THIS book is as much a journey through Istanbul, the biggest city in Turkey, as it is a cookbook. I call it seeing the city through its food.
The author is a founding director of the Istanbul Culinary Institute, which started in 2008, after the publication of this cookbook. The institute has a culinary school, an apprentice kitchen and a gourmet food counter.
Among other culinary qualifications, she has a professional Chef Diploma from the French Culinary Institute in New York. She is a major contributor to the culinary scene in Turkey.
This book was initially called Flavours of the Street: Turkey, and was published in 2004. A year later it won the prestigious Gourmand Awards.
As the title suggests, it is about food that is peddled on the streets of Istanbul. The author takes us to the cafe serving mussels and cold beers in summer and the vendor selling sahlep, a drink made from wild orchid that is drank in winter. Sahlep is a reputed herbal remedy for colds, stomach disturbances and breathing difficulties.
The recipes in the book are divided by season and not type. She shows us how apricots and cucumbers are sold by the truckloads in the streets during summer and spring and walks us through recipes for cacik (cucumber with yoghurt) and kayisi receli (apricot jam).
In this way, the reader is taken on a delightful seasonal journey, which is handy if you're in that part of the world. You could cook according to the availability of the produce.
There is a lot of information in the book about the ingredients used and the author doesn't just write from the food point of view. She places the food in context of the community and takes the reader through the culture and history of the people of Istanbul.
For example, did you know that Mahmut Pasa, the grand vizier of Mehmed II (the conqueror of Istanbul in 1453) gave weekly banquets to palace bureaucrats, religious leaders and other notables and that rice with chickpeas was the main course of these banquets?
Now it is a cheap dish that is standard fare for lunch in most Turkish households. Did you also know that Russian immigrants fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 brought with them the Rus salatasi (Russian salad), that is now a popular side dish and appetiser. A recipe for rice pilaf and chickpeas follows this little historical information, as does the recipe for a Russian salad.
There are arresting pictures throughout the book of street vendors and fruits and vegetable sellers that make up much of the food landscape of the country. On one page you have the pistachio coffee seller selling his wares with his brass pots, and on the next is a stylised plate of cig kofte, raw meat and bulgur patties served in a restaurant on a busy main street in Adana.
Turn the page again and you have Sadik Usta, an ayran (yoghurt drink seller) serving ayran and simit (sesame bagels) from his cart to customers for breakfast.
A stylised picture accompanies each recipe, and I like that there is cohesiveness between the stylised shots and the street shots.
The recipes are detailed, but simple enough to follow. We can find most of the ingredients here.
Turkish cuisine is generally lean and flavourful and accompanied by a lot of vegetables, so it's a boon for the health conscious cook today. It's also good for mothers cooking for young kids, as there are things like kebabs, puddings, stews and spreads that will go down well with kids.
Even if you don't cook, this is a great book with which to do a little armchair exploration of Turkey, its food and its people.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
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