The Ottoman influences still felt across Middle Eastern cuisine
From the Viennese Alps in the North, to the deserts of Yemen in the South, the Ottoman Empire was one of the major global powers for over 600 years.
Much like the other empires of history, the Ottoman’s shaped the people and cultures under their control, leaving cultural signifiers in every walk of life - from language, to architecture and religion.
But one such signifier that often goes overlooked in the history books is food.
Starting out as a small province near what is now modern Istanbul, the Ottoman Empire grew across the Middle East, Europe and Africa between the years of 1301 and 1917. Yet unlike many other Empires of the time, they tolerated religious and cultural diversity.
Predominantly an agrarian Muslim society, the early Ottomans moved away from their nomadic cattle rearing ways towards a sophisticated system of farms, producing rice, wheat, berries, apples and grapes.
Due to the prohibition of alcohol in Islam, many of the crops that would have made their way into a fermentation tank elsewhere in Europe were used simply for cuisine. Grape leaves, raisins, and breads of every shape were hugely popular across the empire.
Still a large meat eating society, Ottoman subjects tended to cook mutton and lamb due to the religious restrictions around pork, and their reliance on cattle for dairy products and physical labour.
But the most interesting aspect of Ottoman cuisine is the way food was circulated from the very extremities of the Empire, back to the centre of power and culture, then away again. This to and fro movement that food took during the Ottoman Empire meant that similar dishes were tweaked and altered by local chefs, then readopted by their neighbours.