Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always! -- Part VII - Aç Ayı Oynamaz...

In Turkey, they say "Aç Ayı Oynamaz" or a hungry bear won't dance.
For us, the "long" journey from Paris and the very anticipation of exotic Turkey rendered us with a voracious appetite that we craved for local delicacies, the delights that Turkey had to offer.
The perfect setting for a quick introduction and orientation to Turkey was on board the Bosphorus cruise, with delectable local fare, Turkish music, local music and dances, çay (tea) and kahve (coffee), all against the panoramas of the historic locations along the shores of the Bosphorus.
If there is a unique melting pot of culture that has thrived from the ancient and medieval ages right to today, assimilating the multitude of influences, few cuisines would score high on that. Indian cuisine scores high on that for sure, so does Turkish cuisine.
It's incredible to think about Turkish cuisine and how it evolved. The Ottoman Empire controlled significant parts of three continents (Europe, Asia and Africa) for over 600 years. And by virtue of their strategic location, the Ottomans practically controlled the spice trade - the trade of those incredible flavours coming in from India (Malabar coast), Indonesia and the East African coast (Mombasa, Zanzibar and Madagascar). 
This trade trade was dominated by the Arabs and Gujaratis. The Gujaratis were intermediaries who passed on the spices to the Arabs who took them onwards to trading hubs like Damascus and Istanbul. Details of how trade evolved this was documented in the incredible book that I had read two years back - Harnessing The Trade Winds, by Blanche Rocha D'Souza.
In Istanbul, the various cultures came together, in a cross-fertilisation of sorts. This confluence led to magic in gastronomy, which found its way into the palace kitchens of the Sultans at Topkapi Palace. It is said that at the peak of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi had 1,300 staff devoted to food. They were into preparing unique blends of the exotic East with the natural and fresh produce of the West - exotic cheese spreads, dips, salads, kebabs, kofte (meatballs), rice pilaf, aubergines, olives and sweet pastry concoctions. The flavours were enhanced with spices brought into Istanbul by the traders.
The Silk Route also passed through Istanbul, and that brought çay, a unique Turkish take on tea. The Arabs brought with them coffee from the Ethiopian highlands and that evolved into the bitter sweet Turkish coffee.
Today was our chance to see how all this amazingly came together on a tiny speck in the globe, a speck called Istanbul.

The mezze platter - stuffed capsicum, sauteed aubergines, fresh cottage cheese dip, yogurt, processed cheese and ezme, a Turkish tomato-pepper salsa dip...

Everyone seemed intent on eating, rather than talking. That's the magic of thousands of years of cross-fertilisation of cuisines...

Kofte - spicy and delectable with pilaf, salad and boiled potatoes...

For the locavore, here is the catch of the day from the Bosphorus - Balık Izgara (grilled fish)...

For us, this meal was overwhelming - a millennium of flavours coming together in one incredible meal. A meal that gives the bears with energy to dance and shriek out "I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always!

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