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Lebanese Vs Greek Vs Turkish

  • h

The three cuisines seem awfully similar. Is it only the names that differ?

I'm third generation Turkish, proud of my heritage (I'm the only Ottoman on my block!), but am embarrassed to say that I don't know too much of the culinary history.

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  1. I can kind of speak to the Lebanese vs. Greek issue. My mom is Lebanese and we ate a lot of the cuisine growing up.

    For me, I think the two cuisines are similar, but ours is not as heavy. All the greek Dolmas I've had (stuffed grape leaves) have been soaking in olive oil. Ours have ground lamb or beef in them and are not swimming in oil. In fact, the last time I made them, I used no olive oil at all. Our version of baklava uses sugar water and not honey, and we use less of it.

    There are a lot of similarities in yogurts, olives, etc, but I prefer the lebanese versions of almost all greek fare. It tastes cleaner and lighter to me. Of course I am very biased, and I'll admit that, but I have yet to have a greek meal that hasn't seem ridiculously heavy.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Chris in VA

      I think most of the stuffed grape leaves that you get at Greek restaurants in the US come out of a can--and are packed in olive oil... Are freshly made greek stuffed grape leaves also served in oil?

      1. re: butterfly

        The 2 times I've had the "home made" dolmas at two separate greek restaurants in this area, they were coated in the stuff.

        So in those two cases, yes they were in oil. The greek guy downstairs who runs our cafeteria goes with the cheaper is better mindset and I've seen those #10 cans of dolmas sitting around.

        And my observations are solely based on NJ/NY and DC/VA greek restaurants, and DC and my own home Lebanese. Don't know how much it differs around the country, or long time greek US residents.

        1. re: butterfly

          When i make them at home (the recipe was given to me by my greek grandmother) they are not swimming in olive oil, just enough.

          1. re: MV

            Mmm... swimming in olive oil--that actually sounds good. What can I say, I live in Spain and they've indoctrinated me.

            Would you mind sharing your grandmother's recipe?

            1. re: butterfly

              The exact recipe is at home, i will try to find it when i get home from work.

              1. re: butterfly

                Vegetarian dolmades with only rice, no meat, need the olive oil for human survival. No fat, no life. No meat, use olive oil. Consult doctor, get info. Some good, some bad. Depends on the individual cuisine.

                1. re: Pavlos

                  An Armenian version from a grocery I frequent, tho i have seen similar variationsin other Armenian groceries, is totally different from the greek. It's meatless, but stuffed with chickpeas, pinenuts, some tomato, and sometimes raisin... A piquant combination that I've always considered Armenian-style, and meat-eaters seem to love...Very *little* oil....

                  Link: http://www.bistrodraw.com/Furniture.htm

                  1. re: galleygirl

                    The Sevan bakery is owned by Armenians from Turkey. Their grape leaves are unique - you can really taste the fresh lemon juice. They are my favorites.

                    1. re: Taralli

                      Have you had their veggie ones? They are the ones of which I speak. The dear, departed Homesy's made a similar version.

                      Link: http://www.bistrodraw.com/Furniture.htm

                      1. re: galleygirl

                        Yes, love the veggie ones & am almost never without a small supply. 1st had them when an old SO's mother used to make them.

                2. re: butterfly

                  I'm with you, pour it on. I like honey too.

              2. re: butterfly

                NOO! this is a common mistake.
                The ones in a tin are smothered in olive oil. But freshly made they are not served in oil and are infact dry.
                They are commonly known as Dolmas or koubedia .

              3. re: Chris in VA

                I agree with you. But of course, I'm biased as well b/c my mother's family is Lebanese. The dolmas I've had have usually been covered in agavolemno sauce. I also find Greek cuisine has more of a european mediterannean influence using more tomatoes and oregano.

                Also, Lebanese cuisine uses a lot more lemon and yogurt in things to make them sour. I think both use about the same about of garlic.

                Turkish cuisine I've only had once. To be honest and it was probably the cook, I found it blander than Greek or Lebanese cuisine. I am eternally grateful to the Turks though for meat on a stick. I love nothing more than a beef kebab that I take and put a piece in some Syrian bread, add some raw onion and a tomato piece or pepper piece that was in olive oil and vinegar and maybe some yogurt and chow down.

              4. Greece being based in Europe obviously has more european influences in their food, Turkey and Lebanon having more middle eastern.
                Greek cuisine employs the use of bechemel sauces and I would say is more cheese oriented than the other two.
                Also you have to remember that Greece was controlled by the Ottoman Turks for over 400 years, so obivoulsy the culinary traditions flowed from one side to another.

                4 Replies
                1. re: MV

                  Ah, so the Turks invented the cuisine? Sweet (though I like Greek and Lebanese food, too!)!

                  Thanks everyone for the great info!

                  1. re: Hafez C.

                    I wouldnt say that they invented it so much as had a strong influence. The ideas also flowed both ways as well.

                    1. re: Hafez C.

                      Greek cuisine existed thousands of years before turkey existed :P
                      therefore its the other way round :)

                      1. re: Hafez C.

                        I recommend you to travel to any part of Turkey where there is no such thing called Lebanese kitchen and you will find out that the dıshes you found ın Turkey you wont see it in Greece or any part of arabian cuisine

                    2. Lebanese has a limited number of meat and fish dishes that are common - you could say more natural meat and fish dishes. a lot of intersting salads and side dishes and starters.

                      greek has, like others have said, some european influence, cheese and milk products, less seasonings, maybe. more seafood than either lebanese or turkish

                      turkish has an endless list of types of kababs, roasted meats, often ground and mixed with other materials - pistashios, herbs, cheese, vegetables, 2 different types of meats, or accompanied by complex sauces. traditional turkish food, in a good place, can blow your mind.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: zach

                        the fish dishes and the zeytinyagli alone in Turkey are amazing.
                        And every region has its own styles.

                        Plus you have the classic osmanli cuisine. And the same dishes will be different - imam bayildi isn't quite the same as Greek melitzanes imam or Lebanese sheikh el-mekhshi.

                        1. re: Jerome

                          And the huge variety of pilafs with rice and bulgur wheat, short and long grain rice - not as many as the Persian kitchen perhaps but seriously

                          Also, I don't think the greeks or lebanese have a soup like iskembe, or the variety of muhallab sweets like the one made with chicken breast, Tavuk Göðsü (the third character, in case it doesn't come out is a g with a v atop it)

                      2. Having grown up with a Greek nanny, dated a Lebanese restauranteur, and now dating a Turkish gourmand, I can attest that the three cuisines are very similar.

                        I would agree with a previous poster that Greek food tends to be heavy on the oregano. I also find that the Greek style of eating is heavy on the starches. It's not uncommon to have beans, rice, potatoes, and bread all on the table at the same time. Greeks also have a great love affair with seafood, not surprisingly, given their geography. Greeks also really know how to make some lovely slow cooked stews.

                        Turkey, being at such a geographically central location (at a cross roads for Asia, Middle East, and Europe), has a much more varied cuisine than Lebanon or Greece. In Istanbul and along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts in general, you'll find that the food and style of eating is more similar to that of the Greeks (lots of seafood, lots of veggies and starches). Dominant flavours are lemon and tomato.

                        In the east and northeast of Turkey, some of their food resembles that of the eastern european nations (starchy foods like dumplings, lots of soups, and meat and cheeses). The flavours tend to be 'cleaner' in that they use fewer herbs and spices than in other parts of the country.

                        In the southeast of the country, you get food that uses some rich and flavourful spices (influence from Persians and other Middle Eastern/North African cuisines). Kebabs and roasted meats in general, are often flavoured with chili flakes, lots of cumin, and sumac (which is not used often in other parts of the country).

                        Lebanon, takes much of their culinary influences from the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. However, you can also see some French influences in their pastries, since France did colonize them for the first half of the 20th century. Lebanese food tends to be more heavy handed on the garlic than Turkish or Greek food, and as the previous poster mentioned, they love sour -- they love to add sumac to just about everything for some tang. Lebanese cuisine also tends to use more sweet/savoury combinations than the Turkish or Greeks (adding pomegranate molasses to some meat marinades, for example). Lebanese tend to also use rose water more frequently than the Greeks or Turks.

                        So I don't know whether or not I answered any of your questions. You are right that the three cuisines are very similar. It's not simply a matter of names, but also the methods and ingredients used to achieve those flavours that differs.

                        1. If you haven't had Turkish midya tava with tarator sauce or ekmek kadayif with kaimak, you haven't lived.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Taralli

                            midya must be musles, tava the pot, in which they are cooked.

                            ekmek kadayif i know, kaimak i know also, but perhaps not in the context you suggest. please explain. also, sorry if i am mistaken in anything as well. thanks.

                          2. ok...they are similar right..but I have heard that the Ottoman cuisine was the background of these all cuisines...
                            since it was a big empire and nearly all the middle-eastern and balkans were belong to them..
                            so that's what I thought

                            1. To start with, much of the similarity you'll find in these cuisines in the United States is a product of history. The most common Greek foods in the US are not especially common in the territory currently defined as Greece.
                              When Ataturk led the Turkish nationalism movement in rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, one of his goals was the expulsion of non-Turks from Anatolia (though many argue that he supported only peaceful means of accomplishing this, not the ethnic cleansing that ensued). At the time of World War I, the Aegean coast of Anatolia was heavily Greek, particularly around the city of Smyrna.
                              The first and largest wave of Greek immigration to the United States was composed of Greek refugees from Anatolia. The major similarities found in the United States between food in Greek restaurants and food in Turkish restaurants is largely a product of the fact that it is Anatolian Greek food. As Anatolian Greeks lived side by side with the Turks for close to a thousand years, their cuisines have much stronger similarities than Turkish food does to that of the Greek islands (Dodecanesian Greeks), Cypriot Greeks, Cretan Greeks, Ionian Greeks, Greeks of the mainland coast, urban Greeks, or Greeks of the mainland mountains.
                              Lebanese food belongs to the larger food culture of the Levant. Both Anatolian (whether Turkish or Anatolian Greek) and Levantine food are, at their roots, Persian. These regions were ruled off and on by the various Persian Empires for thousands of years. Mainland Greece famously never was, and the Aegean Islands were only briefly a part of this culture, and the cooking style has never taken a strong hold in these places. Cypriot cuisine is also a part of the Levantine food culture, though it is much closer to Lebanese than to Turkish.
                              One of the major factors that distinguishes Greek cuisine from that of the Levant is religion. Greece is one of the most culturally Christian nations, Turkey is technically secular but still strongly Muslim, and Lebanon is split between these two religions with a small Jewish population. This means Greeks eat pork and drink wine, where Turks do not. A number of Lebanese Christian denominations hold to Kosher laws, as the churches trace back to Jewish populations rather than the pagans and Hellenized Jews the Greek Church was founded by. The Christian population of Lebanon has also long lived side by side with Jews and Muslims, so pork is eaten in Lebanon, but not nearly to the extent that it is in Greece.
                              Everyone associates lamb with Greek cuisine, but in Greece proper it is mainly eaten at festivals and on holidays. Gyros, for instance, are usually pork or chicken in Greece itself. Among Anatalian Greeks, however, who lived among Muslims, lamb was more common. Hence, in the US, we think authentic gyros are lamb. As with most island cultures, the people of the Greek islands eat more seafood and pork than they do any other meat. On the mainland, chicken and pork are very common. Legumes are not nearly as much a part of the Greek diet as they are of either the Turkish or Lebanese diets.
                              What we know as Greek food in the US is also urban fast food in Greece. Gyros aren't common outside of cities, and aren't found in sit down restaurants. The cuisine outside cities has a lot loss in common with Turkish food. I'd say it is closer to Spanish food. It is definitely more in the family of cuisines formed by the Greco-Roman Empires than by the Persian-Ottoman Empires.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: danieljdwyer

                                Interesting insights and many half-facts. First of all, as a historian and a Turkish resident I must say that the notion of the Persian roots is very wrong. While there is some influence of Persian culture to the cultures of Anatolia, Persian rulers only ruled for around 300 years, during the Achaemenid Empire. Turks as such only came to Anatolia in the 10th century, both Seljuk and later Ottoman, and they brought with them eating traditions that are a little different than the ones the indigenous cultures had.

                                Modern Turkish cuisine is mainly influenced by its Ottoman heritage, and depending on the region in some places local traditions are really strong.
                                I live in the western part of the country and while dishes seem similar (esp. desserts) there are quite a few differences between Greek and Turkish food. It is evident even in the ways of preparing and serving the fish (maybe I am more sensitive to it coming from another Mediterranean country) in Kusadasi and the nearby Greek island of Samos.

                                Turks don't consume seafood that much, besides fish and mussels, and occasional fried calamari. Shrimp dishes are a rare treat for those who can afford it, but to my utter shock most people here find seafood disgusting, especially octopus, crabs etc.

                                Turks use a lot more butter and dairy in general. Greek food is lighter, heavier on typical Mediterranean spices, basil, oregano, rosemary. Turks prefer sumac, isot, aci biber and other kinds of pepper, and they love the sheep tail fat.
                                Turkish soups are mostly roux based and much heavier than traditional Greek soups I had.

                                Lebanese cuisine on the other hand feels fresher and lighter than Turkish, aromas are more clearly pronounced.
                                For example, kisir and tabbouleh, both bulgur dishes, illustrate this very nicely. Turkish version is loaded with tomato and pepper paste that mask other ingredients, and there is no that refreshing zing you get with your lebanese tabbouleh.
                                But of course, any kind of generalization is an oversimplification to say the least.

                                Personally, I can't believe that Turks don't have their own version of falafel, since many Turkish dishes have an equivalent in Levantine cuisine.

                                I feel blessed to live in this part of the world where I have an easy access to all three cuisines. I'd personally choose Greek for seafood and meat, Lebanese for vegetarian dishes and salads, Turkish for desserts and mezze, as well as soft cheeses and olives.

                                1. re: Dalmina

                                  No disagreement - but I think that for someone in the US, a good way to think about the differences abstractly would be to think of variations of BBQ across different regions in the US. There are definitely some distinct differences, but more so it's different variations on a theme.

                                  The primary ingredients are available in all fo the places (with the religious distinction in regards to pigs, and some geographic in that Greece has far more coast line/seafood influence), but how they're used and the balances of flavors achieves is different.

                              2. Lebanese stuffed grape leaves (ye'breh) are traditionally stuffed with lamb, rice and spices. Greek and Turkish Dolmades have no meat.
                                You won't fine kibbe nayeh (raw lamb tartare with spices) on a Greek or Turkish menu.
                                you will find tomato sauce on several Turkish dishes but rarely on Lebanese or Greek.
                                Hummus and babaganough are quite similar.
                                Turkish and Greek pita bread is thicker and not two layered like the Lebanese pita.

                                35 Replies
                                1. re: Motosport

                                  You won't find kibbeh nayeh on a Turkish menu, but you might find Çiğ Köfte, which is a similar raw meat and bulgur paste with heavier seasonings. You will also find that some Turks stuff their dolmades with lamb; I would not be surprised if the tradition spread to the Levant via the Ottomans.

                                  1. re: Motosport

                                    "Greek and Turkish Dolmades have no meat."

                                    I'm sorry, but where did you get your info?

                                    Both my parents were from two different Greek islands and both made ONLY meat and rice stuffed Dolmades. Various kinds and BOTH had a variation with tomatoes (kinda like a light tomato broth/sauce).

                                    Rice only dolmades were never made or served in my home and found only in diners and cheap souvlaki type places.

                                    As danieljdwyer states below, "What we know as Greek food in the US is also urban fast food in Greece. Gyros aren't common outside of cities, and aren't found in sit down restaurants. The cuisine outside cities has a lot loss in common with Turkish food."
                                    And that is explained nicely in the first part of the post.

                                    1. re: Gastronomos

                                      I have never been to a Greek restaurant that served Dolmades with meat. As stated above; they always tasted like the ones from the big can.
                                      From your info Dolmades made in a Greek home could be made with meat.

                                      1. re: Motosport

                                        I've had meat filled dolomades in greek restaurants quite often.

                                        1. re: carolinadawg

                                          ......but are meat filled Dolmades in restaurants the norm?? Not in my NYC metropolitan area experience.

                                          1. re: Motosport

                                            I couldn't say, but they are the only kind i've ever had, which would seemingly disprove the statement "Greek...Dolmades have no meat."

                                            1. re: carolinadawg

                                              That has been my experience in my little place on earth. Mea culpa!! I'll fall on a shish kebab skewer when I get home to atone for my error.

                                                1. re: carolinadawg

                                                  FYI: I Googled Greek restaurants in Manhattan and checked the menus of 20 different places. Every menu had "Dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs" not a morsel of lamb to be found.

                                                  1. re: Motosport

                                                    Thats great. Must be a NYC thing. I was only relating my experience. Why you chose to personalize it and take offense is beyond me. Have a great day!

                                                    1. re: carolinadawg

                                                      No offense taken. Just thought I was going bonkers!! Chowhound is great fun!!

                                            2. re: Motosport

                                              Motosport... it's not you... it's the NYC area that has no real Greek Restaurants. At least not anymore. I'll get all sorts of posts about this fact telling me that a simple grilled fish defines Greek cuisine or the local diner Greek salad is true Greek with that one slice of mealy tomato and a dolma from a can... some will post all sorts of shills claiming "try ____out!, the fried calamari is to DIE for!", and, "I ordered the branzino... I think it came with a squeeze of lemon and some oregano I think.. "

                                              Nothing about these places makes it worth a special trip, but IF you are in LIC or Astoria, do try Aliada for a Cypriot Greek meat and rice stuffed dolmades (aka: koupepia in regional dialect) and to Stamatis for old school steam table fare of the kind you cannot find outside of NYC. (and stick strictly to the steam table, besides ordering a 'horiatiki with lettuce', order only what you see and like, do NOT take a look at a menu)

                                              2919 Broadway
                                              Astoria, NY 11106

                                              29-09 23rd Ave
                                              Astoria, NY 11105

                                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                                OMG, I thought it was me!! I even called my therapist and made an appointment. I'll check out those places in Astoria. Many thanks.
                                                In Manhattan or Brooklyn I stick with my favorite Syrian/Lebanese restaurants.

                                                1. re: Motosport

                                                  in Brooklyn you should. the Greek fare there is nothing but to avoid. and you are half Syrian, no?

                                                  1. re: Gastronomos

                                                    My jidah (grandfather) was Syrian. He had a Syrian grocery store on Atlantic Ave back in the 50's. It's a Laundromat now. Go figure?
                                                    Went to Tripoli for lunch Saturday. It's a funky place but I love their food. Realized that I've been a patron for 40 years.

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              anybody who tries to tell me that "this is THE (authentic) Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, etc" I ask "yeah which island, region, side of the mountain?" like I know it well enough to discern between all the small variations between villages, families and kitchens.

                                              1. re: hill food

                                                I like northern Italian cuisine with all the rice dishes and plenty of chunky red sauce. Southern Italian cuisine is too heavy with lots of butter and cream and lard. I define Italian cuisine with spaghetti and meatballs as big as softballs and a huge plate of veal parmagian with lots of melted mozzeralla and a side of spaghetti. A sprinkle of Kraft cheese in a cardboard cylinder.
                                                Then again, I'm not italian....

                                              2. re: linguafood

                                                I have to apply for a new passport so I may visit Astoria.

                                              3. re: Motosport

                                                Pretty sure I've ordered meat dolmades at Molyvos on 7th, and they're on the menu at Pylos (edit: realized some of us had discussed meat dolmades in the 2012 Dolmades thread on this board). They're usually served warm w avgolemono sauce. In my experience, vegetarian dolmades are often served cold, as a meze or first course, whereas meat dolmades tend to be a warm main course.Meat dolmades are more likely to be found at moderate to upscale Greek restaurants, (some Greek restaurants offer cold house-made vegetarian dolmades, as well as warm meat dolmades) whereas the canned rice dolmades are more common at greasy spoons or cheaper Greek restaurants. Dolmades are my favourite comfort food, so I seek out quality meat and vegetarian versions, but I don't like the canned, oily, only rice type, which seem to be common in Manhattan.

                                                1. re: prima

                                                  We had fab warm dolmadakia with lemon sauce (and meat filling) a couple nights ago at one of our favorite Greek restos in Berlin. 'twas delish.

                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                    Sounds delish. I hope you're enjoying all your meals in Berlin. Wish I was there. I might make some dolmades in a few weeks, once the grape vine has grown enough leaves.

                                                    1. re: prima

                                                      Well, that takes it to another level -- your own leaves!

                                                      My man and I sometimes make the meatless dolmades for larger gatherings (cuz let's admit: they're a bit of a PITA to make), although these are from an Armenian recipe. Really nice -- lots of onion, little mint, little basil, oregano, parsley, dill, lemon juice.

                                                      Polì orea.

                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                        Sounds good. I've never tried Armenian grapeleaves, as of yet. Might have to try making them this summer, since there aren't too many Armenian restaurants where I live. My filling for vegetarian grapeleaves is pretty much the same filling I use for stuffed vegetables: http://phoenikia.wordpress.com/2010/1...

                                                        1. re: prima

                                                          You add eggplant and tomatoes to your dolma filling? I love both, but have never encountered that variety. Maybe a secret prima special? :-)

                                                          1. re: linguafood

                                                            Yep, a secret prima special. I tend to use the kitchen sink approach to filling leaves and vegetables. I've edited the above reply a bit, as I haven't added eggplantinnards to my stuffed grapeleaves, but I have added everything else listed in the recipe. The eggplant innards would be a by-product of hollowing out the eggplants for the yemista.

                                                            Some recipes from Crete and Rhodes use bulgar instead of rice, which I might try this summer, as I'm trying to eat more gluten.

                                                      2. re: prima

                                                        Prima, your post got me thinking. We have a muscadine vine growing in the back yard. I found a recipe for dolmades made with muscadine leaves. Hmmm...

                                                        Gastronomos, care to weigh in?

                                                        1. re: thingmaker

                                                          young and tender, as they start to grow in the spring, they do well. If getting darker green in colour, blanch and freeze, even if only overnight.

                                                          1. re: Gastronomos

                                                            We picked grape leaves with my grandmother. She always told us to pick the ones that were on the inside and shielded from direct sunlight. Very tender!

                                                    2. re: prima

                                                      Kopiaste Taverna in Astoria has them and they are in a light tomato broth / sauce. REALLY delicious! There are other Greek places in Astoria and LIC that serve them and nothing like the NYC diners that have a slice of pale mealy tomato and a single canned dolma with cheap domestic "feta" over iceberg lettuce.

                                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                                        Sounds good. I'm hoping to do an Astoria food crawl next time I'm in NYC for a few days. I haven't been to Astoria in a very long time.:)

                                                        1. re: prima

                                                          Please post about your trip as there are MANY crap "Greek" places in NYC that cater to tourists and non-Greeks only....

                                                2. re: Motosport

                                                  Greek dolamdes always have meat everywhere I've been. When I make them for my veggie friends I make them with rice,currants and pine nuts. My meat ones usually have pork or beef and rice and touch of dill.

                                                  Ive tried using my own grape leaves and would suggest brining them before you use them.

                                                  1. re: daislander

                                                    I've made them with ground lamb, beef and turkey. I prefer lamb but it's hard to get here. Turkey is my second choice. Beef is good but overpowering. Never tried pork.

                                                3. My parents are Turkish from Northern Cyprus and we only ever ate dolma with rice and ground lamb or beef..the dolma without meat is called yalanci dolma (lying dolma - because of the lack of meat).

                                                  1. I suppose the answer to the question posed in the OP is "yes and no".

                                                    All three countries are in the eastern Mediterranean, sharing similar climates. As such, there's a similarity of produce grown and livestock raised. It should come as no surprise that there are, therefore, similarities in the cuisines - and, indeed, the cuisines of other nations in the same area (for example, Syria, Israel, Cyprus, Palestine).

                                                    It would be odd if it was not the case. You will find similar examples in other parts of the world - such as my own - in northern Europe, you'll find similar uses of produce, similar flavours whether you are in Ireland, Britain, Netherlands or the Scandanavian countries.

                                                    But, equally, there are differences. Different emphasis on particular flavours. Cultural differences leading to different uses/exclusions of food. Etc.

                                                    1. I tried a Lebannese 'spanikopeta' and they used sumac which was nice. Sumac tastes sort of lemony so of course would go well with spinach.