I’ve read several times that Turkish food is one of the three great cuisines in the world, along with French and Chinese. It’s rather a vague claim, and surely quite difficult to substantiate. But it came back to me as I investigated before we went, and realised what a rich and varied cuisine it is, and how little I knew about it (especially compared to French or Chinese food). There were, of course, a few things I’d come across before, such as lahmacun, stuffed vine leaves and köfte. There were other things that were similar to familiar dishes (patlıcan salatası, for example, is the baba ganoush type thing). But there were a hell of a lot of really common foods and drinks that I’d never really come across before. Having done my research, it meant I could get organised enough to try as many of them as humanly possible. And I still didn’t manage to tick everything off my list. I need to go back just to try the mantı, for a start.
I think it’s generally well known that Turkish cuisine has a lot of aubergine dishes. It definitely seems like they’ve been practising, because the aubergine dishes we had were all spectacular. In almost every case they outshone everything else on the table. By the end of our holiday, the first thing we did on picking up the menu was find the aubergine things and order all of them. We had a lot of baba ganoush / puree type things and various aubergine dishes with onions and tomatoes. Neither of these sound particularly exciting but the Turkish do something amazing to the simple aubergine, rendering them smokey and flavoursome. I’m still dreaming of an İmambayıldı we had at our hotel on the Turquoise coast - and will blog immediately if I manage to recreate it.
3 Istanbul Eats
Read the blog, buy the book, go on the tour. We did all three. And I can’t recommend any of them enough. I’m aiming to come back to the tour in a later post, so let’s just say it was fantastic. The book became our guide around the city, providing quality recommendations for wherever we were, and also encouraging us to explore new areas in the search of good food. I think our impression of Istanbul as the ultimate culinary paradise is a direct result of having that book stuffed in our rucksack.
Generally I’m a pretty squeamish eater. I don’t really like offal, or eels, or snails, or any of that sort of thing. But in Turkey I developed so much faith in their cooking ability that I tried both kokereç (sheeps’ intestines) and tavuk göğsü (a milky pudding made with chicken breast). And I was pretty pleased with myself, I can tell you. I can’t say I really liked the kokereç, though Mr ‘Splorer was a big fan. The chicken pudding, however, was surprisingly nice. Mainly because it didn’t taste like chicken!
|Turkish coffee and tea|
I drink tea. Mr ‘Splorer drinks coffee. On most holidays, that means that only one of us can get a decent hot drink. And it’s normally him. Turkey, however, covers both our needs extremely well. For him, thick, dark Turkish coffee (top tip: let it settle for a bit before drinking it - I’m informed that you have to wait for the grounds to sink to the bottom.). For me, black tea served in little glasses everywhere from restaurants to parks. I also loved ayran, a drink of thinned, salted yogurt. A lot nicer than it sounds, and perfect with a plate of köfte. And of course, there’s rakı, I’m not that keen on aniseedy drinks myself, but a cloudy glass of rakı and water is apparently the thing to have with your meze.
Years of light-packing indoctrination for Ryanair flights suddenly come in handy when you’re flying home with a proper airline. We picked up some spices from the stalls outside the Spice Market, from a man who, the moment my back was turned, attempted to sell Mr 'Splorer some ‘Turkish viagra’, complete with a well endowed little doll to illustrate the effects! He resisted this tempting offer, and we restricted ourselves to kırmızı biber (red pepper flakes), kırmızı biber salçası (red pepper paste), sumac, saffron and a mysterious but rather delicious spice mix. We also stuffed the suitcase with enormous quantities of chewy pistachio Turkish delight (from the place recommended by Istanbul Eats, of course!).