I can’t say I ever thought much of Middle Eastern cuisine until a few days ago. I’m sure this is mostly attributed to my own small mindedness, or perhaps just due to a lack of exposure. In any case, the newest addition to my ever expanding collection of cooking how-to’s was chock full of fresh and flavorful recipes plucked from the busy streets and quiet alleys of Istanbul. Poached eggs with yoghurt, cauliflower fritters, baked eggplant (great recipe!) and lamb kofta leapt off of the pages and into my imagination.
“Turkish cuisine…owes [it’s] enviable reputation to the culinary expertise developed in the grand houses and palaces centuries ago. Here, a large number of chefs specialized in their own particular type of cooking and their skills were honed and passed down from generation to generation.”1
Coincidentally, Alan Richman of GQ magazine holds a similar fascination with a cuisine deemed one of the foremost in the world as he tantalizingly describes in February 2012 issue. A cultural menu ripe with vegetables and abundant with spiced and well-cooked meats, this particular palate is as much reverent to the culture as it is to the taste. Richman manages to juxtapose the aromas and rich textures of traditional Ottoman-Empire era cooking with the modern hustle of a lively city. Between my cookbook and this beautiful article, began what could only be called a superficial curiosity about a culture steeped in spice and texture.
Reading any number of articles or accounts will immediately impress upon you that food has embedded itself so much as part of the culture of socializing. Meze, or a traditional selection of small dishes, is traditionally served at the beginning of a larger meal. The small plates are designed to facilitate conversation and grand shows of hospitality. Meze can range from hot dishes of baked eggplant with ripe texture and complex spices to sizzling lamb-meatballs served with a cooling yoghurt, accompanied by an assortment of fresh sheep or cow’s cheeses. The wide variety of tastes and smells I’m sure can serve as an allegory for a country who lies half in Europe and half in Asia; an amalgamation of history and clashing ideologies. Perhaps it’s just a way to please the most taste-buds.
I’m the first to admit that this brief article doesn’t serve justice for such a rich and diverse subject, but if you’re anything like me, sometimes it just takes a few paragraphs to pique your curiosity.
Istanbul Street Food – Blog
Istanbul Food – Blog
The Guardian – Travel Food and Drink
Credits: 1, The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook, Bay Books 2008.