Turkey Two

about Istanbul, Turkey
Though Turkish coffee is famous, we actually spent a lot of time in Turkey having chai. They call it cay which looks a bit like the numbers you find painted on trucks in India, but its chai, black, very strong and very sweet, served always in these colourful plates and glass tumblers.
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The Turks have a sweet tooth. Actually, that's an understatement - they have sweet tusks, mammoth gigantic ones at that . Sweet in Turkey is really sweet, more than chemistry can possibly allow. Smelling one of those sweets has been known to cause diabetes. Brightly coloured and packaged Baklava shops dripped their honeyed sweetness everywhere, but one of the most surprising desserts in Turkey was a sweet chicken pudding. Nedim convinced me that such a thing did indeed exist, and was in fact edible. And popular, unlike those pufferfish-applefungus kind of creations that only two people in the world had ever salivated over. Yes, it is a dessert and an actual chicken is involved, and it has been around since Roman times. Called Tavuk Gogsu, or Chicken Breast Pudding, it is made of strips of chicken breast cooked in rice paste and sugar and comes in plain, or browned variants that I and Nedim preferred (no jokes about roast chicken, please). The chcken adds a faint flavour and an interesting texture, but basically its a sticky, mildly sweet rice pudding dusted with cinnamon. My other favourite was a Kunefe, a cake-shaped confection made of wiry strands of dough, soaked in syrup and topped off with soft cheese - chewy rather than crunchy, and overpoweringly sweet unless had with adequate amounts of the cheese. The pictures are not mine; some unknown photographer on flickr...

We stayed a few days in Sultanahmet, a place full of tiny hotels, great views of the monuments and lots and lots of food joints. Ramzan did not seem to deter anyone; restaurants opened at 10am and stayed open till late. Menus were full of lahmacuns and pides, baklavas and boregis but the most ubiquitous of them all was the kebab. They was simply everywhere, the doner, the iskander, the shish and a hundred others. I couldn't figure out which was the best, so I finally decided to pick one with atmosphere. Late in the night, I walked into the one with the most crowd milling around, a horde of hungry Ramzaners just out from the tiny but elegant Firoz Cami across the street were crowding into Sultanahmet Kebab House. It turned out to be a bit of a find; wooden panelling, busy waiters, the usual claim to a century of history but crucially - and this is usually my test of a good place - a busy restaurant with a tiny menu. The theory is, if so many people want to eat the same thing, it must be good. The entire menu is five items, including a salad and a dessert. I went for the star of the five - the Shish Kebab that I could see being piled by the plateful at the counter and hurried away by harassed waiters to waiting stomachs. It was great.
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While planning for Turkey I was instructed by Deanna to try the Gozleme. "Forget everything else, you'll love it" she said (or something roughly on the same lines). As luck would have it, a nicely photogenic Gozleme seller had his cart parked within a sneeze of my hotel. In addition to looking good, he certainly managed to turn a mean gozleme. It doesn't sound much - big rotis folded with cheese in it, but I couldn't stop eating them. It helps that they're cheap and portable.
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My favourite street food in Turkey, however, first landed in my lap (or more correctly in the path of my loiterings) in Izmir. This old guy with a big basket that looked for the world like black panipuri waved me down on a dimlit part of the Izmir promenade. It was midnight, he was probably having a slow day. Maybe he had a daughter he wanted me to get married to (that happens more often than you think). In any case, after some exciting sign language, I discovered he was selling oysters. I thought he was selling raw oysters, but this turned out to be something else altogether. Oysters, filled with a peppery rice filling, opened and served with a dash of lime. Indescribably wonderful - I've since swallowed bucketfuls of the stuff. Its worth going to Turkey just for this.
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5 comments:

  1. The oysters sound really good.

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  2. Yummie blog :)

    Keep up the good work!

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  3. I guess a dreary Monday is not the best time to be reminded of a wonderful holiday. Your post took me back to lovely, lively istanbul and the warm Simit Sarais and their apple teas and elmali (an apple rind based puff)
    I tried the sea food once and found it a bit smelly though. Squids I think.

    I think they are more meat than fish people

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  4. They are definitely more meat than fish. Istanbul is surrounded by more seas that can be counted, but there was very little fish on any menu. Fried fish below the Galata bridge was pretty much the last word in seafood offerings. Bongs beat them hands down on fishness...

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