Hatay is one of the ancient settlements, which has hosted [many] civilizations starting from 9000 BC up until now. It has a 186 kilometer-long coastal band, the mild climate of Mediterranean region, the first church of Christianity, namely Saint Pierre, the first mosque of Anatolia, namely Habib-i Neccar, and numerous historical heritages. This land that has hosted many different cultures for thousands of years invites us with a very rich cuisine waiting to be discovered.
Hatay cuisine is like a cuisine symphony with unique musical notes and rhythm that is different from any other cuisines in many aspects. If you are inclined to listen, you may catch the special cultural tasty melodies at each and every table from breakfast to dinner and from night-kanafeh to the flavors that reflect the rituals of different religions’ specific days. Mediterranean cuisine culture’s vegetable and olive oil effect is highly strong on Hatay cuisine. In fact, even “olive crumbs”, obtained during olive oil production, are added into leavened dough and turned into delicious “Olive Crumb Bread” ready to be served at table. When you taste this bread, you may find yourself visiting an olive museum that is thousands of years old in Tokaşlı village and hearing the olive tree that Homer talks with: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody. I was here before you came. I will still be here after you leave.”
Yogurt, our heritage from Central Asia, has been transformed into something else in Hatay cuisine. It has become an irreplaceable nutrient of breakfast tables and meals as “Salted Yogurt”. Hatay is the gateway of Mesopotamia referred as the homeland of wheat. There are many dishes with wheat recipes in our cuisine, but you may taste a very special form in Hatay called as Aşur, which is cooked with hot pepper, cumin and fall-apart tender meat. Hatay’s meat and kebab culture not only includes shish kebab and barbecue tradition, but also many other cooking techniques such as pot dish and oven roasted kebabs cooked with plenty of vegetables, indicating the reflection of different cultures on Hatay’s cuisine. Musty cottage cheese called “Sürk” is a unique item of the food culture in terms of its fermentation process and dominant taste. Pepper bread and cottage cheese bread traditionally made in tandoori are typical tastes of Hatay.
There are a few cuisines where spices are used diversely and in balance. The most important point on spice use in Hatay cuisine is that spices are not used excessively in every dish. As a result of a fine palatal delight, spices are used diversely and as required. There is a saying in Hatay emphasizing this approach: “We ate a hot [raw] meatball, my dear, I wish you have no day of sorrow.” Food is not only referred in the kitchen, but also in daily language, prayers, proverbs and sayings. Long story short, you may witness the traces of history and culture even in a single example of a table that is set each and every day. When you have a glimpse on this very rich cuisine’s culture, you are bewitched, you embrace its rhythm, and you can never quit.
To me, all special products can be used in a healthy nutrition. These foods deserve to be on the tables of all that cherish gastronomy, not only the ones who know or are familiar with Hatay. Travel and gastronomy lovers should be aware of this ancient heritage of taste, experts should inform them, and they should see and listen the stories on the premises in person. It would be an exciting experience to open the gastronomy door of this magical world that embraces the sense of belonging to Hatay and being a part of this rich and diverse mosaic culture that embraces many different religions from Muslim to Hebrew, Christian, Armenian, Alevist and Sunni.
Hatay cuisine is absolutely a world cuisine. This cuisine culture should be known all around the world as well as Turkey. It should become a part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in gastronomy category. I support it with all my heart and soul.