Food That Conquered The World: The Ottoman Empire
From the deserts of the Middle East to the walls of Constantinople and the beating heart of Europe
From 1299 until 1922, the Ottoman Empire was a driving force on the world stage. Rising from the ashes of the Seljuk Empire, the first Ottoman leader Osman I and founder of the dynasty that bore his name, would begin an empire that would go onto challenge European dominance.
The Fall of Constantinople in 1453, in which the Ottomans destroyed the last vestige of the Eastern Roman Empire, is arguably the most significant siege in history. It’s commonly accepted as the end of the Medieval period, and many scholars fleeing the siege would go on to be leading figures in the Renaissance. Not thirty years later, the Ottoman Empire would reach its greatest extent, threatening the capital of Habsburg Europe, Vienna.
While they would fail to take Vienna, beginning a long period of Ottoman decline, the fact they were able to reach so far is a testament to the tenacity and skill of the Ottomans. However, they have far more to offer than just tales of conquest and battle. The Ottomans fostered a unique, rich and vibrate culinary tradition still alive in the region, introducing many foods that today are enjoyed the world over.
From Nomads to Empire
Before the Seljuks, the Turkic peoples lived similarly to the Mongols. They were a nomadic desert people, eating a great deal of horse meat, beef and mutton. Much of their diet appears to have come from the animals and they practised limited agriculture.
This changed with the rise of the Seljuk Turks in the 10th and 11th centuries. These Muslim conquerors played their own part in world history, and from a Western perspective at least, are the main antagonists in the Crusades of the period.
From a culinary perspective, however, they introduced the two biggest factors that would come to define Ottoman cuisine — agriculture and Islam. The Seljuks left much of their cattle herding, nomadic ways behind and began to grow…