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.
As previously reported on this blog, bar and cafe owners in Istanbul's bustling Beyoglu district have been locked in an ongoing battle with municipal authorities, who recently initiated a crackdown on outdoor seating in the area. Although authorities are now planning a new "master plan" for the district, one that's supposed to provide new guidelines for outdoor seating, local business owners say the current ban has left them in dire straits. From the Tarlabasi Istanbul blog:
Mehmet Aktaş, who works in a traditional meyhane on Sofyalı Sokak says the restaurant is having serious trouble staying open: “We used to have about 18 tables outside, with room for 40 to 50 people. Now we have three tables left. Five out of eight employees are on unpaid leave, we are really struggling.” Like many bars and restaurants on Sofyalı Sokak, they, too, have seen their revenues fall by almost 80percent. “At this rate, we won’t survive very long. Restaurants and bars will start to close. This street will be dead without them.” Aktaş points out that the restaurants will not be the only businesses affected by the municipality’s policy: “We buy from fishermen, butchers and green grocers. Our restaurant used to buy 150TL to 200TL worth of fish daily from a local fisherman. Now we can only afford to buy fish for 20TL to 30TL every day.” He shrugs. “This will affect a much broader local economy. Even the children selling Kleenex on the streets will make less money.”
The owners of two small corner shops on Sofyalı Sokak agree; both have seen their business drop by about 80 percent. Many wonder why the Beyoğlu Municipality deliberately risks such economic loss, and the loss of so many jobs: According to bianet.org, the number of layoffs stands at 2,000 after only one month.
[UPDATE - Whoops! I completely failed to notice that Eurasianet had previously published a far superior and photo-rich story about this exact same subject. That story, with Justyna Mielnikiewicz's superb photos, can be found here. Check it out.]
Countries have all kinds of schemes to attract both foreign capitol and high-value migrants, but the government of Georgia may have come up with the most unusual plan of them all. According to AFP, the Georgian government has set up a program to attract white South African farmers who have decided to leave their homeland due to political and economic pressures. From the article:
A long way from his South African birthplace, amid the sweeping wheat fields of eastern Georgia, farmer Piet Kemp says that he has found a new home in this former Soviet republic.
And if the government gets its wish, hundreds more like Mr. Kemp will follow to help revive Georgia’s ailing agricultural sector, bringing in both cash and expertise.
The narrow backstreets of Istanbul's historic Beyoglu district have long been the haunt of revelers, drawn to the area by its profusion of bars, cafes and restaurants. In summer, these establishments move the fun outdoors, setting up tables that often end up spilling into the street. But now it appears that Beyoglu authorities have decided to rein in the outdoor fun. From Hurriyet:
Members of the municipal patrol acted extremely rudely and abused restaurant owners and customers as they removed outdoor tables and chairs over the weekend in Beyoğlu’s Cihangir and Galata neighborhoods, according to restaurant operators.
Officers appeared without an official warning in prominent places throughout Cihangir, removing tables by force while customers were still sitting there and eating, Gökçe Bedo, the owner of a tavern told the Hürriyet Daily News.
“More than 20 officers suddenly gathered here and hit one of the customers who refused to stand up as she did not understand the reason for the operation,” said Bedo, adding that she was considering filing a complaint against the officers.
The owners have blamed the municipality for the attitude of the officers who carried out the operation; many have also added that they had not violated the rule that bans chairs and tables in front of their facilities.
Last Tuesday, the owners of cafes and restaurants in Galata neighborhood received a notice from the municipal patrol, saying tables and chairs outside restaurants and cafes should be removed.
Istanbul Eats, meanwhile, went down to Beyoglu's hopping Asmalimescit district (pictured above), usually filled with people drinking and smoking outdoors by early afternoon, only to find it eerily silent:
A year ago, Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin made waves when he published a book that claimed that immigrants were making Germany a dumber society and accused them of having lower levels of education, perhaps even due to hereditary reasons. The publication of the book, "Germany Does Itself In," led to his resignation and to widespread condemnation.
Sarrazin may have moved on, but it appears that Berlin's large Turkish community has not forgotten him and his book. From Der Spiegel:
"Get lost!" and "Nazis out!" were among the epithets lobbed at controversial author Thilo Sarrazin during a recent trip to Berlin's Kreuzberg district, according to newspaper reports on Monday. The city's former finance senator had taken a trip to the area with broadcaster ZDF to film a TV special ahead of the one-year anniversary of the publication of his controversial book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" ("Germany Does Itself In").
The memory of the book's content, which sparked massive controversy in Germany for what many called its anti-immigrant sentiments, was apparently still fresh in the minds of some residents of the district, known for its high concentration of Muslim immigrants.
Accompanied by Turkish-German journalist Güner Balci, Sarrazin took a tour of the district, stopping by a Turkish market where he wrote in Die Welt he was yelled at by an "angry man in his fifties" whom he dubbed "the squaller," before a group of other "politically correct" market patrons joined in, calling him a racist until he and the camera team left.
This one is certainly going to hurt Greek national pride: According to the Wall Street Journal, famed Athenian baklava seller Epe has not only been importing Turkish baklava for the last decade to sell in its stores, but has now had to be bailed out by its supplier from the east. From the WSJ's article:
Greeks and Turks have bickered for centuries over which nation makes the better baklava, a sticky-sweet dessert of layered pastry devoured in huge quantities across the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. But for the past 10 years, Turkey's best-known producer, businessman Nadir Gullu, has been supplying Greece's closely held Baklavas Epe, which operated five stores in Athens. He provided about two tons of baklava and other Turkish sweets per month.
Old rivalries aside, Athenians lapped them up—until, that is, they ran out of cash.
Baklavas Epe's most profitable shop is on Athens's landmark Syntagma Square. Before the crisis, tourists and locals queued up in droves to buy the pastries. But as the government embarked on a severe austerity program to reduce its debt burden and qualify for international support, demand sank.
Baklavas Epe closed three of its five stores in Athens as sales dropped. Meanwhile, it ratcheted up close to €160,000 (about $226,000) in debt for deliveries of sweets from across the Aegean Sea, according to the company. Plunging revenue made it impossible for Baklavas Epe to finance baklava purchases from Istanbul.
"Baklava has become a luxury. Think about it: Three kilos of minced beef costs the same as one kilo of baklava," said a company spokesman. (A kilogram is about 2.2 pounds.)
In Turkish newspapers, Mr. Gullu, the owner of Karakoy Gulluoglu, a well-known baklava shop near the shores of the Bosporus in Istanbul, said the Greeks should pay their debts within a year and the business relationship was in jeopardy.