Staples: Fish, meat, bagels, fresh fruit
History: Fusion of high &low cultures, east & west and cultured & nomadic
Be sure to taste: A large mixed meze is a great healthy treat in the heat
Although downgraded with the westernised Kebab and chip shops in the west, and the quasi-Turkish cuisine in the back streets of London’s east end, Turkish food is still regarded as one of the greatest cuisine’s in the world and Turkey preserves much of its culinary heritage. Its climate and geography have allowed a huge range of homegrown produce, from peppers, tea to melons and fresh fish which are all experienced in the diverse cooking. Ancient Ottoman laws on food freshness have stayed in the culture and leftovers are uncommon in any household. Because of it unique trading position, cuisine’s from cultures all over Africa, Europe and the Middle East provide the basis for this historic high meets low food. Nomadic lifestyle owes much to the food history, in particular the traditional kebab, which would have been roasted over an open camp fire in the hills. Bagels have become an essential food staple since Turkey’s economic collapse.
The Meze is the appetiser or starters which begins the meal. They are used to accompany alcohol, and a menu which serves mezes almost undoubtedly serves alcohol as well. The meze shows off the skill of the chef, and are both hot and cold, often served like an Indian Thali on a large dish with a small portion of everything. Stuffed vine leaves, humus, circassian chicken, Manti (filled pasta), pureed aubergine, Kofte (spiced lamb meatballs), Borek (filled pastries) and mackerel stuffed with pilaf are all menu favourites.
At $1 US, a fish sandwich is a more expensive treat that most street food, but delicious. They are prepared on the shores of the Bosphorus river. The fish is cooked over an open fire on boats which are moored on the shores of the river and tourists queue throughout the day and night for a taste of this extra special “fast food”.
Known as Rahat Loukoum (“rest for the throat”) or just Lokum, this thick jelly confectionery is popular in both the middle east and the western world and was inherited from Persia, although its one of Turkey more modern creation and is thought to originate from the 18th century. The name Lokum has been translated as “food of contentment” or known in the west as Turkish delight. It is made from corn starch, gelatine sugar, honey and fruit juice and is often tinted pink or green and flavoured with rose, banana, and even aubergine liqueur. Chopped almonds, pistachio nuts, pine nuts and hazelnuts are often added and when firm it is cut into squares and covered in a mountain of icing sugar. It keeps fresh for up to 6 months and is usually kept in the house for guests and treats.
Quick Recipe for Turkish Delight.
Bring ½ cup of cold water, 1 cup sugar and the grated rinds of one orange and one lemon or lime to the boil.
When boiled, add 2 tablespoons of gelatine dissolved in warm water and simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat, stir in 2 tablespoons of a blackcurrant, lemon or red currant jelly, the juice of the orange and lemon or lime. Add additional flavouring or nuts if required.
Pour into a shallow, square wet tin and chill until set.
When firm, cut into squares using a hot knife and toss pieces into icing sugar and eat immediately or store in an airtight container.
The Food of Contentment
A grown man relieves his childhood dream in an Istanbul sweetshop, trying to discover the mystery of Turkish Delight.
RECIPES and background on ethnic Turkish Cuisine