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It is clear that Ottoman cuisine was unified and refined in imperial Istanbul, but the ultimate origins of many of its component parts are probably Persian as is attested by the large quantity of Persian loan words in Ottoman Turkish for culinary terminology. Yet according to Bert Fragner:
It is a matter of mere speculation whether the origins of this imperial culinary legacy are to be traced back to Greek antiquity, the Byzantine heritage, or the Turkish and Arab nations, not forgetting Phoenician traditions; nowadays you may find support for any of these claims in various countries in the Balkans and the Near East.
Near Eastern specialist Maxime Rodinson notes as a rule of thumb that:
[D]espite everything, Latin Europe on the one side and Islam and the Byzantine Empire on the other were heirs of the civilizations of antiquity. Muslim culture, after all, developed from a base of eastern Hellenism. Thus, when we see a general similarity between dishes served in both East and West we need to show that they do not have a common, parallel origin in Graeco-Roman cooking before we adduce any oriental influence.
Needless to say, determining the antiquity of a dish, which ones were widespread due to their presence in Hellenistic, Roman or Eastern Roman (Byzantine) times, and which became widespread later, within the roughly coextensive Ottoman empire, can be difficult. The food historian, Iranologist and Ottomanologist Bert Fragner emphasizes the importance of New World foodstuffs in particular in defining sui generis Ottoman cuisine, as it adopted them more rapidly than France, Italy, and northern Europe.
As with the earlier Byzantine cuisine, the center of Ottoman cuisine was in Constantinople (Istanbul), the capital, where the imperial courts and the metropolitan elites had established a refined culinary tradition bringing together elements of regional cuisines from across the empires:
...despite the disintegration of the Ottoman political empire, we can still see the survival of a large region which could be called the Ottoman culinary empire. The Balkans, Greece, Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent... are common heirs to what was once the Ottoman life-style, and their cuisines offer treacherous circumstantial evidence of this fact. Of course, they represent at the same time a good deal of local or regional culinary traditions. Besides, one should not forget that it is typical of any great cuisine in the world to be based on local varieties and on mutual exchange and enrichment among them, but at the same time to be homogenized and harmonized by a metropolitan tradition of refined taste.
This diverse cuisine was amalgamated and honed in the Imperial Palace's kitchens by chefs brought from certain parts of the empire to create and experiment with different ingredients. These chefs were tested and hired by their method of cooking rice, a simple dish. They were brought over from various places for the express purpose of experimenting with exotic textures and ingredients and inventing new dishes.
Each cook specialized in specific tasks. All dishes intended for the sultan were first passed by the palate of the Chesnidjibashi, or imperial food taster, who tested the food for both poison and taste. The creations of the Ottoman palace's kitchens also filtered to the common population, for instance through Ramadan events, and through the cooking at the yalis of the pashas, and from there on to the people at large.
Some of the more extravagant dishes remained as palace specialities and have had only limited diffusion:
The traditions of Ottoman cuisine continue in Albanian cuisine, Algerian cuisine, Bosnian cuisine, Turkish cuisine, Serbian cuisine, Bulgarian cuisine, Greek cuisine, Azerbaijani cuisine, Iranian cuisine, Armenian cuisine, Georgian cuisine, Ukrainian cuisine, Cypriot cuisine, Sephardi cuisine, Romanian cuisine and Middle Eastern cuisine