Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently gone into Turks' bedrooms, calling on Turkish families to have at least three children each in order to keep the country's population growing. Now the mercurial PM is going into his citizens' kitchens, kicking off a new campaign aimed at stopping what he described as the problem of bread waste, an issue that few Turks had probably ever given any thought to.
Yesterday, Erdogan helped kick off a new campaign organized by Turkey's Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, which plans to tackle this newly-discovered problem of bread waste. Reports the Wall Street Journal:
On Thursday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned his attention for a brief moment to bread: the backbone of every meal in Turkey, where bakers put out 37 billion loaves a year.
The premier said wasting bread is tantamount to greed, which lies at the root of economic crises and wars. Turkey, he said, can’t afford to squander 2 billion loaves of bread annually while the country needs to encourage savings and millions worldwide suffer from hunger.
That catapulted the puffy white loaves of dough, which are not nutritious but filling and rich in flavor, into the center of political debate. It also brought Mr. Erdogan, who is ever-present in the lives of Turkey’s 75 million people but not known for culinary curiosity, into the kitchen.
The Guardian has posted a very nicely produced video segment (here) that explores the food traditions of southeast Turkey's Urfa and makes the case for the ancient city being the inspiration for the way we eat today. It's not a farfetched claim: the area around Urfa is considered by archeologists and other researchers to be one of the first regions where hunter gatherers made the shift to farming and domesticating livestock, giving rise to the consumption of dairy products, bread and other foods that are "processed" (in the ancient sense of the word).
That said, considering the city's locals are today best known in Turkey for eating copious amount of grilled liver, sometimes even for breakfast, it's clear that the Urfa diet took off in a different direction from the rest of the world's somewhere along the way.
For those in Istanbul who want to get a taste of Urfa-style kebabs and don't have time to make it down to the source, Istanbul Eats has a review of a superb grill house in the city's Aksaray neighborhood, home to dozens of restaurants opened up by migrants from Urfa and other parts of southeast Turkey.
Though only finger-sized, hamsi -- anchovies that come mostly from the Black Sea region -- loom large in the imagination of Turkish eaters. The little fish's arrival in late fall is greeted with great fanfare and some of the dishes that the humble hamsi is used in, such as a rice pilaf infused with spices and herbs, are treated with utter reverence.
Robyn Eckhardt, creator of the EatingAsia blog, has clearly caught the hamsi bug. In a wonderful piece that ran in yesterday's New York Times, Eckhardt describes a recent journey she made to Turkey's northern Black Sea coast in search of what turns out be an elusive catch. From her piece:
I was on a pilgrimage of sorts, inspired by an anchovy obsession, one shared by many Turks. For connoisseurs of hamsi, as anchovies are called in Turkish, the fat-padded specimens netted from the frigid Black Sea trump those taken from the Sea of Marmara, south of Istanbul and the Bosporus. The Black Sea season — which usually starts mid-autumn and runs through February — has been keenly anticipated for centuries. In the mid-1600s, the Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi wrote that in the port of Trabzon, on the coast’s eastern half, “fishmongers at the wharf ... have special trumpets made of elder-tree wood. They only have to blow on these trumpets once and, by God’s dispensation, if people praying in the mosque hear it, they will immediately leave their prayer and come running for the hamsi.” Today, locals settle for feasting on the fish as often as the season will allow, often twice a day at its height, when hamsi are as cheap as 3 Turkish lira (about $1.70) per kilo.
Driven by that sort of passion, my plan was a hamsi-fueled road trip along a 300-mile stretch of Turkey’s central Black Sea coast, with stops en route to sample the best of the catch, which turned out to be delicately seasonal — available one day, then not the next.
In the end, history, nostalgia and Istanbulites love for cream puffs covered in goopy chocolate sauce were not enough to stand up to the forces of development that have been rapidly changing the face of Turkey's largest city. This week, after a drawn out legal battle, the classic and well-loved sweets shop Inci -- which has long claimed to be the birthplace of the profiterole -- was finally shut down and evicted from the historic building it was housed in, which is set to be "restored" and turned into a shopping mall.
The 70-year-old Inci was most likely not the place where the profiterole was invented and probably didn't even have Istanbul's best version of the dish, but the old-school spot was nonetheless an institution, a culinary touchstone for tourists and locals alike and one of the last operating links to an older Istanbul that's quickly disappearing. On the Culinary Backstreets website, Ansel Mullins offers this eulogy for Inci:
For many, the mention of İnci wells up a sentimental memory of the first taste of something sweet in this classic patisserie, but for us, as non-local students of the area’s heritage, it always represented the last of public emblem of Beyoğlu’s non-Muslim community, a culture long on life support. Though the history of İnci – established in 1944 by a Greek migrant from Albania named Lucas Zigoridis (aka Luka Zigori) – is more recent than the late-19th-century heyday of the neighborhood, it was still a part of that tradition.
The pistachio may be the nut most people associate with Turkey, but in the country's northern Black Sea region, it's the hazelnut that rules. Turkey, in fact, is the world's largest producer of hazelnuts, and in the verdant Black Sea region the nut is a major driver of the local economy and an important part of the area's cuisine.
Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman, the team behind the indispensable EatingAsia blog, are currently traveling through the Black Sea region and have just filed a wonderful report about their hazelnut-oriented adventures. From their post:
Driving into Giresun from the east along the four-lane highway, we passed fındık fabrikası (hazelnut processing facility) after fındık fabrikası -- huge buildings, many with container trucks parked out front. In the city fındık depo tucked among houses and low-rise apartment buildings house hundreds of burlap bags of nuts in their shells, and shops with names like Hazelnut Castle and Hazelnut World sell all manner of hazelnut products: the nuts shelled and unshelled and dipped in chocolate, hazenut butter chunky or smooth, hazelnut flour and the big macaroon-type cookies that are made from it and hazelnut ezme, a sweet, sticky slurry of coarsely crushed hazelnuts blended withsyrup.
At Giresun's twice-weekly market, which draws fresh and prepared food vendors from villages near and far, we asked a husband-wife team selling whole dried pears, pear and apple pekmez (fruit molasses) and seven types of cheese why, given that the Black Sea hazelnut harvest was not all that many weeks ago, there were no hazelnuts for sale at the market.
Istanbul is often billed as the city where “East meets West,” but to many it is a place where those geographies pass each other on the way in and out of town. Afghans, Iranians, sub-Saharan Africans, Bosnians, Bulgarians, Armenians, Filipinos and many other nationalities end up in Istanbul struggling to get by or move on. Though not always understood and much less frequently welcomed, the migrant communities of Istanbul represent significant cultural diversity and could make a much greater contribution to the city’s cosmopolitan culture, if embraced.
In Kurtuluş where the streets start sloping down toward Dolapdere, there are enough African migrants to make up an entire soccer league. In Kumkapı, call center windows are plastered with tiny flags and by-the-minute rates for phone calls to dozens of countries. Follow your nose through these neighborhoods and you may find a big lunch of injera and dibs taking place in one of the many makeshift community centers tucked into the middle floors of a building. Though struggling, these communities survive and the simple act of cooking the food of their homeland, day by day, helps to hold them together. One migrant cook told us that cooking helps you to “forget where you are.”
Though a decades-old Istanbul institution, the Gulluoglu baklava shop in the city's Karakoy neighborhood is not afraid to try out new things. Case in point: the store's "Baracklava," a tray of the syrupy, flaky confection that has for a top layer a portrait of American President Barack Obama. Gullugolu first created the "Baracklava" in 2009, ahead of a trip the newly-elected Obama made to Turkey, where he was received with great excitement by Turks.
Checking in at Gulluoglu four years down the road, Matthew Brunwasser of PRI's "The World" radio show, finds that while the "Baracklava" is still on display, the excitement has dissipated. From his report:
What is the size of a large cookie pan, made out of baklava, and looks like a lumpy version of the famous Hope portrait of Barack Obama? The “Baracklava”.
The idea was cooked up in the Gulloglu baklava shop in Istanbul. In the shop’s six decades in business, only three other historical figures, all Turks, have been so honored. Owner Nadir Gullu says the portraits require enormous craftsmanship.
“Under the command of one chef with five assistants, it takes 10 days to make one,” Gullu says. “In each piece of baklava there are 55 layers of pastry. It’s all handmade and is very hard. Obama’s big ears made it very difficult, but we managed.”
Gullu doesn’t like politics. But he says he and other Turks had high expectations of Obama and they were dashed.
The end of summer and the return of cooler weather has traditionally signaled the beginning of fishing season in the waters around Istanbul and the rest of Turkey. These days, this time of the year also means the return of controversy and debate over the future of the country's fishing industry and government efforts to make sure that industry even has a future.
As reported in a previous Kebabistan blog post and in a subsequent Eursianet article, the previous fishing season turned violent after the government imposed a minimum catch-size limitation on certain types of fish. Following the imposition of the new regulations, the head of an Istanbul fisheries union that supported the change was shot in the face last January by a gunman who challenged him about it (the union leader survived, although he did lose an eye).
This year, the Turkish government is proposing more new regulations designed to prevent overfishing, most significantly forbidding dragnet fishing in waters that are less than 24-meters(78 feet) deep and completely banning the use of dragnets in certain sensitive areas, such as the waters around the Princes' Islands near Istanbul.
While ramen instant noodle might be an ubiquitous presence on supermarket shelves around the world, there's one country that has yet to discover the budget dish's delights: Turkey. But that is about to change. As the Wall Street Journal's Japan edition reports, Nissin Foods, the Japanese maker of the instant noodles that have been a lifesaver for students around the world, is preparing to invade the Turkish market. From the WSJ:
On Tuesday, Nissin said it will spend $23.5 million to buy a 50% stake in pasta maker Bellini Gida Sanayi A.S. from Turkey’s biggest consumer product maker Yildiz Holdings A.S.
In Turkey, homemade dishes are popular and there’s no market for instant noodles. But Nissin is banking that Turkey’s rapid economic growth will start pushing busy workers to simplify their meals.
One of the attractive points of the Turkish market is that its population is expected to grow 1 million per year by the year 2030 from the current 75 million. The nation’s per capita gross domestic product also exceeds $10,000, suggesting it has high growth potential.
Another promising factor is that the market’s average age is 28 compared with Nissin’s home market of Japan where the largest segment of the population is in their 60s.
Nissin expects annual demand in Turkey will quickly grow to more than 1 billion instant noodle bowls within five to ten years, compared with 5.5 billion bowls in Japan.
In Turkey and other predominantly-Muslim countries, iftar -- the nightly meal that breaks the Ramadan fast -- has gone from being a humble affair based around dates, soup and some freshly baked bread to something much more elaborate (at least for those who can afford it). These days, hosting lavish iftar dinners has become a way for people to make a statement, either social, economic or -- as in the case when Israel's ambassador was pointedly not invited to a 2010 iftar hosted by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- political. (Update - This year its appears both the Israeli and Syrian envoys were not invited to Erdogan's iftar.) Here's how I described this trend in an article I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor in 2008, when I visited a large iftar dinner that was being hosted at a ballroom in Istanbul's swank Bosphorus-side Ciragan Palace hotel:
On a recent night, some 700 guests of a discount supermarket chain were seated at candlelit tables as a five-piece band played traditional Turkish music and a swarm of waiters in crimson-colored tuxedo jackets brought them plates of roast lamb.
"For a company to have iftar here is a kind of statement," says Ulku Karadaglilar, an executive at the Ciragan. "It's like 'Where did you have your wedding or your gala event?' They only have one chance to do it all year, so they want the best."