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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

All of Human History, Civilization, and Culture Converge in One Place: Turkish Food

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Napoleon once commented that if the Earth were a single state, Istanbul (nee Constantinople) would be its capital. The general clearly knew his geography: Istanbul is the meeting point of Europe and Asia to the East and West, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to the North and South, the convergence of the Silk and Spice Roads, and the pit stop for pilgrims going to Mecca or Jerusalem. The point is that in the pre-modern period, any soldier, merchant, or pious person had to pass through the city.

And with that much cultural interaction going on, it's no surprise that Turkish food is the original fusion cuisine. Since human history, civilization, and culture converge in one place, you can make the argument that Turkish food is sort of an archeological record of the human experience.

On the far eastern side of Turkish civilization, you have the Central Asian Turkic peoples who created the forefather of today's Chinese dumplings. On the far western side, you have kebabs, eggplant dishes, and other Mediterranean cuisines that many swear is actually Greek food (don't get us started on arguments that this or that dish is actually Turkish but stolen from the Greeks, and vice versa).

Today's guest is Derek Imai, host of the Youtube Channel Meet Turkey, which explores the depths of Istanbul's society, culture, and food. It's sort of a mix of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, the travel writing of Rick Steves, all tied together with a good dose of Ottoman and Turkish history. You can find his channel and free cooking videos on meetturkey.io.

Here are other things we discuss:

Yogurt was originally fermented horse milk made to feed horseback mounted warriors in Central Asia (including Genghis Khan's army)

The fusion of Arabic and Mediterranean cuisine produces delights (baklava) and head-scratching curiosities that mix sweet and savory (chicken pudding).

The strange names of Turkish dishes that translate terribly into English. Women's Thigh. The Imam Fainted. The Sultan's delight.
March 09, 2021
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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