April 2008 Archives

Apr 29, 2008 status: Trying to understand the yufka-thin difference between gözleme and katmer

Apr 26, 2008 status: Finally had Maraş pepper in Maraş!

Turkey I: Bulgaria to Georgia (nearly)

turkey
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Smsimitbaker0001.JPGGiven just how big Turkey is, we originally thought we'd be sensible and really not try to cover the whole country.  Obviously we'd go to Istanbul, we should probably see some of the archaeology on the Aegean coast, and we'd probably have time in between to see a bit of the middle, maybe visit Cappadocia if we were feeling adventurous.

But as soon as we started talking to people in Istanbul about what was out there - from the perspective of food and culture as well as good old tourism - we realised we really had to do a lot more than that.  It took longer than we'd planned (sorry Greece, sorry Slovenia) - but it was definitely worth it.

This is the story of the first half - from crossing in over the hills on the Bulgarian border, to getting to our easternmost point in Erzurum (about 150 miles from Iran).  Read all about it - there's mosques!  Aubergines!  Preserved yoghurt!  Getting stopped by police!  Getting massaged by blacksmiths!  And lots lots more ...

Apr 20, 2008 status: Erzurum çağ kebabı beats döner any day

Crazy, crazy honey

turkey
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Smbarnabyrhododendron0001.jpgBeing an avid amateur classicist, as well as a honey-loving bear prone to the odd spot of light substance abuse, one of Barnaby's favourite stories is the episode from Xenophon's Anabasis in which thousands of retreating Greek soldiers are rendered helpless by the narcotic effects of the local honey.

Imagine his excitement on arriving in the Kaçkar mountains in north-eastern Turkey and being told by the local Hemşin people that it all happened right here! 

Show me the honey, he thought.

Sadly it turned out to be the wrong time of year for honey.  Or perhaps not so sadly - it turns out that the honey in question is known as deli balı or "crazy honey", and is made from a particular species of rhododendron long known for its strange and potentially dangerous effects.

So Barnaby had to make do with admiring (and sniffing) the flowers.  But he did sleep very well last night.

Mehmet's Ottoman eggs

turkey
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We were honoured to be given ‘soğanlı yumurta’ for breakfast while staying with Mehmet and Kadar Demirci at their eco-lodge in the foothills of the Kaçkar mountains.  It was one of the best breakfasts we had in Turkey - the lightly caramelised, meltingly soft onions went superbly well with the eggs, which were of course directly from their chickens in the coop next to the little outdoor kitchen.  

Smottomaneggs0001.JPGLiterally translated as ‘oniony eggs’, soğanlı yumurta is an old Ottoman recipe - the sultan’s favourite breakfast no less.  Mehmet also told us that according to the original version, the onions should be slow-cooked for six hours, as was presumably done by the breakfast team in the sultan’s crew of a thousand cooks at Topkapı Palace in Istanbul.  You might think that’s asking too much of your Sunday morning.  But do give it at least half an hour - it’ll be worth it.

Hemşin fondue

turkey
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Mehmet Demirci kindly made ‘mulhama’ for us when we stayed at his eco-lodge.  Mehmet and his wife Kadar are Hemşin, that is to say mountain people of the Kaçkar mountains in northeast Turkey, originally of Armenian descent. There are several traditional dishes typical of the Hemşin, of which mulhama, a hearty cheese fondue, is perhaps the most well known. 

Smmulhama0001.jpgWe’d spent the afternoon walking in the foothills getting soaked by the perpetual mist and rain (this is the wettest part of Turkey), so the warm, gooey fondue could not have been more perfect for our meal that night.  Mehmet cooked it for us on a wood-burning stove in his little patch of paradise on the mountainside.  So the power cut didn’t deter us - we just needed to walk back through the wood to the car to retrieve our torch.  We felt very self-sufficient.

Apr 19, 2008 status: Laz böreği not bad, but fındıklı baklava delicious!

Something to do with tea

turkey
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Smteaglass0001.jpgAs we've been collecting recipes in the various countries we've travelled through, we've noticed that not only does the food itself change as we move, but the way of talking about it changes too.  People tend to measure volumes, for example, in terms of the utensils they're used to and have handy.  In the UK people might talk about pints; in the US, they tend to think in cups.  Here in Turkey, they talk about glasses and cups - but, of course, they're Turkish glasses and cups.

This means they're much nicer to look at.  It also means they're not the size you expect (even if you recognise the name).  And, of course, it means we need to work out what to call them.

Tea is çay; a glass is a bardak.  So is a tea glass a "çay bardak"?  Not likely - this is Turkish ...

Apr 16, 2008 status: Like Cornish pasties? You'll love Safranbolu bükme

Doing a twirl in the harem

turkey
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Smottomancupboard0001.JPGToday Barnaby explored an old Ottoman mansion in Safranbolu.  He was very interested in the strict divide between the public selamlık and private haremlik sides of the house. 

He learnt that this was due to the culture of women having to stay at home and out of sight of men outside their family (which he has noticed still persists today in some particularly conservative parts of Turkey). 

This meant that when male visitors came to the house, they were entertained by the family's menfolk in the public selamlık, while the womenfolk stayed hidden behind closed doors in the domestic haremlik.

However, this system had one potentially disastrous flaw:  Turkish men not generally being renowned for their domestic flair in the kitchen department, all the cooking happened on the harem side of the house, leaving the men and their guests in danger of growing hungry.  How could the food cross the border without people seeing each other?

The ingenious solution was this rotating cupboard.  Food was placed inside from the harem side, spun round and collected by the men on the other side, without the women having to expose an inch of themselves to the guests. 

Curious as to which side he would feel most comfortable on, Barnaby spent the day spinning between them both.  Click here (or the picture) to open the cupboard and watch him twirl.

Meatballs, kebabs and more vowels

turkey
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Smbaklavaci-kofteci.jpgWell, after my initial excitement about Hungarian and its way with vowels, I've been even more excited to be surrounded by people speaking Turkish.  As with Hungarian, it's unrelated to any of the European languages I have experience with, so most of the words are unrecognisable (although there's some noticeable French influence which makes a few things a bit easier), and the basic structure is very different too (verbs go at the end, for example). 

Importantly, this means it manages to rival Hungarian in the unguessability of its word for "wine": I think şarap is just as hard to spot as bor for an English-speaker; although "beer" comes as the disappointingly obvious bira rather than Hungarian's near-unbeatable sör.

Even more excitingly, there's vowel harmony here too.  But it's even better

Springtime for frogs

turkey
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Smfrog0001.jpgIt must be spring.  We've been staying up in the hills near Mudurnu (about 6 hours east of Istanbul), and couldn't help but notice that the local fauna is starting to wake up and look around.  This includes the frogs in the pond next to where we're staying (the Değirmenyeri mountain houses), which have been making an unmissable noise most of the night.

Click here to listen.

Click here for more audio samples.

Record-breaking hospitality

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Smzelihaoven0001.jpgAfter four days of eating our way round Istanbul’s restaurants, markets and street stalls we had intended to fast for a few days.

But that was before realising how talented, enthusiastic and generous a cook we were about to find in Zeliha İrez - a Turkish record-setting medium-distance runner turned cook and host extraordinaire...

Özge's boiled egg meze

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This recipe is really thanks to Zeliha İrez, Özge’s mother, but I’m naming it after Özge as she helped make it while we stayed with them.  In fact, Özge has not (yet) taken after her mother kitchen-wise, but does know how to boil an egg.  This is a great little starter or amuse bouche, and so simple to make. Go on, try it!

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Broad bean and dill purée

turkey
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This wonderful appetizer made from dried 'bakla' (broad beans) was one of dozens of beautiful meze which Zeliha Irez cooked for us at her guesthouse in Turkey.  The recipe is hers, and I have yet to make it myself at home.  Let me know how it goes if you try it…

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Apr 11, 2008 status: Just sampled 23 home-made jams for breakfast!

Aubergine cooked with olive oil

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The aubergine (patlıcan) must be the Turks’ favourite vegetable.  It is prepared 100 different ways and features in appetizers, mains and even desserts.  The zeytinyağlı method of cooking is common in western Turkey, along the Aegean coast where olive oil is plentiful.  

Copy (1) of Smzelispazaraubergines0001.JPGPatlıcan zeytinyağlı could be served as an appetizer, lunch dish or accompaniment to meat.  In Turkey it would be a meze, with which you would drink rakı turned cloudy with water.  The recipe comes from the wonderful Zeliha Irez, who runs a superb guesthouse in the hills east of Istanbul.

Armenian wedding balls

turkey
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This recipe for topik, as it is called in Turkish, is thanks to Zeliha İrez, who delighted us with them when we stayed at her gorgeous guesthouse in the hills east of Istanbul.  Turkish cuisine bears some influences from its neighbour Armenia.  These balls make a very elegant starter, and can be made and frozen in advance, which is a bonus.  I haven’t tried making them at home yet, so let me know how it goes if you try them…
 
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Call to prayer

turkey
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Smbluemosquesunset0001.jpgThis is part of the evening call to prayer as heard from the Blue Mosque - right next door to where we are staying in Istanbul. 

Sounds good now, eh?  Try it at 5:30 in the morning.

Click here to listen.

Our friend Aaron is now also featuring this clip, and many more, on his one-minute vacation site.

Click here for more audio samples.

Apr 09, 2008 status: In Istanbul, eating delicious balık ekmek ('fish bread').

Apr 09, 2008 status: We are in Istanbul! And it's raining.

Cigarettes and salad

bulgaria
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Smsalad0001.jpgWe definitely haven't done Bulgaria justice - we only ended up staying here for two days.  But we've had a fantastic time.  We've seen the sun and the sea for what feels like the first time in months; eaten lots of fish and lots of yoghurt; and discovered the cultural importance of salad and its vital supporting role in the consumption of cigarettes and alcohol.

Our first stop was Nesebar, yet another UNESCO-protected site (they seem to be buying up prime sites everywhere in Eastern Europe - surely it is no coincidence that their name rhymes with Tesco? We suspect some sort of conspiracy).  It's a beautiful little peninsula full of old Byzantine stone churches, blue (Black) sea, fish and - most importantly - salad.  This last factor might not sound very exciting to you, but after a month or so living off preserved pork fat, it seemed pretty revelatory to us.  So at first, we were happy just to eat it, assuming in our innocence that it was simply a foodstuff like any other.  Only when we moved on to the village of Kosti did we find out what it's really for ...

Through the kitchens of Romania

romania
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Smmattsteu0001.JPG Coming to Romania from Hungary was a huge change, primarily because we know lots of people in Romania and speak a bit of the language.   Both of these bonuses, plus the Romanian people's unrivalled hospitality, meant we could spend far more time inside people's kitchens learning about the cuisine - either by being invited in or by inviting ourselves in.  And seeing so many old friends really made it feel like a home from home.

We got straight down to business by heading up into the Apuseni Mountains to sample two stalwarts of Romanian cuisine: ţuică (plum firewater) and slănină (bacon without the meaty bits).  Here we were reminded that it is the grannies who do everything and know everything, from curing your own bacon and making your own cheese to preserving your pig's stomach in a bucket

Delta fishy deal?

romania
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Smshinyfish0001.JPGWhy would anyone want to drive for hours through flat soulless countryside, spend a night in one of Romania’s more ugly towns, then six hours on a small, open boat in the freezing cold wind, in order to have one dinner of fish, followed by sour fish soup, followed by fish, in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and a night in a room so icy cold you can’t sleep, then back on the boat, and another night in the ugly town (and all for more Euros than you’d care to mention)??

Well, despite asking ourselves this question several times, we are extremely glad we spent two days visiting the Danube delta in Romania.  If we hadn’t, we’d never have seen what an incredible landscape the delta forms.  Nor would we have learnt how to make the unusual and delicious, traditional delta fish soup.

Goodbye from Barnaby

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Smbarnabyolaffront0001.JPG Well it's goodbye from Barnaby. 

While staying in the Carpathian mountains with Anca and Eduard, Barnaby found a soul-mate in their bear, Olaf.

Smbarnabyolafback0001.JPG Barnaby has decided to let us continue our journey without him, while he starts a new life in Romania with Olaf. 

We are very sorry to see him go, but understand he has beary needs we can't satisfy.  We wish them both well.

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