Foamy on top, viscous in the middle, sludgy on the bottom -- Turkish coffee is a multilayered and complex thing. Likewise the drink's history, which turns out to be a complicated and no so sweet one. As NPR's Salt blog recounts in a recent post, during the reign of one 17th-century Ottoman sultan, taking a sip of Turkish coffee could lead to big trouble. From the blog:
Sultan Murad IV, a ruler of the Ottoman Empire, would not have been a fan of Starbucks. Under his rule, the consumption of coffee was a capital offense.
The sultan was so intent on eradicating coffee that he would disguise himself as a commoner and stalk the streets of Istanbul with a hundred-pound broadsword. Unfortunate coffee drinkers were decapitated as they sipped.
Murad IV's successor was more lenient. The punishment for a first offense was a light cudgeling. Caught with coffee a second time, the perpetrator was sewn into a leather bag and tossed in the river.
But people still drank coffee. Even with the sultan at the front door with a sword and the executioner at the back door with a sewing kit, they still wanted their daily cup of joe. And that's the history of coffee in a bean skin: Old habits die hard.
The rest of the post can be found here. And for a taste of Turkish coffee as it should be, check out this Istanbul Eats recommendation.
With negotiations seemingly stalled and talk of a permanent division of their island getting louder, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders decided to at least create the impression of goodwill by hosting a dinner for United Nations officials at the island's only ethnically mixed village. From the AP's report on the dinner, which took place Thursday in the village of Pyla:
The gathering in Pyla came ahead of a crucial session with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in New York later this month.
Accompanied by their wives, Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu braved midwinter drizzle to greet villagers and exchange New Year’s wishes in the village square before sitting down for a meal at a Greek Cypriot fish tavern, followed by coffee at a Turkish Cypriot cafe.
The event was effectively a photo-op designed to underscore the leaders’ commitment to a peace deal, even though there has been scant progress in recent months.
Straddling the U.N. controlled buffer zone in the island’s southeast, Pyla remains the only village where Greek and Turkish Cypriots have continued to live together since 1974, when the island was split after Turkey invaded in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Thanks to tipster EO, I recently discovered the excellent blog "Caucasian Circle of Peace Journalism," which is bringing together journalists from different parts of the Caucasus in an effort to publicize some of the more positive developments taking place in the conflict-prone region.
One very interesting story on the blog is by Lusine Musayelyan, a reporter for RFE/RL who lives in Stepanakert, the largest city in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been in Armenian control for some 20 years after a war with Azerbaijan. In her story, Musayelyan reports on restaurants in NK that, despite the ongoing conflict, still serve Azeri food to nostalgic locals. From her fascinating story:
Azerbaijani dishes are still in high demanded at the restaurants of Karabakh. All over the region people speak about the Azerbaijani cuisine with respect. Despite a conflict that is ongoing between the two nations for more than twenty years, in many restaurants patrons can taste typical Azerbaijani dishes alongside the rich offerings of Karabakh cuisne.
Despite the Azerbaijani “ethnic origin” of this dish, many diners come particularly to taste khangyal, as the employee of a restaurant in Stepanakert, who preferred not to be named, told us.
“There is demand, and we cater to it with great pleasure. We serve not only khangyal but also piti and bozbash. It may be interesting for you that usually those meals are ordered by members of the elder generation. It seems that they are nostalgic for these dishes,” our respondent said.
Vania Grigorian, a 58 year old lady, remembers that during Soviet times she went with friends for a weekend to Shushi, just in order to enjoy pita – a meal of lamb meat and peas – at an Azerbaijani restaurant there.
While many countries in the world have been swept up in the growing Occupy movement, Turkey has remained Occupy-free. Until now, that is. As Hurriyet reports, a group of students at Istabul's Bogazici University have started their own Occupy-style sit in in order to protest rising prices and gentrification around their campus. The site of their occupation? A new Starbucks -- until recently a hair salon -- near the University. From Hurriyet's report:
For three days more than 50 students have been occupying a Boğaziçi University campus Starbucks to protest campus food prices. The occupation follows a student march protesting the same.
Students brought their own coffee, tea, sandwiches and even carpets to Starbucks. The staff at the coffee shop is still on duty and serving free coffee to customers, but not protesters, during the occupation.
“Our goal is to draw attention to the big picture, which is about our campus life. It is surrounded by expensive stores, and day by day we are turning into consumers,” Yıldız Tar, a student of the political sciences and international relations department, told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.
Students emphasized the low quality of university restaurants. “We feel obligated to go to fancy cafes, but it is not what we need. Starbucks is symbolic,” Tar said.
As reported on this blog the other day, a recent UNESCO decision to add keshkek, a traditional Anatolian stew usually served on the morning of weddings, to its "Intangible Heritage" list on behalf of Turkey, has led to outrage in Armenia, which claims the dish -- known there as harissa -- as its own. In fact, as the News.Am website reports, a group of "young Armenian ethnographers are gathering all information on Harissa so as to appeal this decision."
Feeling burned by UNESCO's decision, another group of Armenians is now taking steps to safeguard what they believe to be the Armenian lineage of tolma, stuffed grape leaves or other vegetables, which are frequently also served in Turkey, where they are known as dolma. As the Aysor.Am website reports, the president of an Armenian NGO known as the "Preservation and Development of Armenian Culinary Traditions Public Organization" is urging the Armenian government to take the steps necessary to get UNESCO to recognize tolma as part of Armenia's "Intangible Heritage," particularly in light of what it believes are Azeri efforts to lay claim to the dish.
This is not the first time the group has raised alarms over who owns the right to claim tolma and other dishes as their own. From an article that ran in September on the Arminfo website:
It's time to save the Armenian national dishes, President of the "Preservation and Development of Armenian Culinary Traditions" Public Organization Sedrak Mamulyan said during a press-conference on Friday.
DIsputes over who was the first to cook a certain dish are not a new thing for Turkey and its neighbors. Of course, there is the ongoing argument over whether it was the Turks or the Greek Cypriots who invented baklava, or about who was the first in the neighborhood to stir coffee and lots of sugar in a pot of boiling water and serve it up in a demitasse.
Now it appears that UNESCO may have inadvertently helped start a whole new regional food fight, this time between Turkey and Armenia. Along with Korean traditional tightrope walking and Mexican Mariachi music, the UN body recently voted to add keskek, a traditional Anatolian stew usually served on the morning of weddings, to its "Intangible Heritage" list. The porridge-like stew, made of lamb or chicken cooked with wheat berries, is cooked in large cauldrons that can feed hundreds of hungry guests.
While Turks were probably firing up big pots of Keskek to celebrate UNESCO's decision, Armenians were crying foul. As ArmeniaNow.com reports:
One of the most popular dishes of the Armenian ethnic cuisine – harisa – has appeared this week on the UNESCO list of world heritage as a Turkish national dish called Keshkesk. The news has outraged many in Armenia.
Sedrak Mamulyan, heading Development and Preservation of the Armenian Culinary Traditions NGO, says harisa can absolutely not be Turkish.
As previously reported on this blog, Turkey's stock of lufer (bluefish), a staple of Istanbul fish shacks and restaurants, is rapidly dwindling. In response, the government has now set a new size limit on commercially caught lufer, a move which provoked a sea-borne protest by Istanbul fishermen. From Hurriyet:
A group of fishermen yesterday protested a decision by the Ministry of Agriculture to ban the catching of small-sized bluefish.
Vessel traffic on the Bosporus Strait was briefly interrupted as some 150 fishing boats set sail on the strait to protest the recent regulations.
The Food, Agriculture and Livestock Ministry in September increased the minimum catch size from 14 to 20 centimeters for bluefish and from 30 to 45 centimeters for grouper.
The boats carried banners that read “Chaos in the sector,” “Do not touch my bluefish,” “1 million fishermen are victims” and “There is no research, just a ban.”
The Treehugger blog, meanwhile, reports about ongoing efforts to save the lufer, including the recent launch of the first annual "Bluefish Holiday." From the blog, which also provides more background on the new lufer fishing policy:
"Life on Nanchang Lu" is a wonderful blog written by an Australian doctor named Fiona who is currently living in Shanghai and documenting her life in China with lovely photos, especially of the food she's eating. A recent trip took her out to China's western Xinjiang province and her report from there is a mouthwatering visual treat. Check it out here.
Behroush Sharifi, a New York-based spice merchant better known as the "Saffron King," has developed a growing business based on importing his good from Iran. But the trade sanctions imposed by Washington last year on Tehran have left the King with a dwindling supply of saffron. As he tells the Washington Post's "All We Can Eat" column:
“We’re about to run out of saffron, and it’s 80 percent of my business. Even the remaining 20 percent, we’ve already run out of a number of the other ingredients, and we can’t replace them. We do eventually want to source everything out of Turkey. As I said during the course of dinner, 70 percent of what we import from Iran is not of Iranian origin. From India, from China, from Syria, from Afghanistan, from Turkey. All of these items can still come into America, but not from Iran."
Sharifi, who has become a favored spice supplier for several high-end restaurants across the US, also explained to the Post why good saffron -- which can cost hundreds of dollars per ounce -- is so expensive:
Turkey, despite its reputation as a country of smokers, has in recent years begun to institute stricter tobacco control measures. Beyond forbidding smoking indoors and in public places, new laws mandate that scenes of people smoking in movies or television shows be blurred out.
But anti-smoking advocates might be taking things too far. According to Today's Zaman, a Turkish trade organization is proposing Turkey change the name of "sigara boregi," a savory dish made by rolling phyllo dough around crumbled cheese and whose name means "cigarette pastry," because consuming it might encourage children and others to smoke. From the article:
The city of Sakarya is exerting efforts to change the name of the traditional Turkish “sigara böreği” (cigarette pastry) in order to discourage smoking.
The issue will be discussed at the next Council of Chairmen meeting of the Sakarya Union of Tradesmen and Artisans' Chambers (SESOB). Sakarya Restaurants Chamber Chairman Erdal Kurtuldu supports changing what is truly a household name in Turkey, saying: “We felt uncomfortable associating smoking with a food we love. It is time to think about changing the name.”
A new name for the popular pastry will be chosen by SESOB from suggestions posted by the public on the association's website.