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Everything posted by sazji

  1. A bunch of comments on Turkish food and its neighboring cuisines. First, the borders of countries in this part of the world say very little about "national cuisines." Many of the modern borders in the Middle East tell more about English colonialism than ethnicities. Remember that many of the countries we are talking about here were all part of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years, which both influenced and was influenced by the many peoples under its control. The capitol, Istanbul, nee Constantinople, had Turkish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish populations, in addition to many others from around the Empire. There were also large numbers of Turks in what is today Greece. Greek food was also changed significantly in the last century, especially by a cookbook writer named Tselemendes. He was of the opinion that Greek food needed lightening up, and dressing up. He was the one who added the bechamel sauce to mousakka for example. Here, musakka is just sort of a thrown together thing out of the same ingredients. Bulgar was once popular in N. Greece as it was in Turkey, but it is now associated with the war and almost never eaten. One Greek writer voiced the opinion that many dishes in Istanbul are actually more "authentic" than many forms thought of as quintesentially Greek today. Another thing about Turkish food is regionality. Turkey is a *big* place, with many different geographic/climatic regions. What people generally think of as "Turkish cuisine" is generally that of Istanbul. It's not far from the Aegean, near very old olive-growing regions. So it's logical that they should have lots of fish cookery and the whole spectrum of "olive oil" dishes (zeytinyaglilar) that are eaten cold. These are all found in Greece as well in various combinations. But once you go inland, olive oil pretty much disappears from traditional cooking; the favored fats being butter and rendered fat of the fat-tailed sheep (kuyruk yagi). The food of Antep is like a combination of Anatolian food and Syrian/Lebanese cooking, with a hint of Istanbul thrown in... The Black Sea is another matter altogether, won't even go there now! What is not found in Greece is the immense variety of kebabs, as well as the many different milk sweets. Where as in Greece you find souvlaki, gyros/doner, and various keftedes (köfte here), in Turkey you also find many regional takes, kebab with pistchios, with eggplant, the list goes on and on. The kebab cuisine is generally considered to be a specialty of the southeast -- (Gazi)Antep especially -- but it's popular around the country. The best baklava is associated with Antep as well. Again, it makes sense that the Turks, who were until fairly recently in some areas nomadic and involved in animal husbandry, should develop lots of ways of cooking meat and milk. People from the east especially are as choosy about lamb as people in France are about cheese; they won't eat lamb raised in western Turkey but go to special markets where lamb from places like Agri and Siirt are sold. Raki -- Hard to say where people started fermenting and distilling alcohol but Greece seems to be the westernmost point of distribution for the anise hooch, so I'd reckon the anise idea came from the east. (Okay, there are sweet anise liqueurs like Sambuca but I'm not counting those.) Ouzo is a bit funny, it's more of a "recipe," mixed from alcohol and some sugar and anise. Raki of Turkey is closer to an anise-flavored grappa. Greece also has many of these, both with and without anise, with a variety of names, including raki, tsipouro, souma among others; they continue right up through the Balkans as rakija, slivovice, and in other areas are called grappa and schnapps. There are also un-anised ones made in Turkey but illegally: until a year or so ago, the entire alcohol industry was a state monopoly and there were only four brands of raki - Yeni Raki, Klüp, Tekirdag and Altinbas. Now many more are coming onto the market, and I'm hoping we'll see some of the interesting local ones, especially the fig raki they make in Mersin. It has a wonderful aroma. You need to have friends from Mersin to sample it. Alcohol is still a bit marginal here, and the taxes on it are very high, owing to ambivalence about it in the government. Hard liquor seems to be mostly an upper class indulgence; there are clubs where one shot of a run of the mill foreign whiskey costs 20 dollars. The well known meze/raki/fish kind of eating is mostly in the realm of the "meyhanes," which until the 50s were almost all run by Greeks. Not to say that Turks didn't drink, but it was much more something found where there were Christians, and historically such places were frequented more by non-muslims. Even in Istanbul, there are many fine restaurants that serve no alcohol. A kebabci (kebab place) generally doesn't, an "ocakbasi" is the same kind of restaurant but which serves alcohol as well, and everything is usually more expensive because the alcohol license is a lot. (And they generally have to pay lots of bribes to the police who can otherwise find a million and one reasons to shut them down...)
  2. This is a wonderful, horrible thread. :) I have been living in Turkey for the last 6 years or so and though local fruit is very good here, mangos are still exotic. Next time I get some money, I'm going to Malaysia! So (fantacizing but with a hint of seriousness here), when is the best time to go to SE Asia to sample the largest variety of fruits? I thought I was pretty well-versed but I saw things here I've *never* heard of. "Salak" means "idiot" in Turkish, by the way. bob
  3. I still have most of the chunk left. How can I slice it thinly enough to make it edible? Anyone have any ideas what to do with this? ←
  4. I thankfully have had no really horrible dinners at homes; my friends seem to all know how to cook! But my parents have one... Back when dad was a grad student and mom was a housewife and I was just a lustful thought in my dad's brain, they went and visited his parents. They had been living on spam and beans and noodles for a year or so, so when they got there, they were thrilled when my grandfather brought out some huge thick steaks from a really good butcher in town. As dinner time neared, dad said "do you need any help? Lighting the grill or something?" Grandpa said "No, mother has her own way of doing it." "Mother's way" was thus: Dredge steaks in flour, fry the life out of them, then throw in more flourand milk over that to make a white gravy. Mom said she nearly cried... Another friend of mine got invited to a Turkish friend's place for dinner. He was a bit nuts. They were really hungry; they hadn't eaten in anticipation of dinner because they had heard about Turkish food. When dinner was served, it was: A bowl of roasted chickpeas, a bowl of peanuts, and a bowl of (really) raw oats. "It's very healthy" said Yilmaz as he dug in. They ended up ordering pizza...
  5. I dunno, whaddaya say we go somewhere and talk about it over a plate of oysters?
  6. I was always amazed at the difference between breakfasts in Greece and Turkey, considering that everything that is Greece today was once Turkey, or at least Ottoman; some of it until early in this century. In Greece, breakfast tends to be a cup of Greek coffee, or some bread eaten along with hot milk into which a half teaspoon of Nescafe has been mixed. (It's definitely in the Nescafe belt...) Nowadays lots of people just drink ice coffee. Here in Turkey it's a real production. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Turks tend to hit the sack earlier while the Greeks often *meet* to go out at midnight, and going out usually involves eating; they don't feel like eating in the morning? Some people previously mentioned breakfasts in hotels made of tomato, cucumber, cheese, bread, honey/jam and lots of tea. True enough but if you go to someone's house, especially if its a bit rural, the practice is close to "unload the refrigerator and ask questions later," the aforementioned list being just the backbone. It may also include yogurt, eggs either boiled or cooked with tomatoes as "menemen," a pile of herbs like parsley and mint with lemon juice squeezed over it, halvah (either sesame or one of the others), kaymak (a sort of clotted cream), and may even go to all sorts of warm dishes based on tomatoes, onions, cheese, walnuts, peppers...the list goes on. Other things that may show up are "simit" (sesame-covered bread rings), börek (phyllo stuffed with spinach, cheese, meat or nothing), pogaça (little folded over rolls filled with cheese or other things), açma (a rich moist roll that is hard to describe, that may contain cheese, olive paste or meats). Often if you go to someone's house at almost any time of the day and they want to feed you but haven't cooked "real food," they might throw together a "breakfast" including any of the things mentioned above and other thing I haven't mentioned. One thing that seems to be usually absent is fresh fruit except perhaps melon; couldn't say why. I think you could write an entire cookbook just based on the things people make for breakfast!
  7. Ethnic restaurants in small towns with little of the represented ethnic population can be bad news. Or big towns. Like Chinese restaurants in Istanbul, at least most of them. (We went to one, the waiter really tried hard to get us not to order plain rice with the meal because it was boring, not good pilaf at all.) In Modesto, CA we went to a thai restaurant that was obviously cooking for local tastes. We got a green curry that was very obviously thickened with flour. It was like a thick pasty green gravy. We knew we had blundered. My father once told a story about going to a lunch diner in Davenport, IA, where he ordered a sandwich. As the woman made it, she stopped several times and reached back into her mouth with her finger to free some bit of something that was evidently stuck between her molars. She cut the bread, worked on her teeth, went back to the sandwich and put the meat and cheese on, then picked at her teeth some more. Dad finally cancelled his order and left. Don't think he stayed very hungry....
  8. To really appreciate this one, you have to know how to pronounce Thai. "Ph" is not pronounced "f," it's a "forceful p." Back in Seattle in the late 90s, there was a fairly nice little Thai place called "Sala Thai." They sold out to another owner who focused on north Thai food. He renamed the place after a "very beautiful mountain in northern Thailand." The new name: Phuu Ping Thai. I.e. Poo Ping Thai. I really should have gotten a couple matchbooks as souveniers. I didn't have the heart to tell him. Several months later, the name had changed to "Lanna Thai." Someone must have had the heart. When I was fourteen, my first job was at a Chinese restaurant named "Ming Garden." Their over-the-top, Polynesian-style bar with waterfall and plastic ferns, was called the "Hung Far Lounge."
  9. I think it depends on a lot of things, but especially the temperature at which its stored and what its been subjected to before it ever reaches the shelves. Here (Istanbul) really fresh milk is not the norm, most people using the UHT (Ultra High Temperature) flash-pasteurized milk that can stay unrefrigerated for a year or so. But once you've opened it you have to use it quickly. In my new neighborhood, there's a dairy outlet that sells "daily" milk. I keep my fridge cold, but I have to use it within 3 days or it's gone. If I forget, I'm reminded by the immediate curdling as it hits the morning coffee...
  10. I used to teach every summer at a Balkan music camp on the East Coast. The first year I went, a nasty divorce had resulted in the normal cook leaving, and they brought in a cook whose staff was a bunch of kids from some local reform school. Every meal we had was the worst meal I ever had. Hints were to be had the first morning, as I watched a woman cleaning a machine with a pictue of coffee beans on the front. There was a plastic bottle with some dark liquid in it that I assumed was antiseptic. It turned out to be the coffee. The first night we had "beef." Large slices of raw beef were laid out in large roasting pans with nothing on them and cremated in the ovens. They were like pieces of leather. This was accompanied by an undressed salad. There was always a large bowl of fruit that was at least a week away from ripeness; we took to hoarding it in the cabins. One salad was memorable for including slices of avocado that were so rock hard that the outer shell of the seed had adhered to the flesh. No saving that one. The rest I believe I have blanked out...
  11. What was your family food culture when you were growing up? Suburban Iowa and Southern with surreptitious injections of Greek when dad wasn't home. Was meal time important? It was. Mom was a housewife, and we ate meals together. We didn't leave the table without permission, and no television on during meals. Was cooking important? Definitely, even if mostly expressed in "hrumphs" from my dad when my mother did something surreptitiously Greek like adding cinnamon to meatballs... What were the penalties for putting elbows on the table? A flick on the elbow. Actually table manners were the focus of much pain and sibling rivalry. I can still see my little brother sitting there, staring at me, waiting for my mouth to open slightly so that he could shout "Robert, chew with your mouth closed!" Who cooked in the family? Mom mostly, but my brother and I got into it later. Dad mostly cooked "manly" things. Cooking steaks was his duty, as this was done outside. He was good at it. The division of labor along gender lines was interesting. Once I cooked a big meal for the family, and my dad made the comment, "someday you'll make someone a great wife." Mom didn't sit still for that. Were restaurant meals common, or for special occassions? Both, we didn't go out a lot. When we were little it was always special, even MacDonald's. Later we would go out every month or so, sometimes to "family" restaurants, sometimes to a "nice" place. When we went to Chicago when I was in third grade, Dad made a point of taking use to the Berhghoff, where I was allowed to try lobster for the first time. My parents probably regretted it ever since... Did children have a "kiddy table" when guests were over? When we were younger we did. We looked forward to it. When did you get that first sip of wine? Very young. I didn't like it; I was well into my 30s before I started really appreciating it in any way. Was there a pre-meal prayer? "God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food, by his hand we all are fed, we thank Him for our daily bread, aaaaa-men." We did it out of a sense of propriety, it didn't last that long. Dad would always do an extemporaneous grace before big holiday meals. Was there a rotating menu (e.g., meatloaf every Thursday)? Never. The only regularity was that my father was a musician who was away one or two weekends a month, and that was when my mother would go back to her Greek roots and make the things my father wouldn't eat. How much of your family culture is being replicated in your present-day family life? Not much by percentage. Especially when I was young and my father was a grad student, we ate a lot of spam... I do have a few favorite dessert recipes, christmas cookies etc. that we had when I was a kid. I [thought I] hated vegetables as they were all from cans, occasionally frozen -- when I was in 5th grade, my mom planted a huge vegetable garden one summer and I first tried fresh beans and peas; it was a revelation. I had never tried them before. My father died young and when my brother and I left the house, my mom was perfectly happy to live on easy things like sandwiches and fresh fruit etc., only cooking when she really feels like doing something special for herself. She's perfectly happy with a peanut butter sandwich on hillbilly bread, a salad, jello instant pudding for dessert. She loves good food, she just has too many other things she wants to do to spend extra time in the kitchen. But she loves it when I visit, because she does love good cooking, and alsl I bring her lokum from Haci Bekir. I was always interested in trying whatever was new; I remember spending 10 dollars on a pound of durian, which I had heard about in 3rd grade and sworn I would try, during a time when I hardly had ten dollars to spare. I was drawn by the Greek side of the family and loved Greek food when I finally visited. As my mother's father's side were Greeks from Turkey, they had food habits a bit different from those of Greece. Now I live in Istanbul and food is a major part of my life here; It's interesting to rediscover many of those dishes and compare them with my family's take on them. Even if I didn't like Turkish cooking, I would still be happy here because of the immense variety of fresh produce and other ingredients. It's the thing I miss almost immediately when I go home for visits, especially things that are commonplace here (like celeriac) that cost a lot in the US, and things like peaches that I had long since given up on at home. I think many of my eating habits are a reaction to the way we ate when I was a kid!
  12. Oops - was going to mention also in response to one mail below that spice dealers in Turkey also tend to sell lots of medicinal herbs as well. Also from the spice market, if you go across the big square and follow the exit from the parking area between the very old buildings there, there are a couple of fascinating shops on the left that sell a huge variety. One is owned and run by a really sweet woman from Azerbaijan. I don't think they speak English but it's worth going in for the atmosphere and the amazing smells. Also, I second the suggestion of Çiya restaurant in Kadiköy, amazing place, even though it's gotten a bit more expensive lately. Make sure you get a plate of the salads, the thyme salad and muhammara are wonderful. They also have a very different take on hummous; haven't figured out how they do it.... Last suggestion - Ramadan started on the 5th, and will last a month. There are a couple special foods around this month. One is güllaç, a dessert made with thin starch wafers soaked in milk and filled with chopped nuts. You'll see it most of the pastry shops these days, it's the wrinkled white stuff in trays with pistachios sprinkled on top. You can also buy the dry wafers (nobody makes them themselves) to take home. The other is Ramazan pidesi - the special flat bread made during the season, sprinkled with black nigella seed.
  13. Hi, You don't say when you are leaving; I hope my reply is not too late! Spices: I think the Turkish peppers are wonderful. There are various types; the typical red one is Pul Biber (flake pepper). There are both oiled and unoiled varieties, I think the oiled are better. They have a unique smoky flavor; every time I visit friends in Greece I have to take half a kilo to them... It is fairly hot but nothing like a capsicum. Another pepper is "isot" which comes from the area of Urfa. It's a dark maroon colored pepper, also oiled, with an incredible aroma and flavor. Another thing to look for is "sumac" (sumak). It's the crushed dried berries of a type of sumac tree, used as a souring agent. You can use it on grilled meats, soaked in the cooking water for the stuffed dried peppers/eggplant mentioned by one of the other contributors below (a specialty of the southeast), and as a refreshing drink (soaked in water, strained and sweetened). Another common souring agent is Pomegranate syrup (Nar ekshisi). You can get this in the US as well, but many of the brands I've tried there (coming from Lebanon) are too sweet for my taste. Try it instead of or combined with lemon in salads. For spices, don't limit yourself to just the spice market. There are some good shops outside the market. As you face it from the water side, there is a big open area to the right. Go there and you will see several spice shops, some nearly empty, but one in particular that is always mobbed. They have very fresh spices, great variety, and good prices. The spice market and the entire area around it (Eminönü) is great, one of my favorite places to shop. Beyond spices, you can find all sorts of interesting cheeses, dried fruits (try the huge golden "besni" raisins (besni üzüm) with the seeds in), and the jujubes that are on the market now ("hünnap"). The small ones are more expensive but much better than the cheaper golf ball sized ones. Make sure also that you try pastirma, though you can't legally bring it home. It's the original pastrami (the word comes from the turkish "bastirma" meaning something pressed). It's made from the entire filet of beef, salted, pressed, and coated and cured in a spice mixture. There is a popular börek made with it and kashar cheese, called "Paçanga" (pachanga) that you can get in many of the meze/fish restaurants. Have a great trip!
  14. There seems to be a tendency to label all sorts of things Greek, the only requirement being that it have either feta cheese, or oregano, or perhaps be a bit heavy on the olive oil. Most of them would leave your average Greek housewife scratching her head. Until recently, for most Greeks, the thought of putting fruit or anything sweet in yogurt was anathema, the exception being maybe a bit of honey or sugar, but even this was mostly seen as something for kids. When I lived there, I used to take a syrup-soaked pastry known mostly in the north, called a "Rox," and eat it with yogurt, to the horror/disgust/both of my friends. Now, for better or worse, the Greek supermarkets are full of yogurts flavored with all manner of sweet stuff. And whereas the yogurt used to be uniformly good, now they are beginning to produce some of the over-adulterated products that are almost the rule in the US (yogurt with gelatine, carageenan, modified food starch, etc.) and people are loving it, feeding them to their kids... This change in diet has caused Greece (where in the 70s you hardly saw overweight young people) to have the highest rate of childhood obesity in Europe... bob
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