x0x The cuisine of Tokat
By VEDAT BASARAN
Host to countless civilizations over the ages,
every corner of Anatolia contains some cultural
treasure. And thanks to archaeological
excavations, we are now learning about the
centuries-old past of this land. What all has
emerged already from the depths of mother earth.
Recall, for example, what you've seen in museum
showcases: statues, coins, mosaics, pottery,
ceramics, decorative items of every kind. In the
light of these findings, we are learning about the
way of life, culture, economies and societies of
past civilizations. And what about their cuisines?
What did people eat and drink thousands of years
ago? How did they prepare their food? Is there
any connection between their food and drink and
ours today? Archaeologists are now finding
definite answers to these questions thanks to the
rapidly developing science of paleobotany. And
their research is documenting the existence of an
extremely rich cuisine in Anatolia even in the
most ancient times.
According to humanities professor Phyllis Pray
Bober, the millstones and bread ovens brought to
light in Anatolia point to the existence of an
extensive culinary culture.
The traditional production techniques that
developed centuries ago live on today in the towns
of Anatolia. Tokat is one such Anatolian town
which possesses a unique cuisine with roots going
back to ancient times. Come, let us make a
`delectable' journey through this deeply rooted
culture, which we are trying desperately to hold
onto despite the hectic pace of modernization.
A STROKE OF GASTRONOMIC GENIUS
It is no secret that Tokat owes its rich cuisine
to its fertile soil.
The people of Tokat are well aware of their
treasure, an awareness that becomes quite obvious
when they give you a recipe for the region's most
succulent dish, Tokat kebab. When preparing this
dish of gastronomic genius, which combines
tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and lamb in a
magnificent mélange, a Tokat native will voice the
following stricture: "Only tomatoes, peppers,
eggplants and lamb from Niksar (a township in the
province) are to be used."
Anything else is simply unthinkable. Another town,
neighboring Sivas, also claims this dish. Try
getting a recipe for Tokat kebab from a Sivas
dweller. When he has enumerated the ingredients
one by one, he will stop for a minute and confess
in all honesty that everything must `absolutely'
be gotten from Tokat.
COOKING TECHNIQUE IS PARAMOUNT
But of course it would be wrong to imply that the
taste of the kebab lies entirely in the
ingredients used. The secret of this
finger-licking-good taste also depends in no small
part on the cooking technique. The oven that is
used, for example, is very important.
And the ovens of Tokat have always been said to be
the most advanced among those used by the various
Anatolian civilizations. So what is so special
about the oven that gives food cooked in it this
special flavor? First of all, its unique
construction which does not expose the food to
In other words, the meat and vegetables are both
grilled and baked, in a method described in
Turkish as `making them sweat'. Thanks to this
cooking method, the aromas are sealed into the
kebab where they become thoroughly blended.
NOT TO BE FOUND IN THE BIG CITY
The cuisine of Tokat is of course not limited to
kebab. Stuffed vine leaves, stuffed broad beans,
and walnut `bat' head the list of local
gastronomic delights prepared with grape leaves.
Alongside Tokat `pastIrma', a sort of Turkish
pastrami, and `dressed sausage', dishes made with
dough also occupy a special place in the town's
cuisine--breads made with curd cheese, `katmer',
`cizlak', poppy seed or walnuts, `yugurtmac', and
bulghur pilaff with lentils to name just a
few--while indigenous herbs like `evelik',
`madimak' and `nivik' are used regularly in
pilaffs, breads and sautés. Another culinary
treasure that literally bursts from the soil of
Tokat is its more than forty varieties of grapes.
And the Zile molasses made from them has a flavor
worthy of the finest palate. The regional wine
meanwhile provides a complement to all these
dishes. There is also a `mahlep' (Prunus mahaleb)
wine, or cherry cordial, produced only in Tokat
that we definitely recommend trying.
So how are you going to sample all these
delectables? You won't find most of the products
mentioned here on the supermarket shelves or in
the open air markets of the big cities, because
the people of Tokat consume all the blessings of
their soil right on the spot. If you ask us, the
cuisine of Tokat should be spread far and wide as
soon as possible so that everybody can taste it.
Or is it that the Tokat natives want to keep their
culinary secrets to themselves?