BOOK | Blue Window | A Food Journey into the Past via Europe’s High Peaks and River Valleys — Turkiye

Batman Creek

Imagine you are on standing at the edge of a low-lying escarpment. There is movement in the tall grasses that range across a steppe landscape as far as you can see. A pack of wolves emerge at the edge of a stream on a clearing. You can see their distinctive colourings as they quench their thirsts in the refreshing water. On the far side on a similar clearing a young doe is spooked by their sudden appearance, turns and darts off into the forest. You hear a roar and rustling at the woodland edge of the stream. A large furry animal runs into the stream and scoops a large fish onto the bank. Your eyes follow the stream. It flows into a meandering river and emerges into a wide body of water fed by other streams and rivers in the aqueous landscape. This is a tributary river system and in your mind it is the perfect place.

Your people have fished these rivers and foraged and hunted in these forests, plains and mountains for as long as your ancestors can remember. You are young and your generation has an idea. It is not a new idea. Some of your older people have put the idea into practice during the cold spells and found it not at all unnerving or unpleasant. This is the new stone age and you are a hunter-gatherer about to engage in an activity that will change the course of human history! You are about to settle into a enduring sedentary existence of breeding, herding and milking, of chipping, painting and weaving, of collecting, sowing and harvesting, and of the older habits of fishing, foraging and hunting at the confluence of a stream that will be named Batman Creek and a river that will enter history as one the twins of the land between the two rivers. This is the tributary system of the Upper Tigris Basin and you are a member of humanity in transition, at a place in an evolutionary moment – the beginnings of civilisation as we know it – a place some believe to be the origin of it all, a place where the beliefs and rituals remained the same for one thousand one hundred and fifty years, the course of 46 generations.

Today this place is called Körtik Tepe – Worn Hill – and we are about to travel back in time to meet you 12,400 years ago.

We are not scholars, we cannot claim to know what the archaeologists know, what the ethnobotanists know, what the anthropologists seek to know with their comparative studies of the old and the new. We are travellers, that is all we are, but we have an insatiable curiosity about this period – known by archaeologists as the ‘Epipaleolithic / Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period’ of the new stone age – because we have a keen desire to know the answers to some questions about this epoch-making era. We believe you might be a good person to talk to, because you appear to have a good nature and your people appear to live an egalitarian, functional, sustainable lifestyle, are inoffensive, sensitive and relatively tame hunter-gatherers with shared beliefs and rituals, and we want to know if that is a flawed generalisation. You see we have been told that you abandoned the simplicity of the old ways for the complexity of the new ways, that you developed a food-production strategy, that you adopted a creative strategy for the production and trade of aesthetic goods, that you assumed a social strategy and created inequality, and that these activities led to social tensions, interpersonal violence and ultimately to the total collapse of your village community.

So tell us, what was it like to live in a village on a wide rising peninsula between two rivers, the pebbled shore a stone’s throw from the nearest dwellings – leather-clad beehive huts, cautious waterfowl in the river, covetous mammals lurking in the forest, curious animals peering out from the woodland? What did you eat? The archaeologists tell us you lived in the midst of a wild environment with birds and fish, mammals and waterfowl amongst a deciduous woodland full of almonds, apples, buckthorn, hackberries and pistachios, a riverine forest of ash, beech, fig, poplar, vine and willow, a steppe with every type of wild cereal, herb, plant, root and vine – a resource rich hinterland. Compared to your previous existence, living in that secluded village must have been sublime, yes? You cannot tell us, can you? Your knowledge is limited to the awkward innocence of that fleeting era when your beliefs and rituals morphed into the architecture of your newly-formed close-knit community. Why should you explain, in your position we would have done the same.

Today Körtik Tepe is the subject of a curious debate among archaeologists. A long time after our friend passed away and was buried along with his belongings, the community evolved to enact ‘high-arousal burial rituals’ possibly to protect its social integrity although not necessarily. If the driving force of civilisation was housing and nutrition immediately after the first settlements, the emergence of aesthetic sensibilities and artistic skills created the conditions for social hierarchy. There is evidence to suggest that the descendants of our friend quickly realised the material danger to their egalitarian way of life. They appeared to solve the problem with a burial ritual that took an individual’s objects with them to the grave. When this did not prevent the institutionalisation of inequality based on material wealth, the ritual was enlarged to allow for the deliberate destruction of the individual’s belongings. The next generation had to generate their own wealth, they could not be allowed to accumulate commodities and objects of worth from inheritance. For a while ‘social inequality based on material wealth’ was apparently counteracted until eventually the process failed and a social hierarchy was established.

This is the debate! Some archaeologists accept this theory, that a social hierarchy was established at some point at Körtik Tepe, though not especially because commodification was a source of wealth and as a consequence bestowed social status. Some archaeologists disagree and argue that our friend and his descendants valued personal relationships and, unlike modern humans who differentiate between the human world and the natural world, did not place an economic value on their animistic and ritualistic objects. Any value was personal. Marion Benz, Yilmaz S. Erdal, Feridun Şahin, Vecihi Özkaya and Kurt W. Alt suggested an integrative approach, comparing anthropological with archaeological data, was needed to come to a logical conclusion.

‘It seems that social tensions between egalitarian concepts and emerging social differentiation occurred. Yet, through the destruction of goods, the people of Körtik Tepe made the accumulation of commodities impossible and powerfully counteracted social inequality based on material wealth.’

If we apply common sense to this debate and add the contemporary evidence about the egalitarian nature of modern hunter-gatherer groups, we come to the same conclusion, that ‘prehistoric mobile foragers’ maintained egalitarian social structures amidst the ‘overlapping identities, tensions and contradictions’ of daily life. Common sense in itself is not enough. Archaeologists know from experience (and from the history of archaeology) not to judge too quickly and certainly not from a narrow perspective. The concept will always be different from the reality whether or not common sense is applied.

What is not up for debate anymore is the Ian Hodder question, why did these people bother to come together?

Boncuklu was settled 750 years after Körtik Tepe was abandoned. By the time the settlement at Çatalhöyük was established, the entire network of settlements in the Upper Tigris River Valley Basin were mounds on the horizon. And now we must wonder whether Demirköy, Gusir, Hallan Çemi, Hasankeyf and Körtik Tepe were abandoned for a different reason. So let’s forget if we can the Hodder question about transition for a moment. The people at Körtik Tepe became localised, they did not venture far from the settlement because they had everything they needed, until suddenly after more than one thousand years in the same spot their descendants packed up and left. What did they do? After all that aesthetic and artistic specialisation and after all that knowledge of house-building and herding what happened? Did they go back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle? We cannot know because there is a reality we may never be able to reveal. Just because we have not found settlements that can be dated for the years between Körtik Tepe and Boncuklu in south-central and north-eastern Anatolia does not mean they are not there. The south-eastern settlements around Göbekli Tepe suggest a change in direction, with the emergence of a belief system, a lore sensibility if you like, that placed the well-being of the community before the selfish nature of the individual!

Of course we must also accept the alternative possibility that those with animistic sensibilities and pagan beliefs and a lore that celebrated the quixotic preferred the hunter-gatherer lifestyle because it give no cause for a social hierarchy that would profit from inequality. Göbekli Tepe and the other T-pillar sites are evidence that the people had not lost their civilising skills and talents.

RECIPE — Abdigör Köftesi beef and bulgar meatballs

RECIPE — Aş Çorbasi einkorn soup

RECIPE — Bakliyat broad bean / fava cookery

RECIPE — Balık Pilaki baked fish

RECIPE — Bulgur Pilavi cracked wheat pilaf

RECIPE — Cacık cucumbers with yoghurt

RECIPE — Cevizli İncir Dolması dried / fresh figs stuffed with walnuts

RECIPE — Düğün Pilavi / Riz bi Dfeen bulgur / rice with chickpeas and meat fish soup

RECIPE — Hibeş tahini, cumin and paprika paste

RECIPE — Icli Köfte bulgur meatballs

RECIPE — Kébbeh / Kibbeh crusted spicy lamb-filled ovals

RECIPE — Tarhana Çorbasi tarhana soup

Göbekli Tepe

On 1 July 2018 the World Heritage Committee added a hill in eastern Anatolia to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In her report to announce this event, Eva Götting described the site.

‘On the hill of Göbekli Tepe, stone pillars stand tall against the Anatolian summer sky. People first came here more than 11,000 years ago. These men and women, who lived as hunters and gatherers, achieved a great deal with very little. Without metal tools, the highly skilled artisans of Göbekli Tepe carved the T-shaped pillars from the local limestone. These pillars – some of which were up to 5.5 metres high and weighed several tons – then found their way from the nearby quarry to the site, where the communities incorporated them into round-oval, semi-subterranean stone buildings. Fox, crane, boar, snake and scorpion arise from the light-coloured stone, leaving a vivid testimony of Neolithic art. For thousands of years, the monumental structures were forgotten, covered by a mound of earth and rubble.’

Under the auspices of Klaus Schmidt, who excavated the site from 1995 to 2014, a Turkiye-German collaboration of archaeologists gradually unearthed the secrets of Göbekli Tepe. Archaeologist Lee Clare said the hill site illustrated ‘a significant stage in human history’ especially for ‘our understanding of the Neolithic transition in this key area of the Fertile Crescent’. During those years the team of archaeologists began to understand the significance of the site for its creators and the legacy it would leave. ‘When Klaus Schmidt initiated excavations at Göbekli Tepe in the mid-1990s, there was practically no indication of the significance that this site held for us and future generations.’

These symbolic stones at this remote site near the village of Örencik, 20 kilometres north-east of Şanlıurfa, predate the stones of the pyramids (and the stones of Newgrange and Stonehenge) by 6,000 years and it would appear they have nothing in common. Archaeologists generally agree that the 11,500 year old site and its surrounding stones indicate some kind of belief system coupled to artist expression that celebrated the symbolism of life and death, the possible worship of animals, gods and celestial bodies, and an organised collectivism that became active across the region. There is no evidence of the domestication of animals and the cultivation of einkorn wheat was a pragmatic solution that produced beer as well as bread. There is a suggestion that the tepe was used for communal activity including cereal distribution, death rites, family ceremonies and what has been described as ‘external memorial storage,’ a sanctuary where the dead could rest in peace, safe from scavenging birds and animals. And this is where the conundrum comes into play.

For the time being everything is speculative!

The significance of Göbekli Tepe has been warped into a riddle in recent years. The archaeologists want to ensure it does not become a game for those who like a good puzzle. What the archaeologists do know, from their scans, is that there are around 20 enclosures with 200 megalithic pillars on the tepe, and, until they have a better understanding of these stones and the other stone sites in the region, they want to keep the debate about the symbolic character of the stones in perspective.

Archaeologist Jens Notroff explained. ‘We know little of the beliefs these people might have followed, so it would seem rather bold to denote these monumental pillar-statues as personifications of “deities”. They seem to represent something more, supposedly something beyond the self-referential depiction of human beings. Together with the obviously narrative character of other depictions on these T-pillars which clearly exceed simple decorative purposes, this perception feeds the impression that we are confronted here with a complex iconography – with mythological narrations probably even.’

Animal figures associated with the symbols of the various tribes who frequented the sanctuary are shown in relief on the stones. The boar, bull, crane, duck, fox, lion, scorpion and snake are represented. The large T-shaped pillars feature reliefs of stylised human figures. Klaus Schmidt was also reluctant to associate the artwork with a belief system. He suggested Göbekli Tepe had been built as a ‘sanctuary’ and as a ‘terminus’ where the dead could be safely left in the open. Others had a different idea.

In 2019 Manu Seyfzadeh and Robert Schoch concluded that the T-shaped pillars were symbolically marked to represent a god who guarded the entry to the afterlife for animals and humans. ‘We propose that this theme may have been inspired by real celestial images of the then prevailing night sky, ritually reenacted and celebrated for centuries by hunter-gatherer pilgrims to this hill and then spread by their descendants across Anatolia still influencing language in the region spoken and written thousands of years later.’

It would appear the enclosures or gates of the megalith were astronomically aligned. One enclosure is apparently oriented towards the rising point of the Sun on the day of the harvest festival, a day approximately halfway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.

All this adds to the arguments, opinions, speculations and theories that the hunter-gatherer tribes of eastern Anatolia and upper Mesopotamia around eleven thousand years ago were highly cognitive, spatially conscious of their environment and had developed a form of animism they felt a desire to celebrate with their creativity. As nomads they would have collected geographical, geological and topographical knowledge, much like the birds and animals they hunted. They lived among them and as inhabitants of that world they shared the same traits, symbolic association must have seemed like the natural thing to do.

A network of T-pillar enclosures exists within a 200 kilometre radius of Göbekli Tepe. These were assembled, decorated and erected by trans-egalitarian tribes with skilled workers and they had to be fed. Oliver Dietrich, Jens Notroff and Klaus Schmidt said this was a shift in perspective. ‘Vast evidence for feasting at [each] site seems to hint at work feasts to accomplish the common, religiously motivated task of constructing these enclosures.’

Laura Dietrich, Oliver Dietrich, Julia Heeb and Nils Schäkel collaborated on a paper they titled ‘Plant food management as a prerequisite for monumental building at Göbekli Tepe‘. They also asked a curious question, how many scientists does it take to make a stone speak? It is a trick question so don’t go there, but it is relevant because over 10,000 grinding stones were found at the site and macrobotanical analysis revealed traces of the wild variants of almond, barley, einkorn, emmer and pistachio, as you would expect from this region.

The team also experimented with the different shapes of hand stones for grinding the cereals and nuts, and meat from wild animals and concluded that the different types had specific practical purposes. With our knowledge of the history of traditional food in the region (modern Turkiye, Syria and the Levant), we can tell you that the mortar and pestle method for grinding and pounding ingredients produced numerous iconic foods that are ingrained in those ancient methods and traditions.

One of these is icli köfte, a type of meatball made with a crust from fine ground bulgar, semolina and walnuts with a core of pounded meat, onions and walnuts with various herbs and spices including cumin, dried red pepper flakes, mint, parsley and sumac plus red pepper paste and an ingredient that has been part of Anatolian and Assyrian food culture for a very long time – pomegranate molasses. These portable little packages can be baked in a hearth, boiled in water and fried in oil. It does not require a stretch of the imagination to see the cooks at Göbekli Tepe engaged in the production of this type of food from indigenous ingredients.

In his review of James C. Scott’s Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, Steven Mithen wondered whether the wild einkorn was deliberately cultivated to feed the workers who built the pillars and walls of the sanctuary. ‘If the Neolithic gods could persuade people to invest so much effort in construction, and to suffer the physical injuries, ailments and deaths that came along with it, then perhaps expending those extra calories in the fields would have seemed quite trivial.’

Klaus Schmidt came to the same conclusion. Without a controlled use of the natural resources, the hunter-gatherers would have exhausted the wild plants during the long period of construction. That solution might have been an agreed plan, to collect the seeds of wild plants like almond, barley, einkorn, emmer and pistachio, plant them on the slopes of the mountain and the surrounding ground and harvest the grains and nuts as needed during the months of carting the limestone from nearby quarries and the laborious carving and placing of the stones on the mountain top. Beer apparently crowned the nightly feasts and as anyone with knowledge of beer will tell you, beer made with wheat has a depth of flavour to quench any thirst!

There is no evidence of permanent agriculture, and no suggestion that any temporary cultivation of grains and nuts and seeds in the Urfa region led to a farming revolution. That did not happen until thousands of years later. Göbekli Tepe had a different purpose, and we may never know what it was beyond the obvious, from the symbolic representation on the stones to the symbolic shape of the stones, and from the symbolic location of the stones – high on a hill.

Göbekli Tepe planted an idea in the minds of humans and we may never know why the idea remained dormant for countless generations. We can only guess, that it was resisted because the hunter-gatherer existence was the absolute expression of life, the natural way.

Hittite Cuisine


Ninda (small breads)


As Old As The Hills

Used in Mediterranean cooking as a green unripe or brown ripe ingredient, as a dressed accompaniment or mashed with olive oil or with bacon and pasta, the broad bean is gradually reasserting itself as an essential subsistence food.

The green fava bean, always eaten raw or cooked young, had only one function when allowed to dry in many countries, it was replanted to make the new crop.

Known by the countries of the Mediterranean basin as faba, fava, fave, haba or horse bean, modern recipes call for it to be used dried. In Egypt and in Turkey the dried bean was revered. Left to ripen in the pod and then dried in the sun, the beans took on a deep bronzed brown colour. Reconstituted they were full of flavour, packed with protein.

Broad bean cookery has experienced a renaissance throughout the world with chefs keen to adapt old world recipes. Despite the loss of local varieties through cross-breeding in many countries, the generic bean is still nutritious, full of minerals and vitamins, albeit not as powerful as the domesticated varieties in Anatolia and Syria 12,000 years ago.

Nowadays the broad bean – fresh and dried – is an essential ingredient in numerous dishes around the old world … and in the new world that sent its own nutrition bomb, the common bean, to be cooked and caressed with numerous flavours in the modern world. This, however, is a celebration of an ingredient known to more than the ancient gatherers of Asia. A small seed in its wild state, the broad bean was known in western Asia, central Asia and south-east Asia, where it was domesticated to increase size and yield. The broad bean was also cultivated in Mexico and in Peru. Green they were eaten fresh. Brown they were stored, and became one of first subsistence commodities, rich in amino acids, minerals, proteins and vitamins. In the Mediterranean countries the fava became a food of the ages and endured.

In Italy bacon, gammon, ham, pancetta, prosciutto, belly pork, pork cheek and sausages made with various cuts of the pig compete for the attention of the broad bean – especially when it is fresh. Sautéd onions in olive oil are followed by cubes or strips of pancetta until they are crisp. The fresh beans are coated in the oil, and seasoned with pepper. Several tablespoons of water allow the beans to cook gently until tender, between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the size of the beans. There should be no liquid left in the pan when the beans are done. A pinch of salt finishes the dish.

In France the beans are picked early in the season, boiled until tender, fried with bacon cubes in a little flour and some of the cooking water, and finished with two tablespoons of double cream. Béchamel sauce is often added when bacon is used, flour and milk with pork. The French are also inordinately fond of broad beans puréed as an accompaniment with pork.

The Belgians make a variation of the French method, bringing a 500 g piece of bacon or pork gradually to the boil, making a roux and adding some of the meat stock. They add one clove, one bay leaf, a pinch of thyme to the sauce, combining the meat cut up with the cooked beans, serving with boiled whole new potatoes

In the Balkans the beans are cooked, added to pork crackling, onion, smoked bacon and tomato fried in oil, and baked in a hot oven with chopped garlic, marjoram, parsley and thyme, paprika and pepper.

In Slovenia this recipe takes on a unique flavour with the addition of zaseka, smoked fatty pork belly pieces infused with bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns and salt. They serve their baked broad beans and zaseka sprinkled with sour milk on rye bread, chased by apple cider.

In Italy that most traditional of all beans and pork dishes is still popular. Broad beans and pork cheek, fave al guanciale, features in many a Roman trattoria as an antipasto , served with crusty white bread. This is a seasonal dish, served in the spring when the beans are young. In southern Italy and in Sicily, where the beans continue growing into the summer, it is a main course.

Leaving Pozzallo in south-eastern Sicily for the short trip to Malta will bring us in contact with the spicy broad bean mash known as bigilla. The shadow of the Pharaoh and the mark of the Nile‘s rich harvest will always characterise this timeless Mediterranean dish, bigilla spicy to ful medames piquancy. The latter, it would appear, has existed since the first farmers cultivated these nutrition bombs, continuing the gatherer tradition and ancient culinary methods. A mash of dried broad beans cooked with olive oil, seasoned with spices, wine and garum, the fermented fish sauce, became prominent during the Roman era. It says something to the modern chef, that the ancient versions were designed to complement the flavours.


  • 500 g fava (brown) beans, dried, soaked overnight
  • 60 g garlic, crushed
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 5 g marjoram, finely chopped
  • 5 g mint, finely chopped
  • 2 green / red chillies, chopped / 1 tsp chilli sauce
  • 2 sprigs parsley
  • Salt, large pinch

Boil beans in salted water until soft, drain, add garlic and mash with a wooden spoon. Mix with oil and press through a sieve, add herbs and spices.

Fave al Guanciale

  • 1 kg fresh young beans, blanched in boiling water, chilled
  • 250 g cured pork cheek, sliced
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 50 g olive oil
  • Black Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Water

Fry the onion in the oil until it takes on colour at the edges. Add the pork, coating it in the oil and onion and fry gently for three minutes. Turn the heat down and carefully incorporate the beans. Some chefs like to remove the husks for a sweeter flavour from the beans but it is not necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in enough water to half cover the mixture. Check the tenderness of the beans after ten minutes. They are ready when they are soft to the bite.

Dried fava beans are no substitute for the fresh beans, but you don’t have to visit the shores of the Mediterranean or arrive in Rome in the spring to appreciate this delicacy. Asian stores sell fresh fava and the dried beans are relatively easy to grow.

Tinned broad beans should be avoided. Cooked ham or pork are reliable options but the broad beans must be fresh.

The ratio of beans to bacon should be 2:1, beans to pork to 4:1. Some versions call for both bacon and pork.

Ful Medames

Traditionally made with cumin, garlic and lemon juice, dressed with olive oil and eaten with flatbreads, modern versions include butter, boiled or fried eggs, onions, pastrami, pickled vegetables, tahini and tomatoes.

One of the great ancient foods, ful medames is steeped in Egyptian history. Archaeologists have dated ful medames to the Twelfth Dynasty (4,000 years ago), the Middle Kingdom of Amenemhet I, when this simple bean and bread dish was a stable food of the people of Upper Egypt.

Medames is Coptic for buried, ful for beans, so buried beans. After soaking for 24 hours the beans and sufficient water were placed in a pot that was buried in the hot sand. In later years they were cooked in a special copper pot placed in the dying embers of hot coals.

The variations come from the influences of other food cultures in the region. From Lebanon to the Sudan, embellishments include chilli flakes, cucumbers, curd cheese, olives, red pepper paste and yoghurt.

Fava beans also vary in size, the Egyptian beans are smaller than the varieties in neighbouring countries. In some of these food cultures the beans and their flavourings are served as a dipping sauce.

  • 500 g dried fava beans, soaked overnight
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 150 g onions, chopped
  • 4 lemons, juice
  • 60 g tahini
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
  • Salt, large pinch

Boil the beans until they are soft, and most of the cooking liquid has been reduced. Combine tahini, lemon juice, onion, garlic, cumin and seasonings in a bowl, whisk. Reheat the beans, add tahini mixture, mash lightly. Garnish with tomatoes, olive oil and parsley.

Broad Bean Cookery

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