Any fans of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – particularly The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – will be vaguely familiar with the sweet treats the White Witch used to captivate young Edmund Pevensie upon his arrival in the forests of Narnia. For the rest of you, I present this article about some of the culinary treasures, both sweet and savory, that can be found in the Republic of Turkey. Enjoy!
Lokum (Turkish Delight) – The Arabic word ‘Lokum’, a sweet gel-based candy, literally translates to morsel and was created in 1776 by Istanbul confectioner Bekir Effendi. Common ingredients are: honey, cinnamon, almond, walnut, pistachio, orange, lemon, coconut, and mint. Definitely an acquired taste, when it’s bad – it’s really bad, but when it’s good… it’s great!
Kepab (Shish or Doner) – A traditional dish of sliced meat (typically lamb, beef, and chicken) grilled on skewers and either served on a plate with rice and vegetables or in a ‘durum’ – aka sandwich. This food is so popular it can be found in ‘salons’ on every street corner of every city in Turkey and most of the Middle East (due to the high cost of meat, most Turks only eat starches and vegetables while dining at home, and thus, eating meat out has become a rare treat). The word ‘doner’ refers to the meter-long, vertical, metal rod upon which the meat is compressed and then sliced off for the sandwiches and wraps.
Baklava – Thin layers of rich, sweet, pastry stacked and filled with nuts (pistachio, walnuts, almonds, peanuts) and literally drenched with honey. Also comes in many varieties, but most are far to sweet for this writer. The name comes from the ancient Mongolian word ‘bayla’ which means to ‘pile up’.
Pide – Turkish pizza made on unleavened flatbread and topped with various ingredients including cheeses, vegetables, and meats. Popular versions use spinach, minced meat (kofte), and even a fried egg.
Menemen – The only Turkish breakfast food worth mentioning made from scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Depending on the price and restaurant (or school cafeteria), the proportion of tomato to egg varies – the cheaper places use much more tomato than egg while the more expensive versions taste more like omelets and frittatas. Most breakfasts (sans menemen) consist of cheeses, olives, and sweet breads.
Manti – Turkish ravioli filled with meat, chickpeas, or cheeses. The major difference however, is the sauce served on the pasta which is yogurt based and mixed with spices and crushed or diced tomatoes. Yogurt, incidentally, is a Turkish word.
Kunefe – The closest dessert to cheesecake commonly found in Turkey is a shredded pastry (made of cheese) soaked in syrup and layered, like a cake, with sliced soft mozzarella-like cheese between and served with a pistachio crumb topping. It’s not as rich as baklava, but much more flavorful.
Mercimek Chorbashi (Lentil Soup) – Very popular in Turkey is a version of lentil soup (a food this writer never grew up eating thanks to a traumatic experience in his mother’s youth) served at weddings. This red lentil soup is served in every single home and restaurant in the country as it is inexpensive to make – being vegetarian. Interestingly enough, the red lentil loses its color when pureed so Turkish chefs add tomato paste to bring the red color back to the soup.
Until Next Time…