Research Association at the Topkapi Palace.

The exhibition, which ended earlier this month, included pieces such as cups and grinders from the palace’s collection and from private collectors.

“In the olden days, coffee was the centre of political and social interactions. Women socialised over coffee and sweets at home while men socialised in coffee houses to discuss politics and to play backgammon.

“Coffee houses also played host to ‘shadow theatres’ where puppets were used to convey satirical, political and social criticism. Turkish coffee houses became social institutions to meet and talk,” explains Yilmaz.

There is a saying in Turkish which goes “One neither desires coffee nor a coffeehouse. One desires to talk with others, coffee is but an excuse”, so naturally, coffee shops sprouted within the city to meet demands. And half a century later, folks still congregate at coffee houses for their caffeine and gossip fix.

“There are many traditional and modern-style coffee shops all around the country which serve Turkish coffee and other coffees. In big cities like Istanbul and Ankara, you can find coffee shops in every corner. Even international coffee franchises like Starbucks and Gloria Jeans serve Turkish coffee in their outlets here – although they do not make it the traditional way,” says Yilmaz.

Coffee is, however, still an inherent part of tradition in Turkey. Even today, marriage customs include the old-fashioned custom of brides-to-be making and serving coffee to their prospective husbands. The groom-to-be judges a woman’s merits based on the coffee she makes.

“There’s one traditional practice for this ceremony. The female candidate puts salt, instead of sugar, into the coffee for her future fiancé and expects him to drink it without complaining. If he doesn’t complain, then she assumes that he loves her as he drank the salty coffee without a fuss,” explains Yilmaz about the age-old tradition.

Turkish coffee (Turk Kahvesi) is incredibly thick, dense and turns 500 years old this year.

“This is just in jest, and is not taken as seriously as it was before. We still do it just for fun.”

There is another coffee-related custom that the Turks still follow today – fal or fortune telling.

Yilmaz explains that once the coffee is finished and the cup has cooled down, it’s turned upside down onto its saucer. The drinker rotates the cup clockwise three times, and lets it cool down a little longer. When the cup is slowly lifted, the fortune teller will read the coffee drinker’s future from the patterns the grains leave on the inside of the cup and saucer.

“Although most people do it for fun, some take it very seriously, especially those seeking good fortune or a potential mate.”

Although children are not encouraged to drink coffee, it naturally becomes their preferred beverage when they hit their teens.

Breakfast only ends when coffee is had, although coffee is also consumed at any time of the day. No meal in Turkey is complete without a serving of the thick and frothy beverage, and Yilmaz adds that Turks enjoy each other’s company too much to say no to an invitation for coffee.

“Coffee will always be part of the Turks’ life,” says Yilmaz. “It has been for the last 500 years, and it will be for another 500 years and more.”


Written by: Sharmila Nair

Taken from

Snowy almonds (via Hurriyet Daily News)

Almond blossoms are among the first to prelude the joyous spirit of spring in the air. Following the almond blossoms, plum trees burst into full bloom, soon to be followed by the adorable cherry flowers.

Apricot, peach and quince trees soon join the rite of spring with all blossoms culminating in a sweet-scented visual symphony. Almond blossoms may be leading this symphony of senses but they are also the unfortunate ones to suffer the cruel bites of frost.

This spring, almond blossoms in Anatolia were not alone. Unexpected April snowfalls in central and eastern Turkey caught all fruit trees without notice, blanketing the spring sprouts and blossoms.

Snow and almond blossoms have a history. Once upon a time there was a Moorish caliph who married a beautiful Nordic princess. They were living a lavish life in “Al-Gharb,” an Arabic name given to the lovely region, simply meaning “The West.” Al-Gharb, today’s Algarve in southern Portugal, really was the most Western tip of the Moorish Iberia, and Algarve actually gets its name from this Moorish name for the region.

However, the Nordic lady was never happy in this fruitful land of bounty. One day, seeing his dear wife crying watching the green hills of Al-Gharp, the caliph suddenly realizes the poor princess is terribly homesick, missing the snowcapped mountains of her native land. There was no way he could alter the seasons and bring snow to the green slopes, but instead he came up with a brilliant idea. He ordered his men to plant almond trees all over, so that each spring the hills of the western lands would become like the northeast, painted in white with the snowy white blossoms of the almond trees. He kept his order a secret and waited patiently for the spring to come.

The next spring his deeply saddened wife woke to a miracle. She thought for a moment that she was back home; the lawns and hills beyond their castle were all under a blanket of fairy whiteness as if covered with snow. Since then almond blossoms have been a symbol of Algarve and needless to say almonds have remained a main feature of Algarve cuisine.

Written by: Aylin Öney Tan