Turkish cuisine is one of the most diverse and richest in the world. This is easily seen when we trace its roots through history. From Central Asia to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to Europe, the influence of the remarkable experiences of Turks in their historical journey can be seen in modern Turkish culture today. today. As a result, these various cross-cultural imprints are clearly present in Turkish cuisine. This expanse of supraregional diversity is particularly evident in the many spices, different dairy products, different vegetables, and generous use of olive oil and rice in each region’s dishes. Unique selling points, to name a few, include the hearty breakfast, large meze selection, main courses such as sarma, mantı, fish dishes and kebab variations, but also a range of desserts such as baklava and tulumba.
Flavor and food choices vary greatly in Turkey from region to region and sometimes even from province to province. While in the western and southern provinces light Mediterranean cuisine dominates the food culture, in the more southeastern provinces more meat and dairy products are consumed. In the northeastern provinces, fish predominates. The reason for these differences lies in the regional flora and fauna since the Turks attach great importance to the consumption of local and seasonal products. This means that different foods are eaten, or at least preferred, at different times of the year, depending on what nature has to offer in the respective region in terms of food at that time. This has a particular impact on fish consumption, which is also heavily restricted due to the legal fishing season, as well as on seasonal fruits and vegetables, which may not be available for menus in certain seasons.
This inevitably leads to the conclusion that the Turks attach as much importance to healthy and sustainable food as to the consumption of regional dishes, from which a great awareness of tradition can derive. This conscious consumption, on the one hand, offers many health benefits, supports the local culture and certainly also promotes the environmental awareness of the population. On the other hand, it also negatively affects the marketing of Turkish dishes and gastronomy in general. It will be difficult for a tourist to enjoy all the delicacies of Turkey if, for example, he travels to sparsely populated provinces at a certain time of the year due to these peculiarities.
In large cities with millions of inhabitants like Istanbul and Antalya, which are melting pots and tourist hotspots welcoming people from all parts of the world and all provinces of Turkey, it is easy to find different dishes from different regions at any time of the year. However, in other provinces, such as the eastern Black Sea coast, there are mainly restaurants serving regional dishes, so tourists often miss the opportunity to try all the specialties from many regions of Turkey.
The unknown to tourists
Tourists also cannot enjoy and learn about the different dishes and desserts of a region, as restaurants do not offer all regional dishes at any given time, depending on the season and the extent of the selection. Tourists also have no way of finding out about the dishes the region is famous for because the information is not widely available. For example, products such as the famous honey from Anzer, a village in the northern province of Rize, which is said to have miraculous healing properties and which can only be purchased from the producer, remain unknown to tourists, as it is not usually found in restaurants and is only available in a few retail stores. The same goes for various pastas, dairy products and types of bread in different regions.
These barriers underscore the need for proper international marketing of Turkish dishes through “food bazaars” or, as they are known in the West, food markets. The most famous food markets are Borough Market in London, Mercato Centrale in Florence and Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. The main difference between these gourmet markets and the traditional fresh produce markets, which can also be found all over Turkey, is their alignment.
These markets do not offer fruits and vegetables but cooked dishes and street food, desserts, as well as drinks and national products. The second factor that differentiates them from traditional bazaars is the ambiance. In the center, customers can often find tables and chairs and a space for mini-concerts where they can enjoy food while listening to live (traditional) music. Thanks to the protected space, food markets are usually real hotspots for families, young people and tourists to go out or dine together at any time of the day or year.
For tourists, the main advantage of these markets is that they offer a variety of regional dishes, so that they can simultaneously get acquainted with and try different regional dishes. Since the concept of bazaar is widespread and historically rooted, food markets in Turkey could also be called food bazaars. These bazaars could feature functionally heavier traditional architecture as well as street concerts playing classical Turkish music.
It could lead to the revival of one of Tukey’s most treasured assets, its cuisine, which has the potential to take visitors on a journey into the country’s glorious past of multi-ethnic states ruled by Turkish dynasties. . This would allow tourists to immerse themselves in the diverse history of the country. It would also help to promote traditional Turkish cuisine and encourage its consumption, protecting it from the threats posed by changing consumer habits such as the orientation towards junk food.
Moreover, it is well known that the first lady of Turkey, Emine Erdoğan, is particularly committed to the preservation of Turkish food culture and has carried out important projects to protect it. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself also attaches particular value to gastronomy, which is reflected in his ambitions to boost gastronomic tourism in Turkey. And he succeeded.
After all, the cities of Afyonkarahisar, Kayseri, Gaziantep and Hatay have been part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in the gastronomy sector for a few years now. This is a considerable achievement considering that only 49 cities in the world belong to this network. Nevertheless, it should be noted that other cities in Turkey that are particularly rich in gastronomy such as Adana, Bursa, Edirne, Erzurum, Izmir and Trabzon also deserve to be included in the list, and these cities should also receive their full attention.
The share of gastronomic added value in the tourism industry in Turkey has increased significantly over the last decade in particular. However, the measures taken so far seem to have had only limited success, as Turkey is behind the United States and Sweden in the global comparison of the added value of gastronomic tourism, although the cuisine offered by these countries is not as diverse as that of Turkey. .
Proposal for the future
In order to maximize tourism potential, to facilitate the inclusion of more Turkish cities in the Creative Cities Network and to preserve cultural heritage, i.e. the diversity of Turkish cuisine, the creation of gourmet bazaars in Turkey would be highly recommended. It is also important to note that food bazaars would create new jobs and attraction points for residents and tourists, which would boost the local economy in addition to the tourism sector itself. It would be advisable to implement these food bazaar concepts first in cities which are particularly rich in food and which are visited by many tourists anyway so that their potential for success can first be assessed and introduced accordingly into other cities. Finally, it should be noted that successful implementation cannot be achieved solely through the ambitions of the Turkish government. It also requires the commitment of the respective municipalities for a promising deployment.