Fast food entrepreneur Kadir Nurman recently died in Germany, leaving this world with what may be one of the finest titles ever bestowed on any man: "Inventor of the doner kebab."
Nurman, born in Istanbul, was part of the wave of Turkish migrants who came to Germany as "guest workers" in the 1960's and 70's. Settling in West Berlin, he set a food stall selling sandwiches of grilled meat sliced off a vertical spit and, as they say, the rest is history. Or is it? As the Guardian points out in an article written in the wake of Nurman's death, attributing the "invention" of doner to him might be a bit misleading. From the Guardian:
The doner – or shawarma or gyros, as it's also known –differs from other familiar kebabby preparations, such as shish, by being layered up on a spit and grilled vertically. This in itself wasn't particularly novel; 18th-century Ottoman travel books talk of meat being cooked this way, while in the kebab's spiritual home of Bursa, the vertically grilled Iskender is perhaps Turkey's finest mouthful.
Nurman's supposed innovation came in sticking the shaved pieces of meat into a flatbread with the saladings, making kebabs a moveable feast for busy Berliners. Until then, in theory, they had been shoved on a plate. While few seem convinced by Nurman's claim to have invented what is essentially a sandwich, in 2011 a slightly mysterious Berlin-based organisation called the Association of Turkish Doner Manufacturers made it official, and so it passed into history.
Like Turkey itself, the simit -- the round, sesame-encrusted bread ring that is a ubiquitous presence on the streets of Istanbul and most other Turkish cities -- is entertaining some very global ambitions. As CulinaryBackstreets.com reports, the humble simit is now taking on the mighty bagel in New York:
First, longstanding Istanbul baklava maker Güllüoğlu opened a branch in Midtown East and began selling freshly baked simit under the moniker “Turkish bagel.”
Now, a brand-new establishment with an entirely simit-based menu, Simit + Smith, has opened on the Upper West Side, with plans in the works to expand to the Financial District and elsewhere in the city. The eatery offers an array of sandwiches and sweet and savory snack items made with (purists beware!) three different types of simit: original with sesame, whole wheat with sesame or whole grain. Moreover, Simit + Smith seems to be squarely taking aim at the New York bagel market, noting on its website that “Simit have 2/3 the calories and much less fat than bagels or pretzels and contain all natural ingredients with absolutely no sugar.”
But will New Yorkers, notoriously wedded to their bagels, make the switch? The New York Daily News recently got on the story, polling a handful of top bagel connoisseurs about their opinions on simit, with reactions that ranged from enthusiastic to derisive:
Tasting organic wildflower honey, sleeping in yurts and long walks through eastern Turkey’s pristine countryside – each one of these on their own sounds like an enticing activity. But Balyolu, a new tourism venture based in eastern Turkey’s Kars, takes the brilliant step of combining all three into one package, while along the way helping local women earn an income.
The new project is the brainchild of Catherine (Cat) Jaffee, a former Fulbright Scholar who spent 2008-2009 travelling throughout eastern Turkey studying women’s migration experiences and also observing local beekeeping traditions. Thinking that honey making could provide a sustainable solution for helping rural women earn a livelihood, Jaffee last year Jaffee left a job in Washington, DC and moved to Kars to start working on what ultimately turned into Balyolu (“honey road” in Turkish).
I recently sent a list of questions about Balyolu to Burcu Uzer, its sustainable tourism director, to find out more about the newly-launched project and its plans. Our exchange is below:
How was the idea for Balyolu born?
Once Cat moved to Kars she started working with KuzeyDoga, a local nonprofit in wilderness conservation. Additionally, she volunteered with the first EU women's organic beekeeping program in the region, a number of local beekeeping groups and organizations, and many local beekeepers, where she started learning all about how difficult it is to earn money selling honey as a rural woman. Whether it is a lack of marketing skills, access to quality supplies, access to greater markets, a lack of long-term training and support, or the difficulty in producing a large amount of good quality honey on a small local scale - it seems that honey production is actually not that great of investment for providing sustainable rural opportunities for women.
Via the Turcopedia blog, I learned that celebrity chef and world-class pain Gordon Ramsay recently took his show "Cookalong Live" into a London Turkish restaurant called Kazan, where the chef learned how to make some classics of the Turkish kitchen. Better than watching Ramsay learn how to stuff dolma is the reaction of the Turkish chef, who seems completely unimpressed about having the star in his kitchen. Take a look:
The EatingAsia blog's dispatches from their recent trip through central Turkey have been completely mouthwatering. Now, in honor of Thanksgiving, the blog's author, Robyn Eckhardt, is offering up a Turkish recipe gleaned during her recent travels that is perfect for cooking up leftover Thanksgiving Turkey. From her article on the Zester Daily website, which features the recipe for the uncomplicated dish, called "islama:"
In October, the koy sections of markets in the fishing towns of Inebolu and Sinop and in Erfelik, an overgrown village set in a bucolic river-shot valley 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the coast, showcased the eastern Black Sea's autumn bounty. There were deep russet apples, black and green figs, Bartlett-like pears, black grapes, tiny red sweet-sour fruit called kizilcik and last-gasp mulberries, plus tubs of syrupy pekmez, a fruit molasses, and spreadable recer made from the same fruits.
What from a distance appeared to be chunky beaded necklaces turned out to be strings of alic, crab apple-like fruits eaten so ripe and mushy they're almost applesauce. Vendors used handsaws to quarter big dusty olive pumpkins, revealing nasturtium-orange flesh. "Tursuluk" ("for pickling"), advised hand-lettered cardboard notices balanced atop mounds of long slender yellow-green chilies with curled tips, knobby finger-length cucumbers, green tomatoes and fleshy broad beans. Sacks held coffee-brown bulgur and wheat berries from the previous month's harvest, a rainbow of dried beans, dried corn for soup and pilav and corn flour -- plain and wood oven-toasted -- to turn into bread and coat the region's beloved anchovies before frying.
In recent years, American diners have been introduced to Turkish specialties such as simit, doner and kumpir (the Turkish baked potato on steroids). But is America ready for kokorec (pronounced "cocoa-wretch"), the Turkish street-food staple made out of grilled lamb intestines? One Turkish entrepreneur thinks so. NorthJersey.Com has the story:
What McDonald's is to the Big Mac, Muhuttin "Mike" Bagrlyanik someday hopes to be for a Turkish street food called kokorec.
It might be a tough sell for Bagrlyanik, a Fort Lee resident and Istanbul native whose company — Black Seas Fisheries — imports anchovies, turbot and other fish to the United States.
Kokorec is not for the culinary faint of stomach. As one wag at the Australian newspaper The Age noted, it takes guts to eat kokorec — "miles and miles of guts" — because it is made from the skewered intestines of suckling lambs.
But the meal, which is fried, chopped, seasoned and served on toasted bread, is popular among Turkish people.
"We have lots of orders. Everybody's waiting," Bagrlyanik said recently from his office in south Paterson, where his small, four-employee company opened a meat and poultry processing plant in February.
More details here. For those who want to try kokorec in its native environment, Istanbul Eats has a roundup of some winning spots here and here.
Food trucks are hot and so is Turkish food, so why not bring the two together? That seems to be the idea behind the Pera Turkish Tacos truck which is currently roving the streets of New York. An offshoot of a Turkish restaurant in midtown Manhattan, the truck serves up a funky take on the taco, with Turkish-inspired fillings and wraps. The Huffington Post has a review.
This blog previously wrote about Seoul, South Korea's "Little Uzbekistan" (very little -- actually only two Uzbek restaurants in close proximity). But now The Korea Herald brings us news of a Turkish culinary invasion that's taking place on the Korean peninsula. A Turkish entrepreneur, it appears, is taking the country by storm and building a small empire of Turkish restaurants called "Pasha." Full details here.
Turks are an entrepreneurial nation. Take the example of Murat Aksu, a Turkish businessman living in Washington, DC. Realizing that the Guinness Book of World Records doesn't contain the record for longest kebab, Aksu decided to go ahead and create the category in honor of a Turkish culture festival recently held in Washington. Of course, since no record existed previously, Aksu could have entered the Guinness with a kebab of any length. But instead he decided to go full tilt and create a kebab that was measured at almost 18.5 feet (5.76 meters) and cost some $4,000 to make.
“We thought someone must have made the longest shish kebab,
or döner, but we could not find such an entry in the book. There are records
broken by Turks in such fields as karate and tae kwon do. We first thought
about making the biggest yoghurt or coffee and finally decided on the shish
kebab, to promote Turkish food,” Aksu said at the event.
Meanwhile, they may not be listed in the Guinness Book, but the chefs over at Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi, an excellent Istanbul restaurant serving the food of Turkey's Hatay region, have long been making their trademark "meter long" kebab. Review here.