Kastamonu is a city which has been a continuous cultural center approximately fro 7000 B.C. onwards. It had a dominant role both in the Ottoman and Republican periods of Turkey and this dominant position has been reflected in urban life. While an utmost lively, refined culture of living is prevalent, especially through the immigration of the majority of the youth from the city, the life slowed down abruptly. However, the people of Kastamonu did not permit that this deep-rooted chain of life culture may be ruined, they have seriously protected their culture and history, including the gastronomic culture.
While talking about the cuisine culture of Kastamonu, one has to mention first the cuisine utensils, then the raw material and ingredients used and finally the variety of rich food.
In the cuisine of Kastamonu, thanks to the forests and minerals bestowed lavishly by nature wooden and copper materials are used as utensils: “tıkır”, “yayık”, “sepet” with the aim of protecting the food, “yaslağaç”, “oklağeç”, “bisleğeç”, chopping board “künde”, garlic crusher “dodul”, copper cooking pot, plate, basin, tray, water-bottle, flask, pitcher, water-can, copper vessel, slotted spoon, mess kit with the aim of cooking. And those made of clay, caba (handled pot), çölemen, çömçüler, these are the most known.
Regarding raw material and ingredients, any kind of vegetable, fruit, herb, plant, spice and meat, milk and dairy products raised and produced in its rural areas are the basic material contained in the Kastamonu kitchen. In Kastamonu and its villages livestock is developing recently. Slaughter animals traditionally pasture absolutely in nature, they are nurtured with immeasurably many different plants and herbs, which are ultimately healthy and which yield delicious food. This is true especially for a turkey (locally called “ibi”) product of Devrekani district, for cattle and sheep and goats as well.
Similarly, fruits, vegetables, grain, which are cultivated without synthetic substances and hormones, which are cultivated absolutely on natural conditions, and those products produced from them like dry foods called tarhana, noodle, molasses, paste, jam, marmelade, eğşi, fruit leather are elements giving delicious taste to Kastamonu dishes.
The researches about Kastamonu cuisine began in 1950’s; archaeolog Ahmet Gökoğlu identified 812 different dishes. Within the Kastamonu cuisine culture where main headings are bread, soups, meat dishes, pasta, vegetables, desserts and beverages industrial crops, confectionery and orcharding became famous as well.
Among the floured food the most favorable is the meat-bread (a kind of thin pizza , either baked in the oven or on a thin metal sheet), various pasta sorts known under the general name mantı (it has various names given according to the way it is produced), loaf, serme, corn bread and similar…The ladies of Kastamonu make a food called “tirit” from stale bread. Most favorable dishes are muffin with tallow, corn muffin, kete, muffin baked on ashes, muffin with tarhana. Noodle pasta is kneaded with cottage cheese, then it is opened and nuts are put inside, then hot oil is served on it. It is named “haluçga”.
Soups have various kinds. The most known and loved are tarhana soup with minced meat and Ecevit soup. Ecevit soup, with rice, large amount of butter and dry mint, is inherent to the Ecevit region of Küre and it is a delicious energy store on cold winter days. The most famous among the meat dishes is the biryan (or wellhole) kebab which is made especially in spring or summer time from fresh lamb in the ovens dug in the earth. This kebap is made especially in Taşköprü district very commonly and it is very delicious. Other famous meat-dishes are tirit, banduma, döner with cumin, and kinds of bread m ade with pastirma (pastrami or sun dried beef ham). Meat casserole with vegetables cooked in casserole made of clay is called “caba”. It is mouthwatering.
Among the vegetable dishes without meat, dolmas (bell pepper, eggplant), sarmas (vine leaves, cabbage, ispit, red beet, müsellim, grape leaves), pilav (rice dish) with sour sauce, potato ragout, every kind of dishes with beans may be enumerated.
Raw materials inherent to Kastamonu such as Kastamonu apple (which is produced in many districts on the same level of delicacy), üryani plume found only in the province of Kastamonu (again in its many regions), Tosya grape and rice, “siyez bulgur wheat” made in Ihsangazi from the ancestor wheat 10.000 years old, salep plant (a health giving plant yielded from the roots of an orchid species) which is obtained in many different regions as well, Inebolu und Cide chestnut and sourcherry, Azdavay pear and lime tee, Araç nuts and cranberry, Taşköprü garlic and hemp plant, constitute the considerably rich product spectrum of the province.
Since the Ottoman period Kastamonu has been one of the centers of confectionery in Turkey, for centuries along it has sent kitchen masters and chefs to Topkapı Palace; chef cooks, chef confectioners and halva-makers of the sultan tables came from Kastamonu, and especially from Araç district. Hacı Bekir, giving a new flavor to Turkish lokum and making it known in the whole world, comes from the Araç district of Kastamonu. Today Kastamonu is the home land of the delicious halva called “çekme helva”, made from butter, sugar and flour by thinning out, which finally attains its moulding shape. This halva begins to be produced in large amounts recently and it becomes a significant export product of the city whereas being consumed locally, as well. Besides spoon halva made and consumed at home, a domestic type of baklava, which is produced for being sold, taş kadayıf (stone-like sweet pastry with honey syrup) and cırık (sweet syrup soaked pastry balls) are among the most favorite desserts.
Kastamonu residents find a way for augmenting natural taste in their kitchens through herbs growing in the region, they have used herbs called mancar, kedi cırnağı, ıspıt, kıvırşık for centuries and they still do. Besides, Kastamonu is the mushroom storehouse of Turkey. Within the Kastamonu nature (especially around rocky and forest regions) near 20 edible mushroom species are growing and almost all of these are known, gathered and cooked by the local people. Besides, Kastamonu is a significant mushroom exporter, it exports to Turkey and to the world fresh and dried mushrooms in large amounts. The most prevalent mushroom species is “kanlıca” mushroom which is prevalent in the entire city and which is much favored and eaten by the people. Grill, saute, soup, roast and pickle are made from this mushroom and each is very delicious.
The storing culture of Kastamonu kitchen is unique as well, thanks to the methods like making eğşi by boiling cranberry, pear or apple, drying vegetables and herbs, making tarhana with cranberry, thus turning its color to pink… These are all authentic products. Mushroom pickle, various kinds of jam and marmalade should be added as well.
DISHES ONE HAS TO TASTE DEFINITELY BEFORE LEAVING THE CITY
Meat-bread, bread with pastirma, with joghurt, cheese, potato or mushroom; simit tiridi, mantı, çekme helva, Ecevit soup, mushroom mıhlama and mushroom-bread, caba cutlet, biryan, banduma, cırık, flat kadayıf, red beet molasses, home made baklava and spoon halva…