There’s more to Turkey than camels and beaches

This article appeared in our English language daily, Hürriyet Daily News the other day:

Turkish cuisine seeks place at the table

In a bid to banish stereotypes of late-night greasy fast food, Turkish chefs are trying to burnish their image by showcasing the culinary riches the country has to offer. A new breed of cooks has shaken up the Istanbul food scene with an innovative approach to Turkish cooking, while others are on a mission to show there is more to the nation’s cuisine than the perhaps notorious döner kebab.

maxresdefault-5For many outside the country, Turkish food brings to mind images of pitta bread stuffed with shavings of meat roasted on a vertical spit, usually consumed after a heavy night of drinking.  The döner was brought to Western Europe by the Turkish diaspora, especially those in Germany where additions like salad and mayonnaise have made it a heavier meal than in Turkey. But did you ever try karnıyarık, a dish of split aubergines with a meat filling, or çılbır, poached eggs in garlic yoghurt? Ever heard of tulum, a traditional cheese ripened in a goat’s skin, or a dessert called cezerye, caramelised carrot with coconut?

“Turkish cuisine is largely known abroad through döner and kebab,” said Defne Ertan Tüysüzoğlu, Turkey director of Le Cordon Bleu, an international culinary academy, which started in Paris and now has campuses all over the world.

“Turkish cuisine is not well known,” agreed Aylin Yazıcıoğlu, executive chef at Istanbul’s Nicole Restaurant. “The food that comes to mind when people talk about Turkey is, unfortunately, all bad examples. We see this changing slowly. We’ll do our best to change it.  At Nicole, diners are offered a multicourse tasting menu of local products aimed at showing off the best that Turkish cuisine has to offer.

“I believe that in a world geared toward the ‘local,’ we’ve started to understand the value of our cuisine. We’ve started to realize the value of our products,” said Yazıcoğlu. “In our country, everything is available throughout the four seasons,” she added.

Turkish food, she said, has much to offer and needs to promote its greatest assets, such as olive oil. But to truly change perceptions, more work is required. “I can say there’s been a movement but it would be very strong to talk about a revolution. The conditions are not yet ripe for a revolution,” she said.

Close to traditional French cuisine 

Arnaud De Clercq, who has taught at the Istanbul branch of Le Cordon Bleu for the past two years and has worked in Michelin star restaurants in France, described Turkish cuisine as “very rustic” with its focus on sauces, ragouts and stews. “It is close to the traditional French cuisine: beef bourguignon, veal blanquette, lamb navarin – all this you can find here, but a bit different,” he said.  He singled out Turkish meze, the selection of small dishes served as an appetizer at the start of a meal.

n_113991_1“When the Ottoman Empire expanded, it also spread its cuisine,” he said. “You can find Turkish meze in all regions, in all countries and each country adapted it to its own taste, like in Lebanon, in Syria or in Jordan.”

Turkish chef Serkan Bozkurt from the Chef’s Table Culinary Academy, an Istanbul-based cooking school, said perceptions about Turkish cuisine were changing. Today, he said, Turkish restaurants and cafes were blossoming in Europe, with chains like the bakery Simit Sarayı and the Kahve Dünyası coffee shop opening up in London and other places.

The somewhat limited perception of Turkish food overseas, the cuisine has a wide variety of regional differences, with specialties from the western Aegean differing sharply from those in the eastern Black Sea region. Antakya in the southeast has a rich culinary heritage inspired by Aleppo in Syria, while specialties on the Black Sea include dishes such as muhlama, an unusual fondue made with corn flour, butter and cheese.

In a huge country, which spans 784,000 square kilometres, an area bigger than Germany, Poland and Austria together, the cooking styles are very varied, from the herbs and vegetables used in the Aegean, to the meat-dominated specialties of the east, Bozkurt said. Its cheeses alone are likely to impress; Turkey has dozens of varieties, which differ sharply from region to region, he said.

“I always say if a week-long cheese tour was organized in Turkey with trips to its seven regions, people would get dizzy! Turkish cuisine is not confined to meat and kebab,” he said.


Istanbul: Turkish cuisine at a crossroads

One for the ‘foodies’. I’m passing this on from Al Jazeera:

Turkish-cuisineWe explore how a new generation is keeping Turkey’s centuries-old culinary traditions alive in a modern world.

Istanbul sits at the point of intersection between Europe and Asia and its food has been heavily influenced by its rich history and traditions: the palace food from the Ottoman times, the Armenian and Greek influences and that from Anatolia.

Although Istanbul is often visited for its past, it’s very much a modern metropolis. In a buzzing city with 14 million inhabitants, the food scene is also booming.

Twenty-five percent of the city’s population is employed one way or another in the food business and many young people are creating opportunities for themselves from its rich gastronomic history.

AJEats finds out how food became such a strong part of the culture, and what the future holds for Istanbul’s food lovers in a world of fast food and mass production.


By Gerald Tan

Turkish cuisine was once described to me as the original fusion food. It instantly made sense. How often do we hear that Turkey’s commercial hub, Istanbul, is the only city occupying two continents, the point where Europe and Asia embrace. It would follow, then, that their culinary influences would be prevalent in Turkey.

Read the whole article

Pastrami? Pastırma? From Istanbul with Love

Esnaf-yüzde-20-indirimi-etikete-yansıtmıyorA friend in New York sent me this page from a gourmet blogger (Thanks Peter).

‘If you think to eat killer pastrami you need to visit a landmark deli in Manhattan, you haven’t been to Fette Sau BBQ in Brooklyn. Or The Granary in San Antonio. Or The Local Pig in Kansas City.

‘America is experiencing a pastrami renaissance with soulfully cured, assertively spiced smoked meat turning up at top barbecue joints across the country. Darkly crusted with crushed coriander seed and fiery with black pepper. Meat so moist it squirts when you cut into it and so flavorful, you don’t really need mustard, pickles, or rye bread.

611x395_pastirma_50cc7fa338881‘But I get ahead of myself, because I really wanted to begin this story not in New York or even the United States, but at the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. It was here, on my Barbecue! Bible research tour, that I came across arm-long strips of meat caked with orange aromatic spices hanging unrefrigerated from shop rafters. I had eaten versions of this cured meat—usually beef, once camel—throughout the Middle and Near East, where it goes by the name of basturma (sometimes written pasturma). It was cured and dried, not smoked, and the spicing differed dramatically from the pepper-coriander rub on American pastrami. But the two—etymologically and gastronomically—shared a common ancestor.’

Read the whole article

The Simit Comes to London

London simits

This ad appeared in our local newspaper the other day. I couldn’t resist translating and sharing it with you . . .


It’s a well-known fact the English love their 5 o’clock tea. Every day, as evening approaches, they set the table with little snacks and fill the teacups. That’s fine, we said, but wait a minute; the best thing to go with freshly brewed tea is a simit.

What’s more, the most delicious tea and the tastiest wheat are grown in our soil. Every flavour is enhanced by the touch of our sun and our water.

So we felt a responsibility to introduce our tea and our simit to the English. Besides it’s our mission to ensure that the irresistible flavour of the simit reaches every corner of the world.

First we treated our guests all over Anatolia. Then, moving beyond our borders, we spread to all points of the compass. We offered our tasty delights from Holland to Saudi Arabia.

As if that was not enough, we crossed the oceans to other continents. We opened a Simit Sarayı on New York’s famous Fifth Avenue.

And we haven’t finished. We rolled up our sleeves to make new dreams come true.

174596_simit-cayWe have now opened a Simit Sarayı in London.

We haven’t changed our name or our taste. We want the name and the flavour of our land to be known everywhere! Turkey’s Simit Sarayı is now a growing world brand.

381 Oxford St, London

The Simit Comes to New York City

The ad in our local newspaper

The ad in our local newspaper

There was a full page ad on the back of my newspaper on Monday. I’m sure that page doesn’t come cheap for advertisers because most of the time it features scantily clad young ladies and short punchy stories of the kind normally associated with British tabloids like The Sun and The Daily Mail. Well whatever you think of those journalistic techniques, they sell newspapers – The Sun and The Mail being respectively No. 1 and No. 2 in the United Kingdom for daily circulation.

Monday’s back page, however, didn’t have any kind of picture – its entirety was filled with text! As a general rule I avoid making any kind of commercial plug on this site, but I’m making an exception today. I just had to tell you New Yorkers the big news, if you haven’t already discovered it for yourselves. Here’s my translation for those who don’t read Turkish. I have taken one or two liberties, since some expressions in the original don’t have quite the same ring in English:


It’s a simple fact.

We are a nation addicted to food and to satisfying our taste buds.

We make and eat the most delicious food.

We love to eat and to feed others.

So in 2002 we took to the road.

We wanted to ensure that no one in the world should remain ignorant of the name and taste of Turkey’s irresistible delight, the simit.

We opened the first Simit Sarayı[1] in Istanbul’s Mecidiyeköy district.

At all hours, morning noon and evening, we brought piping hot simits from our oven and served them to our customers.

With, of course, the indispensible accompaniment of Turkish tea.

We won the loyal support of our customers, and we thank them for it.

In a short time we opened branches all over Turkey.

Turkish tea and simit - like a taste of heaven

Turkish tea and simit – like a taste of heaven

From east to west and north to south we welcomed customers throughout our land. Before long we ventured abroad, opening branches in all corners of the globe. From Holland to Saudi Arabia we presented our taste sensations. As if that was not enough, we crossed the oceans to other continents.

And today, on 9 November 2014, we realized our long-cherished dream.

We opened our first Simit Saray in America, on New York’s 5th Avenue

without changing our name or our taste.

We wanted this unique flavour of Turkey to be known in its true identity.

Turkey’s Simit Sarayı is now a world brand.


[1] Simit Palace