Turkish or Greek? This question will spark passionate debates amongst Turks and Greeks alike whenever there’s food on the menu. From dolmades to tzatziki, Greeks are convinced there’s nothing Turkish about their favourite foods. Turks vice versa.
For centuries, Anatolia was home to many great cultures and civilisations; Greeks being one of them. Hence Greeks and Turks having so much in common.
But did you know, there are many “Greek” products known the world over which are actually have their origins in Turkish culture?
If you live in Europe or have traveled anywhere west of the Middle-East before, you probably have seen “Greek Yogurt” or “Greek Coffee” in markets and thought “wait a minute?”.
The truth is, it is not surprising for for two cultures influencing each other over centuries, with similar tastes and geographical proximity comes a joint evolution in culinary habits across cultures.
Let’s have a look at some of these similar dishes and beverages;
Greek yogurt is the biggest myth of them all, so we’ll be starting off with Greek yogurt.
Known as straggisto in Greece, Greek yogurt, distinct in its consistency as it’s strained to remove excess whey, is known as Greek yogurt as it was a Greek company which introduced the straggisto/strained yogurt to the Western world.
Even the hugely popular Chobani brand yogurt, which is marketed as Greek yogurt, is founded by an American-Turkish businessman, Hamdi Ulukaya. So the name has stuck, and became popularly known as Greek yogurt.
The word “yogurt”, yoğurt (yow-oort) in Turkish, was first seen in an old Uyghur Turks’ text from around the year 1000. The word itself might have been used more frequently in daily life and was derived from the word “yoğur” which means “to knead, to commingle, to condense”. Yogurt making is almost innate knowledge to Turks in Anatolia, as mentioned in her excellent article, Yogurt, The Delicious Fermentation by the Turkish food writer and columnist Tuba Şatana, Turks can sense how to make yogurt and gauge ideal temperatures just by the dip of their pinky.
Today, yogurt is fermented by yogurt. If this is the case, then how was the first batch of yogurt made? It is thought the first yogurt fermentation occurred with the mixing of chickpeas and milk. Another often proposed starter for yogurt culture is, the nomadic Turks collected the dew on the forest flora and added it to boiled and cooled milk, or just left the milk overnight in the forest. It’s highly likely it was an accidental creative process which took to the taste buds of the nomads of the steppe.
Being nomadic in origin, yogurt would’ve made an excellent source of nutrition with much needed high fat and protein content for Turks of the steppe. It’s long shelf-life and taste was the icing on the cake and Turks took yogurt wherever they went.
In cuisines around the world, yogurt is not usually known as the savoury yogurt Turks are used to which you can eat along with the main dish. Instead, yogurt is mostly seen as dessert often enjoyed with fresh fruits, honey and jams. Yogurt most likely made its way into Europe and the Mediterranean after Turks settled in Anatolia.
During the Ottoman era yogurt spread out through merchants and the trade routes for which the Empire was renowned for, taking new forms and combining with new tastes of the local cuisines it commingled with. After all, yoğurt does mean commingled.
In Turkish cuisine, Turkish yogurt is enjoyed with various spices or plain, or you can use a cheese cloth to drain its water and use this water in traditional Turkish soups or in preparation of hors d’oeuvres. There’s not a single day the Turkish fridge is short of yogurt. Besides the industrially popular cow’s milk yogurt, sheep, goat and buffalo milk also make for excellent savoury yogurt rich in nutrition and full of flavour.
We love the Greek’s take on yogurt, strained to a smoother mix (Turkish yogurt is often served naturally set, without any straining process) Greek yogurt lends itself to a variety of uses in the kitchen, especially for those with a sweet tooth. Greek style yogurt with fig jam, naturally dried organic Turkish apricots and pistachios is a delightfully Anatolian way of commingling tastes and cultures.
Going by the history and etymology of yogurt, this hugely popular dish and health wonder is definitively of Turkish origin. All arguments aside, it just makes sense that a nomadic group of people would be more likely to benefit from such a dietary invention than of a settled group of people with plenty of olive trees and fish.
Our verdict? Yogurt is; #NotGreek – however, we do love Greek style yogurt!
Tzatziki – Cacık
We mentioned about yogurt’s usage in some hors d’oeuvres, Cacık (jah-jehk) is one of those. Usually in Turkish cuisine Cacık is served with legume stews and Turkish baldo rice. For example, kuru fasulye (bean stew), pilav, sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) and a bowl of Cacık makes for a hearty meal during cold winter months. I have not seen this anywhere else before but I must add, in Canada the bean stew dish kuru fasulye is also known as “Greek soup”.
That’s for another topic so let’s focus on tzatziki. Also known as talattouri in Cyprus, dry tarator in the Balkans, jajeek in the Arabian peninsula, cacık is a little more difficult to put your finger on the origin of the popular meze dish. Often served as meze (a side dish or little platters of many dishes just like tapas) and hugely popular with Raki tables and seafood dishes, tzatziki is truly an amalgamation of what we can best describe as Anatolian Cuisine.
The bonafide Cacık is simple; add water to yogurt, slice and dice cucumber and put those in the yoghurt bowl combine with crushed and smushed garlic and congratulations, now you have your Cacık! Needing a little more flavour, the garlicky yogurt soup can be combined with many different types of herbs but most popularly with oregano, dried thyme and dried mint –you can also use fresh herbs if you prefer, before adding a generous pouring of extra virgin olive oil. The Greek Tzatziki is known as dry Cacık in Turkish and Balkan cuisine, Cacık, is a little less thicker, bit like a cold yogurt soup.
It seems the origin of the word cacık is a little blurred, with proposed Persian, Turkic and Armenian roots. As with many other words in Greek, this likely means the word tzatziki is the spelling of the word cacık in Greek pronunciation. Looking at the origins of the main ingredients, yogurt is of Turkish origin, cucumbers earliest cultivation is in the Thrace region which represents Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Finally, garlic is indigenous to the Caucasian mountain region to the neighbouring regions of north east of Turkey. If we simply go by this information, it’s evident this popular meze dish is of Ottoman/Anatolian origin but we can’t give all kudos to the Turks or the Greeks.
So we have a tie. Our verdict, cacık – tzatziki is #Anatolian and absolutely delicious!
Another popular dish often contested between the nations and doesn’t have an origin definitively is Tarhana soup. It’s main ingredients are fermented wheat flour and yogurt. often with dried herbs. Various types of Tarhana soup exists; dried and fresh, red and white; however, dried red Tarhana is the most common type. Preservation of this highly nutritious food by drying and simply adding hot water to make it readily available was a convenient way for old Turks’ nomadic life style.
Disputed etymologically to be of Greek/Western, Turkish & Persian in origin, Tarhana (tar-hun-ah) has its most plausible etymological origin from the Persian (ترخوانه) tarkhwāneh. The Greek origin word is argue to be trakton which, phonetically speaking, is a bit of a stretch to have arrived at Tarhana from. It’s likely the Turkish nomads migrating toward Anatolia brought the dish along with them through Persia, where it mingled with the local food stuffs to take it’s form as we know it. Turks in Anatolia were heavily influenced by both Persian culture and language so the explanation of the words origin being from Persia lends itself credibility the Greek term trakton fails to enjoy.
Tarhana Soup is prepared with adding water to the dried Tarhana granules or balls. It’s advised to add garlic paste, chopped tomatoes or tomato paste, red pepper paste to taste with the juice and a pinch of flaked red pepper. Because of the herbs inside Tarhana, the soup is one of the best curative soups in Turkish cuisine, along with another favourite, chicken broth soup. Garlic is known to have natural antibiotic properties, along with the healthy bacteria in yogurt Tarhana gives the immune system a helping hand. The spice in Tarhana has a relaxing effect on the upper respiratory tract. Ideal during cold seasons as a preventative measure as well as a remedy along with a balanced, healthy diet.
During the holy month of Ramadan, it is recommended to have water and/or soup first for breaking their fast. Because of the ingredients Tarhana has, soup helps to regain the vitamins and minerals the body has lost during the day because of fasting and helps with the appetite.
Considering that the key ingredient of Tarhana soup is Yogurt, and yogurt is about as Turkish as it gets, as well as the Persian linguistic influences we can’t help but say sorry, #NotGreek on this one. Plus, you have A r i s t o t l e! Let us have our soup!
Greek Boureki – Börek
Börek… *sigh* Ok, let’s be flat out honest on this one, this dish is about as Greek as Aristotle is Turkish.
Börek is filled pastry made of thin flaky dough known as “yufka – phyllo -filo”. The word “Börek” comes from Middle Asia. The first Börek that has been made was prepared by the orders and recipe of an Uyghur prince named Buğra Bey and the original version of the word “büğrek” means “it belongs to the Buğra Bey”. It is a dish prepared with several thin layers of filo pastry.
Börek has lived its golden age during Ottoman Empire era. Firstly, it was a food served on the streets and bazaars. After a while it became a dish served in palace feasts prepared for Ottoman Pashas. Another reason for Börek to be found in Greek cuisine too, is probably during that time, today’s Greece was under control of Ottoman Empire. Therefore, two cultures have yet again intertwined with each other.
The first Börek was filled with goat cheese. With Börek’s entrance to palace feasts the flavors also started to change. Since that first time, chefs have continuously revisited the recipe, adding a new twist with each preparation. For example, in Konya, Börek is prepared with honey which makes it sweeter, like a dessert; however, in Trabzon it is prepared with Black Sea anchovy.
In Turkish cuisine, Greek Halva is known as “semolina helva” and it was introduced to Turkish culture when Islam was started to expand its effect on Anatolia. In this way the route for halva to find is way to Greek cuisine was established. The meaning of the word “halva” is “sweet” and originates from Arabic.
Turkish Halva in Turkish cuisine is prepared not only with semolina but also with flour and tahini (sesame butter). Semolina and flour halva are especially being prepared for after someone’s funeral in the deceased’s house, dedicated to his memory and soul. It is also popular among housewives’ daily gather arounds. It is served with cinnamon powder; right amount of cinnamon can work miracles. Cinnamon only by itself tastes bitter, even spicy and yet with halva its unique taste turns even sweeter than a strawberry chocolate fondue. Also tahini halva is served after the meal, cold or warm, in fish restaurants and in Rakı tables. It is recommended to put lemon juice on it before having a bite from it.
In our day, semolina halva’s presentation is being modernized with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream and fresh mint leaves.
Helva was pioneered and developed in Imperial Kitchens in Ottoman Empire, it’s likely there was some influences across cuisines but we couldn’t find enough on its origins being Greek. However, we’re up for debating this further so let us know if you have compelling evidence in the comments below.
We’re going to leave the verdict as #TurkishOrGreek.
Served in iconic Turkish coffee cups, specific preparing techniques and its own way of presentation, Turkish coffee truly belongs to the Turkish culture. Greeks were introduced to coffee via Ottoman Empire, which is where the world renowned drink made its appearance, spreading like wild fire through Europe thanks to the Venetian merchants.
Greeks for years referred to their coffee as simply “Turkish”. The only reason why it is now known as “Greek coffee” is because in the 1990’s a coffee brand in Greece started to market Turkish coffee as Greek, playing on the nationalistic emotions brewing since the Cypriot conflict. But it must be said, Greeks did not leave it as it was; Turkish Coffee with gum mastic belongs to the Greeks and it is a deliciously unique Greek take on the Turkish coffee. In Turkey, the best place to enjoy Mastic Gum Turkish coffee is either in Çeşme, Urla in a garden filled with gum-wood trees or in Kızlarağası Inn, in Kemeraltı, İzmir.
Turkish coffee usually is drank with sparkling mineral water or plain water and served with bitter chocolate or Turkish delight in Turkish tradition.
In Turkish customs and traditions Turkish coffee has a special place. For example, when a guy goes to the house of the girl he loves to ask for permission from her father to marry her, girl makes a salty Turkish coffee instead putting sugar in it and guy has to drink the coffee without saying or showing any distress about saltiness. This ritual means and shows the dedication of the future Groom’s will to marry the girl. Even though she failed preparing the coffee properly he is willing to drink even poison from her hands.
Besides these kinds of fun traditions, Turkish coffee has a relaxing effect on your digestive system. That is why Turkish people tend to drink coffee after every meal. Also a paste you can prepare with a tea spoon full of Turkish coffee and couple drops of lemon juice will sooth down your stomach will help the digestion process.
Ouzo – Raki
The best and enjoyable times in Mediterranean and Aegean regions are hot summer nights by the sea with the sound of the waves licking the shore, with lots of hors d’oeuvres, juicy fruits and freshly caught fish, calamari and shrimp on your table and a bottle of Turkish Yeni Rakı; these kinds of chill nights are the moments make you feel like you are living the time of your life. Not just the table itself but the music you are listening with it is also important to have Rakı; traditional Turkish music by Zeki Müren, Muazzez Ersoy, Orhan Gencebay should be there to keep you company with their legendary voices.
This alcoholic beverage, mainly made using grapes and popularly flavoured with aniseed, is peculiar to the Turkish culture. It is also known as “Lion’s Milk”, owing to it’s unique cloudy white colour it takes when mixed with water. You can have it with single or double measure in its special glasses. You can add water first and then ice, if you like. A friendly reminder; always remember to put water first, then ice. Ideally, no ice should be in the mix and only the tiniest amount of spring water with little impurities. Raki is kept cool by ice pots which the Raki glass neatly sits in, especially designed for this purpose.
Greek equivalent of Turkish Raki is a beverage called Ouzo which is almost identical with Rakı. The preparation process, fermenting process, presentation and the way it’s drank are all same. The only difference it has with Rakı, Ouzo tastes a little bit sweeter, because of the amount of sugar used during the fermenting process. Ouzo also registers as lighter in cloudiness when mixed with water.
We’re going to put our hands up and admit Ouzo is 100% Greek, and that Turkish Raki is undeniably derived from Ouzo. Raki gained popularity in Turkey during the newly found liberal years of the mid 19th century, served as an alternative to wine in Meyhane’s of Istanbul, often run by the Rum and Albanian Ottoman citizens.
This often is a heated point of debate especially for Turks, presumably, mostly because the founder of the Turkish Republic which is revered by many in Turkey used to be a huge fan of Turkish Raki drink.
It seems Greeks in general don’t care nearly as much about Raki being Turkish or not. Raki is an adopted and dearly appreciated drink often drank the way our neighbours probably enjoyed it for centuries along the shores of the Aegean, with delicious seafood. But hey, we brought cacık to the table!
Ouzo is #TrulyGreek – and it is undeniable.
Turkish or Greek? Who cares?
We would love to hear your thoughts on the Turkish or Greek debate. Have you ever been in such a debate and what would put on the heavily disputed list?
Also do you see this as needless hostility, or do you think it’s good sport between two commingling cultures?
Leave us a comment below and don’t forget share far and wide tagging your @Greek or @Turkish friends.
P.S Baklava is also #NotGreek