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Bursa - Gastronomy of the Imperial City

Bursa, with its world-famous silk weavings, Iznik tiles, textiles, and delicious food, has been featured in the works of travellers, historians, and artists throughout history. It has been a centre of culture and art where the paths of scholars and wise people intersected and brought together different cultures and tastes. Only some written sources and documents directly related to the culinary culture of Bursa have survived to the present day.

We came to Bursa as most people do – with a ferry. Bursa is connected to Istanbul through ferries and catamaran lines in the coastal places of Yalova and Mudanya, both on the Sea of Marmara. As one approaches with bus to the fourth largest city in Türkiye, the mighty peaks of the Uludağ Mountain start to appear. The excitement rises as the new adventure begins. This town is so deeply entrenched in history that every move brings new historical discoveries!

Of course, part of this history is the splendid food of Bursa! Some of the most famous dishes in Türkiye come from this place, and we intend to explore them all. Luckily for our cholesterol, we were stopped by quite cold weather and rain. Still, we managed to visit some of this town's most cherished culinary corners despite the unusually cold and rainy weather in late January.

In the records kept by the Bursa Yearbooks, registers, and foundations, the names of the foods taken to the Almshouses, the meals cooked, the foods requested from Bursa for the palace cuisine (fruits, pickles, vegetables, ice, pomegranate syrup, etc.) and the names of ingredients not directly related to the kitchen can be found. In addition, the impressions of lucky travellers who came to Bursa in the past, what they ate and drank in Bursa, and the foods sold in the bazaars shed light on the past and the present.

Therefore, the only right start of a visit to Bursa is the Grand Bazaar in the very heart of this old Ottoman city and get lost in the allure of smells, flavours, colours, patterns, and textures as you stroll through the Historic Bazaar in the Khan Area, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. This region has been the centre of economic activity in the city since its establishment in the 14th century. The area has preserved its aesthetic and social value, and as it is completely pedestrianised. It is an attractive public space for both tourists and city dwellers. Khans and bazaars have been operating uninterruptedly for 700 years.


Bursa Silk

And in the very heart of it is Koza Han, the Silk Bazaar, built by Sultan Bayezid II in 1491. The khan consists of the main building, which is two floors around a rectangular courtyard close to a square, and the inner Koza Han, which is a single-story building with a courtyard to the east, a barn, and warehouses. For centuries, merchants from many countries and nationalities have worked in Silk Bazaar. We could easily imagine the shoppers and merchants of the old times quarrelling over the prices in Koza Han.

Bursa Silk is among the most famous in Türkiye and West Asia. Silkworm breeding, the first stage of sericulture, dates back to ancient times. Towards the end of the Byzantine period, Bursa became the regional capital of sericulture. After the Ottomans conquered Bursa during the Orhan Bey period, silkworm breeding was the mainstay of the Ottoman economy in the 14th and 15th centuries.

In 1860, there were 37 silk mills and 5 thousand silk weaving looms in Bursa. In 1888, the French founded the Silkworm Research Institute for growing mulberry tree seedlings and insect seeds (eggs) in Bursa. The institute had 30 acres of mulberry nursery and 20 acres of seed production facility in the city. Today, Bursa sericulture has received its protected geographical indication with the application of Bursa Metropolitan Municipality, and it is produced in the Muradiye Silk Factory and then turned into a final product in the Umurbey Silk Production and Design Center. The rather sticky and steamy business turns into the finest silk so often associated with the Orient!




We also looked at ways how Bursa silk was made in the Bursa Town Museum. A small museum is surprisingly rich in content and presentation but sadly features the items only in the Turkish language. A nice motif to learn Turkish! It is also nice to visit these little animals before the shopping spree in the bazaar where the finest silk will find its rightful owners!



İskender kebap

Another major attraction is the Grand Mosque – Ulu Cami. Built by Yıldırım Bayezid between 1396 and 1399, it is covered with 20 domes and enchants every visitor to this city. Worshippers and tourists alike visit it and then find some nice meyhane or tavern for a nice and typically meaty Bursa lunch. And when meat is in focus, only one dish stands out – İskender kebap.

Read more about this gorgeous kebab here: World of Turkish Kebabs: İskender kebap


Döner and Bursa Kebap

Döner kebab stands as a global delicacy, revered for its tantalizing blend of grilled meats, meticulously shredded from a vertical skewer. Traditionally seasoned with a symphony of fresh herbs and spices, this culinary masterpiece traces its origins to the heart of Turkish cuisine.

Initially crafted solely from succulent lamb, modern iterations, particularly in bustling culinary hubs like Istanbul, now boast a fusion of lamb and beef or occasionally feature pure beef creations. The technique of grilling meat vertically on a skewer dates back centuries, with mentions in 18th-century Ottoman travel literature. However, it was the innovative sandwich format, coined "döner kebab" meaning rotating kebab, that emerged in the early 1970s in Berlin, captivating taste buds worldwide.

Today, döner kebab transcends borders, adorning menus across Europe. Surprisingly, its ancestral roots in Bursa often elude even the most astute connoisseurs, epitomising Turkish culinary mastery. Proudly, the people of Bursa infuse their creations with a distinctive charm, a testament to their culinary heritage. Credited with revolutionising the presentation of döner, Kadir Nurman ingeniously paired meat with a medley of fresh vegetables, encased within a warm flatbread—a departure from conventional plating. While Turkish renditions hold sway, a myriad of regional interpretations flourishes, spanning the globe.

Amidst this diversity, the Bursa kebab reigns supreme, standing shoulder to shoulder with the finest Turkish culinary treasures. Resembling İskender in appearance yet boasting its own unrivaled flavour profile, this gastronomic delight promises an unforgettable sensory journey. For those embarking on a culinary pilgrimage to the Grand Bazaar, nestled within the labyrinthine alleys awaits the essence of Bursa's culinary prowess—a tantalizing promise of culinary discovery amidst a day of exploration and indulgence.


Muradiye çorbası

Nestled in the western fringes of Bursa's Old Town, a magnificent mausoleum dedicated to the early Ottoman rulers commands attention. However, its true allure lies not in its exterior facade but in the splendour concealed within. Within the hallowed grounds, twelve royal tombs cradle the remains of princes and their kin amidst a verdant oasis, adorned with intricate depictions of nature, ornate tiles, and graceful calligraphy. Dominating the ensemble is the sepulcher of Sultan Murad II, from which the appellation "Muradiye" derives its origin.

Adjacent to this architectural marvel stands the Muradiye Mosque, a testament to the Ottoman devotion to prayer, its grandeur completed in the annals of 1426. Across from the mosque, the Muradiye Osmanlı Mutfağı restaurant beckons, a bastion of local gastronomy boasting an array of delectable dishes. Yet, among them, one dish emerges as a culinary emblem of Bursa: the Muradiye çorbası, or Muradiye soup.

This beloved local delicacy, cherished by denizens of Bursa, marries tender chicken with creamy yogurt, elevated by a medley of garden-fresh vegetables, including succulent zucchini and vibrant carrots. Renowned for its ability to fortify the body against winter's chill and bolster immunity, this hearty soup promises to comfort, nourish, and invigourate.

Simmered to perfection with hearty chicken, barley noodles, and an assortment of vegetables, this soul-warming elixir culminates in a crescendo of flavour when crowned with a dollop of yoghurt and a drizzle of fragrant melted butter infused with mint. A symphony of tastes and textures, Muradiye soup embodies the essence of Bursa's culinary heritage, a testament to the city's rich tapestry of flavours and traditions.


Beautiful cheese from Bursa

Cheese reigns supreme in Turkey's rich breakfast tradition, asserting its presence not only in morning repasts but also in a myriad of culinary creations spanning meats, salads, and beyond. For those immersed in Turkish gastronomy, an aversion to dairy products risks missing out on a treasure trove of flavours deeply rooted in the region's heritage of sheepherding, echoing centuries-old Central Asian and Anatolian culinary practices.

Amidst the culinary tapestry of Bursa, one cheese stands tall: Dil. Crafted from cow's milk in the verdant environs surrounding the cities of Bilecik and Bursa, Dil embodies the essence of traditional Turkish cheese-making. With its fresh, ivory hue and supple, stringy texture reminiscent of mozzarella, Dil captivates the senses with its delicate flavour profile. Mild yet subtly sweet, with a hint of saltiness, each bite of Dil offers a symphony of creamy indulgence.

While Dil's versatility lends itself to various culinary applications, its propensity to become delightfully stringy when melted distinguishes it from its counterparts. This unique characteristic, however, renders it less common on Turkish pizzas, where kasar cheese often takes precedence. Traditionally sold in rectangular logs, Dil can also be found in charmingly rustic chunks resembling tongues—a nod to its namesake, as "dil" translates to "tongue" in Turkish.

Fresh Dil finds its most delightful expression when served as part of a leisurely breakfast spread. For those seeking a touch of elegance, the braided variation, known as "orgu peyniri," adds a whimsical flair to the morning repast. Whether enjoyed on its own or incorporated into culinary creations, Dil stands as a testament to Türkiye's rich cheese-making heritage, inviting gastronomes to savour its timeless allure.


Pideli köfte

What sets meatballs with pita apart from other culinary delights is their succulence—each bite bursting with moist, flavourful goodness. A beloved staple of the city's gastronomic landscape, these köfte are elevated to new heights when drizzled with a luscious butter sauce.

Originating in the venerable Historical Kayhan Bazaar, a bustling hub steeped in over six centuries of history, this culinary gem emerged as a delectable alternative to the ubiquitous döner kebab. Hacı Hüsamettin Sünneli, a master of his craft who honed his skills in the very birthplace of Bursa kebab, introduced meatballs nestled atop piping hot pita, ensconced in a rich tomato sauce infused with the unmistakable aroma of goat butter.

The culinary journey begins with the preparation of the clawed pita—fresh from the oven, sliced into tantalizing cubes, and laid as the foundation for the masterpiece to come. Next, tender meatballs, each meticulously crafted and grilled to perfection, are nestled atop the awaiting pita bread. A crescendo of flavours unfolds as the velvety tomato sauce, simmered to perfection to remove any hint of tartness, cascades over the meatballs. For those seeking an extra layer of indulgence, a dollop of creamy yogurt, slices of ripe tomato, fiery peppers, and diced onions await to adorn the dish upon request. As the culinary symphony nears its conclusion, a final flourish of hot, savoury goat butter is drizzled over the ensemble, infusing each morsel with an irresistible richness.


Cantik

The vibrant tapestry of Uludağ and Bursa's fertile plains finds expression not only in the region's verdant landscapes but also in the bustling urban hubs that emerged to showcase its bounty. In the heart of Bursa, a rich mosaic of inns and marketplaces sprang to life, serving as vibrant centres where the region's diverse array of products found eager buyers and ample storage.

From the bustling thoroughfares of Galle Han and Pirinç Han to the aromatic alleys of Tuz Han and Kapan Han, these commercial epicenters pulsated with the energy of trade, shaping the very fabric of Bursa's urban landscape. Open-air markets like the Salt Market, Fish Market, Chicken Market, and Hay Market further enriched the city's culinary tapestry, weaving a narrative of abundance and diversity.

This bustling trade not only fueled economic prosperity but also served as a nexus of cultural exchange, drawing together a kaleidoscope of influences from the Balkans, Central Asia, Anatolia, and beyond. From Thessaloniki to Crete, from Bosnia to Albania, migrants, refugees, and settlers brought with them their culinary traditions, enriching Bursa's cultural heritage with a symphony of flavours.

Amidst this cultural tapestry, Cantik emerges as a beloved emblem of Tatar cuisine, finding a cherished place on Bursa's most bustling tables. What sets Bursa's Cantik apart is its unique twist—the marriage of tender minced meat encased within a delicate dough. As diners gather around these crowded tables, Cantik serves as a culinary ambassador, bridging divides and inviting all to partake in the rich tapestry of Bursa's culinary heritage. With its soft, flavourful allure, Cantik embodies the spirit of unity and diversity that defines Bursa's vibrant gastronomic landscape.


Sweets

A beautiful view of central Bursa can be enjoyed from the Tophane neighbourhood. Next to it is one of the most important historical sights in Bursa, tombs of Osman Gazi and Orhan Gazi, mausoleums of the founder of the Ottoman dynasty and empire, and his son and royal descendent. It is a place of huge national pride and UNESCO Heritage site.

Somehow, it will be always connected to the megapopular sweet chestnuts, a dessert of Bursa which is the gastronomic symbol of this town. Read more about it here: Sweet Chestnuts of Bursa


Photos by: Go to Bursa, various Turkish websites, and Taste of Adriatic

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