turkish delights

November 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

Well, with all the talk of turkey this American Thanksgiving weekend, I am reminded of the hearty food adventures that filled my time and tummy while in Turkey over the summer.  In Istanbul, you will find food along every street and at every corner of the city.  Turkey’s gastronomic spread is wide, with the flavors of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and East Asian in their dishes.  Comparing with my firsthand food adventures in Italy, I have to bestow, without reservation, the title of “Food Mecca” to Istanbul.

Of course, I will begin the adventure with legendary Turkish delights, which gained their worldwide claim to fame by the endorsement of the witch in Chronicles of Narnia.  The Turkish delights often found tough and stale on North American grocery shelves are no justice to the real stuff found on the streets of Turkey.  I bought slices off a tall tower of delights at the Spice Bazaar (left picture).  They come in all sorts of flavors with all sorts of nuts.  I especially love the ones with hazelnuts and pistachios.

My absolute favorite discovery in Turkey is Turkish ice cream, also called Maraş dondurma.  It is found in food carts, served eagerly by jovial young Turkish men, paddle in hand and fez on head.  And it’s also found in tubs at the grocery stores.  It is what I always wished gelato could be — chewy.  It’s the most peculiar and most delicious scoop of ice cream I’ve ever had.  I can best describe it as this: it’s as though ice cream and Japanese mochi melted together into a fateful concoction and got reconstituted in a frozen state of inseparability.  When you have a bite, the ice cream stretches as mochi would, but still maintains the texture of ice cream.  Odd, but so, so, so good.

Then, there is syrupy-sweet baklava.  It’s a heavy debate where baklava originated.  Some stand true that baklava is a Turkish creation.  Others believe it is Greek or Arabic in origin.

If I could make a few suggestions on the dishes to try in Istanbul, I would exclaim: FISH.  Istanbul is situated along the Bosphorus Strait, flanked by the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara.  There is nothing there as ubiquitous as fish, which come fresh out of the sea and are both inexpensive and delicious.

1. There are anchored boats lining the strait that sell and cook fish.

2. You can buy a dish of fish from a boat and eat in a covered patio along the water.

3. Fish markets are as plenty as fruit markets.

4. I had a grilled fish sandwich from a food cart.  It was even better than I expected.

5. There are many varieties of bass available.  The Turks often pan-fry their fish, which is exactly how I like my fish prepared.

Let’s not forget Turkish coffee.  It is nothing like café Americano.  And it makes Italian espresso taste mild.  Turkish coffee is strong and thick.  The coffee grinds are served in an espress0-size cup and eventually settle to the bottom.  Tasseology is customary in Turkey, when the coffee grinds are read as a fortune.

Ah, street food.  Food carts and stalls galore!  And some of the carts in Istanbul are the most stunningly decorated carts I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

6. I had a simit (Turkish sesame bread, similar to bagel) from a food vendor just outside of the Hagia Sofia.

7. A cart of pickles, for snacking, and pickle juices, for drinking.  Drinking pickle juice was my least favorite experience in Istanbul, though certainly one of the most memorable.

8. Roasted chestnut cart.

9. A stall selling skewered deep fried mussels.  They are to-die-for (hopefully not by a heart attack).

10. Doner is Turkey’s version of shawarma.  I eat this so often in Toronto, but it wouldn’t have been a complete trip to Istanbul without one.

And lastly, the wafer helva sold on streets.  These are oversize wafers sandwiched together with a sweet cream filling.  They are children’s treats.  One would assume the street furnishings are for children, too, but those miniature chairs and tables are used by adults during tea time, which is all the time in Turkey.

Looking back, I think the name “Turkish delight” can be used for just about any type of food found in dazzling, delightful Turkey.

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