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.
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.