As I prepare to take another trip to Istanbul, I think it’s a good time to reminisce a little more about my experiences in that part of the world and type out my thoughts for future generations to ponder.
Turkey left an indelible impression on me when it comes to culinary appreciation.
Just last night, my high school friend Aeshna rekindled these memories when she posted a poignant article on her Facebook wall. I’ll draw your attention to the following excerpt, which she said was the most powerful for her among all the entries on the list:
"3. The three or four food items that - beyond just being the overall cuisine that you miss - had come to be your diet staples that you don't really know how to live without anymore."
I too can boil down the list of amazing dishes to three or four that were my staples. Foods that I wish I knew how to make. They are, in no particular order :
1) Ayvalık Tost
2) İskender Kebap
I lucked out in the beverage department. Anyone who knows me can attest to my continuing love affair with the following two drinks:
1) Turkish tea
2) Uludağ Gazoz – the Turkish answer to Sprite, a battle which the latter has no chance of winning
My pantry and collection of soda cans will convince the rest of you that my passion remains as strong as it ever was when it comes to these.
Türk çay, as it is authentically known, is a stellar example of the triumph of simplicity. I wasn’t a tea-drinker before my first trip to Turkey in 2011, but as any tourist there knows, you can’t quite get around the block without spotting someone imbibing this delicious, heart-healthy drink.
There are numerous amazing brands to choose from here in the Occidental world. Here’s a gallery of my favorite Turkish teas. All are loose-leaf and can be found in any major Middle Eastern store or, better yet, Turkish market:
Don’t forget the sugar cubes! And not the hard ones, either (those are for Iranians only)…
Uludağ Gazoz (or just plainly “gazoz”)
Uludağ (pronounced ulu-da, the “ğ” is silent) is a famous mountain in Bursa, the city I came to love three summers ago. The minty drink that carries this mountain’s name happens to be my favorite carbonated beverage.
When I relocated from Binghamton, NY (my parents’ hometown) to Madison, WI in March 2012 to begin working for Epic Systems, I was worried that my new hometown wouldn’t have any of the familiar trappings I had become used to in Binghamton. For any of you who know where Binghamton is, this might sound moronic, but let me explain. One of the best Turkish restaurants I have ever been to (in fact the place I came to just the day after I got home from Turkey) happens to be located in a city not too far from Binghamton. Appropriately named “The Turkish Restaurant,” this hidden gem is the only establishment of its kind within a good two hour drive.
As fate would have it, the same week I relocated to Madison, a few entrepreneurs had just set up shop 10 minutes from my new apartment. These were Turkish pioneers, recent arrivals from Chicago, with a mission to put Turkish food, Halal meat, and Middle Eastern/Desi groceries in the heart of Wisconsin’s capital.
My prayers had been answered.
My access to refreshing streams of gazoz would go uninterrupted for years to come. Not to mention that store – it’s expanded two-fold. I wish them only the very best.
Pretty much everyone’s heard of Turkish delights, or lokum, as it’s known locally. They come in a wonderful assortment of flavors and colors. On the T1 line in Istanbul near the Grand Bazaar you can find numerous shops that sell some very high-quality product. I’m personally not a huge fan of these treats, but will acknowledge that you’re pretty much obligated to bring back a box for friends and family who couldn’t accompany you on a trip to Turkey.
Besides lokum, here’s a rundown of the other desserts that I consider must-try:
1) Pişmaniye – Turkish cotton candy, but not really
3) Baklava (no explanation required)
For the Kid(s) [in all of us]:
Turkish chocolate companies rule the markets. Ever heard of Ülker? Everything they wrap and stamp with their seal is delicious. You might not want to have more than one of their signature creations at a time, but these guys can seriously give Willy Wonka a run for his money.
The Green Stuff:
No entry on Turkish food would be complete without mentioning the amazing variety of produce found in Turkish markets, each of which can be found prominently on any Turkish table. Turks pride themselves in preserving the natural tastes of their fruits and vegetables instead of muddling the flavors into curries or stews like those of other traditions (read: Desi).
Here are my top five Turkish fruits:
2) Erik Meyve – not sure what these guys are called in English (maybe “green plum”), but absolutely delish
5) Tomatoes – yeah, they’re fruits
This here is a beautiful, delicious salad prepared by my mother-away-from-home, Mrs. Fariba, during our last luncheon in Istanbul this past summer:
When it comes to fruit juices, you must try the sour cherry (vişne) and peach (şeftali) varieties. They’re ubiquitous in the summer months. Might I suggest the Dimes brand?
What Others Have to Say:
I follow Olga Irez’s “Delicious Istanbul” blog pretty regularly. She’s got an amazing eye for great food and provides excellent commentary on current happenings in the Turkish culinary space.