I’ve seen lots of travel shows on Turkey lately, with people raving about the food. I am sure there is more to Turkish food than falafel, hummus and baklava. What are some other less common Turkish dishes that you could suggest?Are there some that are particularly suited to cold winters?
Thanks, Laura A.
Turkish food is incredibly interesting, and as the country straddles both Central Asia and Europe, the influences found in Turkish cuisine are broad and varied. The Ottoman empire is still considered to have been one of the most powerful and far reaching states in modern history, replacing the Byzantine Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean. It encompassed countries from the Balkans and Hungary, stopping at the gates of Vienna (where the crescent-shaped croissant was allegedly created in honour of the defeat of the Turks at this time). It ran around the north, east and southern Mediterranean, across the top of Africa, and included Greece, Egypt, Palestine, parts of Arabia and several others.
And it is because of this all-encompassing reach that the food there is phenomenal. I’ve been consulting to two restaurants in Istanbul for more than 12 years now, so I have managed to eat my way through a fair share of dishes. I have to say it’s very rare that I haven’t enjoyed something. I remember a fabulous meal of a whole sea bass poached in a kettle (just like a salmon kettle) with a broth flavoured with currants, wild herbs and dried mushrooms. It was superb. The dessert that followed was a simple dish of grilled tahini and walnuts which we ate with apples.
I’ve also eaten the most fabulous tripe soups. I discovered the best hangover cure is to eat the grilled ox tongue and cheese sandwiches they sell near Taksim Square and wash it down with slightly fermented sour turnip and beetroot juice.
Friends in Turkey all seem to know how to cook. One memorable meal I watched them make was Cig Kofte — which resembled a rugby ball of meat. It was in fact made by kneading, for around 30 minutes, chopped raw beef mixed with bulgur wheat and dried urfa chilli flakes. Apparently it was invented in the city of Urfa during the time of the prophet Ibrahim. Urfa chillies are a deep dark purple colour and have the most delicious taste. As my friend kneaded and kneaded it he explained that the meat must be the best quality as it will be eaten raw — just like a steak tartare. You can add diced shallots and parsley if you want. Once it was finished it really did look like a purple rugby ball. To be honest it was a little heavy going with all the wheat pounded into it, but it was fab.
As to dishes suited to cold weather, you need to realise that because it’s such a large country, it straddles scorching hot beaches through to snow-capped freezing mountains, so the food ranges from summery salads through to the most delicious game stews and grilled meats. Flavours can be simple, but the Ottoman legacy is the use of spice and dried fruits in savoury dishes. So you might be surprised to bite into a chunk of clove-tasting quince in a beef stew, or pistachios sprinkled over a lamb kebap. There’s a lot to discover, and very little to disappoint. Best bet is for you to buy a cookbook and experiment.
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