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The Restaurant Reconstructing Recipes That Died With the Ottoman Empire

Eating like a sultan takes lots of detective work.

Here’s a basic shopping list if you’re chef to the Ottoman sultan: The dried glands of a musk deer, a bushel of violets, ambergris from whale bellies, and handfuls of desert-harvested frankincense.

The Ottoman Empire once extended from Istanbul all the way to Arabian deserts and Caucasian glaciers. Sultans craved delicacies sourced from every corner of their lands, and palace chefs wove those far-flung ingredients into a distinctive cuisine. It must have seemed like both their power and their cuisine would prove eternal. After all, the Ottoman dynasty did endure for more than 600 years. But when the empire fell after the First World War, palace cuisine disappeared as well.

A few miles away from Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace, once home to many Ottoman sultans, Asitane Restaurant is on a quest to bring that palace cuisine back. According to owner Batur Durmay, Turkish cooking didn’t have much cachet when his parents opened the family restaurant in 1991. “At that time,” says Durmay, “if you wanted to go out for a nice meal you ate French or Italian food.”

The Durmay family decided that Istanbul deserved a restaurant worthy of the city’s imperial past. They founded one themselves, calling it Asitane as a tribute to one of Istanbul’s many historic names. “Since they had no idea where to start,” says Durmay, “they hired researchers to figure out how to make classical Ottoman dishes.”

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Tags: #food, #history, #turkey
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