Some mornings I wake up dreaming about Istanbul. Then I listen to this song. I think about this, this and this. That’s pretty much the only time it gets hard to go to work on a Sunday and work 16 hours.
Here is an article from the WSJ. Though I’m taken aback by some of the analogies (Mehmet Gurs / Ferran Adria) or the lack of respect for artisans in the brief note on ”cheese from crappy huts”, it’s nevertheless an interesting article. I think to elevate a food culture, you need to elevate your artisans, craftsmen and farmers rather than building holding companies that stretch your attention across multiple companies. It just doesn’t sound convincing, having said that I do admit that I’m not as knowledgeable about what’s going on in Istanbul as I should be. What do others think?
I am cooking as a Private Chef for Christmas — I conjured up a fantastic menu mostly inspired by my time on the line in Mumbai. I made a shopping list, checked it twice and went to the market. I’m making some paneer — but right next to the whole milk on a random shelf I saw Istanbul flavors staring at me. Armenian Basturma and Bulgarian Sheep’s Milk Kashkaval.
I got goosebumps immediately, homesick and hungry at the same time.
Kashkaval has a somewhat grassy (almost bitter similar to dandelion greens) and nutty flavor. I find that it’s somewhere between pecorino romano and caciocavallo, though it’s described as a derivative of the latter. And basturma is essentially dry cured beef with a fenugreek, garlic, paprika and cumin rub.
So, I picked up a tremendous saison beer to go along with it. I made a grilled cheese, fried some eggs, and put on David Chang’s PBS show.
I’ve determined the only thing that can distract me from cooking is cooking something else. I guess I’ll have to prep for my gig tomorrow.
Marbles, mulberries, her breasts and the last summer of my childhood
The summer of 1992 was a special one – I was eight years old. I can’t fathom how I fit so much indulgence and exploration into one summer. I went foraging with my aunt for wild fennel, oregano, and nettles. I had figs, fried mussels, and kokoretsi for the first time in my life – all on my own dime. Now, before I start talking about mulberries let me tell you something about Turkish figs, they are a miracle of cultivation and artificial selection. At the height of the season, they come fist-sized, green on the outside and ruby-red with yellow seeds on the inside. They’re perhaps better than mulberries – I’ve often thought what my life would be like if it was a fig tree instead of a mulberry tree that I climbed that afternoon. Fig trees are not fun to climb.
It was the summer before I started studying for the infamous Turkish middle school entry exams. My last worry-free summer…
It’s red mullet season in Istanbul and these respectable fish in the first photo were so bright and beautiful that I thought I was snorkeling right next to them. I went to the Istanbul fish market (wholesale market in Yenikapi) for the first time this week.
On my explorations in India and Thailand, I followed a simple formula to get the most out of the local food culture.
- Read about the cuisine
- Visit markets; understand the season, the land and the bounty.
- Eat street food wherever you see it
- Eat where the ”people” eat
- Eat at fine dining establishments
- Read about the cuisine
I found that the second step is undisputably the most essential one. I always helped my mother with her shopping growing up but I had not paid a visit to the markets with a trained eye.
I absolutely loved the Balik Hali (the wholesale fish market) in Yenikapi!
I parted from good friends at about midnight after a good (not great) dinner at Karakoy Lokantasi (a respectable establishment) and hookah in Tophane. I walked up to Taksim and walked the Red streets of Istiklal until about 1 AM. There is always something happening there and it’s always interesting to talk to the people on the street.
I got a haircut and a straight razor shave and hopped into the shuttle right after — yes, you can get a haircut in Istanbul at 1 AM. I missed the point where I had to get off and walked back about six miles. Amazing walk by the water, half of it in the rain, listening to NPR’s The Splendid Table.
Well, I got to the Balik Hali at about 2:30 AM. It was buzzing with excitement. Almost literally. Instead of bees they had seagulls flocking all around in an unobtrusive way, waiting their turn at the pick.
Boats were loading off their catch, fishermen were setting up their humble displays of not so humble fish, and procurement specialists were lining up around the displays. Cuddlefish (calamari), sand sharks, monk fish (Tr: Fener), mullets, leer fish (akya), turbot, John Dory (Tr: Dulger), scallops. needlefish (Tr: Zargana)… What a beautiful scene.
The market buzzed for about two hours after 2:30 and then it led to a calmness. Everyone was tired and ready for bed, including myself.
I had great educational conversations — especially the one about Muhammad’s thumbprint on John Dory. Very entertaining. And convincing.
A most successful reconnaissance mission! Also, I think fish are the most beautiful of all proteins. There, I said it!
Achatz and team have figured out a way to infuse dishes with the aroma of fragrant spring flowers. A bowl within a bowl is the gist of it. Here is the dish. I wanted to see if the same worked for two of my favorite flowers. Mimosas and jasmine.
I boiled some water and poured over. The quanitity needs to be managed with jasmine as the aroma that emanates can be very strong. Mimosas are less obtrusive even in large quantities.
Spring has sprung in Istanbul this week and it’s mimosa season. My favorite flower. The fragrance is elegant and very distinct. The branches are strong and the flowers are delicate. It’s ephemeral. The season lasts only a couple weeks.
Melisas are probably my third favorite flower but I have too much of a history with Melisas.
I have an emotional attachment to Filibe Koftecisi at the beginning of the Cagaloglu Yokusu in Sirkeci. It might have been chosen the best Kofte / Meatball shop in Istanbul a dozen times but my fond memories stem from coming here on the way to the boat that took my father and me to Kinali Island after work. I make a stop at least once each time I come to Istanbul.
These meatballs explode with umami, they’re rich but well balanced. So comforting.
Filibe Koftecisi, Sirkeci, Istanbul
Rough chop kokorec / kokoretsi with oregano, crushed peppers and cumin
Kokorec is lamb small intestines wrapped around sweetbreads and slow-grilled to a crispy perfection. The textural gradient that leads to the melt in the mouth sweetbreads is fascinating. Varying degrees of crispiness on the intestine from the crispiest to the soft to the slightly chewy… and to the sweetbreads.
I cannot imagine a world without Kokorec.
Buyuk Postane Caddesi, Sirkeci, Istanbul
Those pieces of paper neatly organized between the glass cover and the tabletop are love letters. Love letters that convey passion, lust, contentment, gratitude, satisfaction, and yearning. Love letters to Kunefe…
During my late teens, I played waterpolo with people who became some of my best friends. We were serious contenters in the 2nd league but we were the best in the nation when it comes to eating. My favorite eating companion, Roy, was the pivot defense of our team and always inspired an extremely enthusiastic attitude towards food.
A tournament took us to the Syrian border to the historical city of Antiochia / Hatay. With an amazing food culture, the city is studded with amazing shops where you can buy some of the freshest Kanafeh / Kunefe. The vermicelli (i.e. Kadaifi) is made in the back of the store; the cheese and the butter are great local varieties. Ahh! And they serve it with fresh, whole milk.
Walking the streets of Hatay was probably the closest I ever came to a sugar coma — that was after the third Kunefe. If I’m not mistaken, Roy went for his fourth.
The photo of the Kunefe here was taken in Tahtakale, Eminonu — it’s right at the Tahtakale exit of the Egyptian Bazaar. It’s an Antep restaurant but I’m not cultivated enough to say I know the difference between a Hatay and an Antep Kunefe. They’re both crunchy, cheese, and rich with butter. They’re both doused with gallops of warm syrup and topped with some of the greenest, most flavorful pistachios there is.
My favorite pickle store in the world — complete with pine cones, whole heads of garlic, carrots, fermented turnip juice (Tr.: Shalgam)…
Balik Pazari, Taksim, Istanbul
Another mussel classic — a diluted version of the homemade stuffed mussels of my family with no pine nuts, currants and dill but complete with a black peppery, cinnamony sweetness. A squeeze of lemon brings the whole thing together.
Balik Pazari,Beyoglu, Istanbul
What’s different about these deep fried kibbes is everything. The bulgur is fried to a perfect golden brown. The stuffing (with caramelized onions, garlic, walnuts, Aleppo peppers and ground beef) is light, flavorful, sweet, and comforting.
Sabirtasi is an ageold institution at the heart of Beyoglu, near Galata. They’ve been making these koftes the same way for decades!
Skewered, dusted with flour and deep fried, mussels are at the center of the Istanbul street food / after-party eating scene. The white ”tarator” sauce is a mixture of breadcrumbs, walnuts, lemon juice, vegetable oil, and garlic. The crispy fried mussels need to be consumed immediately after it’s been topped with the tarator sauce.
Balik Pazari, Taksim, Istanbul
Steaming burger buns doused with tomato sauce and more, stuffed with an elusive piece of beef burger strongly flavored with garlic. Arguably the epitome of Istanbul street food. I like mine with pickles.
Kizilkayalar, Taksim, Istanbul