Dhaka, Bangladesh
A repertory of food at the great - good places

A repertory of food at the great - good places

(From previous issue) "Meze" Dishes to Accompany the Spirits In Turkey, despite the Islamic prohibition against wine and anything alcoholic, there is a rich tradition associated with liquor. Drinking alcoholic beverages in the company of family and friends at home and in taverns, and restaurants, is a part of special occasions. Similar to the Spanish tapas, "meze" is the general category of dishes that are brought in small quantities to start the meal off. These are eaten, along with wine or more likely with "rak?";, the anise-flavoured national drink of Turks sometimes referred to as "lion's milk", for a few hours until the main course is served. The bare minimum meze for raki are slices of honeydew melons and creamy feta cheese with freshly baked bread. Beyond these, a typical meze menu includes dried and marinated mackerel, fresh salad greens in thick yogurt sauce with garlic, plates of cold vegetable dishes cooked or fried in olive oil, fried crispy savoury pastry, deep fried mussels and calamaris served in sauce, tomato and cucumber salad, and fish eggs in sauce. The main course that follows such a meze spread will be fish or grilled meat. When the main course is kebab, then the meze spread is different. In this case, several plates different types of minced salad green and tomatoes in spicy olive oil, mixed with yogurt or cheese, "humus" chick peas mashed in tahini, bulgur and red lentil balls, "raw köfte", marinated stuffed eggplant, peppers with spices and nuts, and pickles, are likely to be served. Fish and other Sea-Food Four seas (the Black Sea, Marmara Sea, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean) surround the Turkish landscape, and residents of the coastal cities are experts in preparing their fish. However, the best of the day's catch is also immediately transported to Ankara, where some of the finest fish restaurants are located. Winter is the premium season for eating fish. That is the time when many species of fish migrate from the Black Sea to the warmer waters and when most fish reach their mature sizes. So, the lack of summer vegetables is compensated by the abundance of fish at this time. Every month has its own preferred fish along, with certain vegetables which complement the taste. For example, the best bonito is eaten with arugula and red onions, blue fish with lettuce, turbot with cos lettuce. Large bonito may be poached with celery root. Mackerel is stuffed with chopped onion before grilling, and summer fish, which are younger and drier, will be poached with tomatoes and green peppers, or fried. Bay leaves always accompany both poached and grilled fish. Grilling fish over charcoal, where the fish juices hit the embers and envelope the fish with the smoke, is perhaps the most delicious way of eating mature fish, since this method brings out the delicate flavour. This is also why the grilled fish and bread sold by vendors right on their boats are so testy. "Hamsi" is the prince of all fish known to Turks: the Black Sea people know forty one ways of making hamsi, including hamsi börek, hamsi pilaf and hamsi dessert! Another common seafood is the mussel-eaten deep fried, poached, or as a mussel dolma and mussel pilaf. Along the Aegean, octupus and calamary are added to the meze spread. The places to taste fish are fish restaurants and taverns. Not all taverns are fish restaurants, but most fish restaurants are taverns and these are usually found on the harbours overlooking the sea. The Bosphorus is famous for its fisherman's taverns, large and small, from Rumeli Kavagi to Kumkapi. The modest ones are small with wooden tables and rickety wooden chairs, nevertheless they offer delicious grilled fish. Then there are elaborate, fashionable ones in Tarabya and Bebek. The fish restaurants have always an open-air section taking up space right by the sea; the waiters run back and forth between the kitchen, perhaps located within the restaurant across the street, and the tables on the seaside. After being seated, it is customary to visit the kitchen or the display to pick your fish and discussed the way you want it to be prepared. The price of the fish is also disclosed at this time. Then you swing by the meze display and order the ones you want. So the evening begins, sipping raki in between samplings of meze, watching the sunset, and slowly setting the pace for conversation that will continue hours into the night. Drinking is never a hurried, loud, boisterous, or a lonely affair. It is a communal, gently festive and cultured way of entertainment. In these fish restaurants, a couple of families may spend an evening with their children running around the restaurant after they are fed, while the teenagers sit at the table patiently listening to the conversation and occasionally participating, when the topic is soccer or rock music. The Real Story of Sweets : Beyond the Baklava The most well known sweets associated with the Turkish Cuisine are the Turkish Delight, and the "baklava", giving the impression that these may be the typical desserts eaten after meals. This is not true. First, the family of desserts is much richer than these two. Secondly, these are not typical desserts as part of a main meal. For example, baklava and its relatives are eaten usually with coffee, as a snack or after a kebab dish. Let us now look at the main categories of sweets in the Turkish Cuisine. By far, the most common dessert after a meal is fresh seasonal fruit that acquire their unique taste from an abundance of sun and old-fashioned ways of cultivation and transportation. Spring will start with strawberries, followed by green cherries and apricots. Summer is marked by peaches, watermelons and melons; then, all kinds of grapes ripen in late summer, followed by green and purple figs, plums, apples, pears and quince. Oranges, mandarin oranges, and bananas are among the winter fruits. For most of the spring and summer, fruit is eaten fresh. Later, it may be used fresh or dried, in compotes, or made into jams and preserves. Among the preserves, the unique ones to taste are the quince marmalade, the sour cherry preserve, and the rose preserve (made of rose petal). The most wonderful contribution of the Turkish Cuisine to the family of desserts, that can easily be missed by casual explorers, are the milk desserts - the "muhallebi" family. These are among the rare types of guilt-free puddings made with starch and rice flour, and, originally without any eggs or butter. When the occasion calls for even a lighter dessert, the milk can also be omitted; instead, the pudding may be flavoured with citrus fruits, such as lemon and orange. The milk desserts include a variety of puddings, ranging from the very light and subtle pudding with rose-water to the milk pudding with strands of chicken breast. Grain-based desserts include baked pastries, fried yeast dough pastries and the pan-sautéed desserts. The baked pastries can also be referred to as the baklava family. These are paper-thin pastry sheets that are brushed with butter and folded, layered, or rolled after being filled with ground pistachios, walnuts or heavy cream, and baked. Then a syrup is poured over the baked pastries. The various types, such as the sultan, the nightingale's nest, twisted turban differ according to the amount and placement of nuts, size and shape of the individual pieces, and the dryness of the final product. The "lokma" family is made by frying soft pieces of yeast dough in oil and dipping them in a syrup. Lady's lips, lady's navel, vizier finger are fine examples. "Helva" is made by pan-sautéeing flour or semolina and pine nuts in butter before adding sugar, milk or water, and briefly cooking until these are absorbed. The preparation of helva is conducive to communal cooking. People are invited for "helva conversations" to pass the long winter nights. The more familiar tahini helva is sold in blocks at a corner grocery shop. Another dessert that should be mentioned is a piece of special bread cooked in syrup, topped with lots of walnuts and heavy cream. This is possibly the queen of all desserts, so plan to taste it at the Ikbal Restaurant on the Ankara-Izmir highway at Afyon. There are shops where baklava, börek, or muhallebi are sold, exclusively or in combination. People come to these places for take-away or to sit down at one of the few tables tucked in a corner of the store. The baklava stores usually feature also "water börek", an especially difficult börek to make. Most börek shops also make milk puddings. These are excellent places to eat breakfast or lunch at any time of the day, since the regular restaurants may stop serving at two o'clock in the afternoon. Many pudding shops also serve chicken soup. In any event, it is possible to feast on börek and milk pudding for an entire holiday, if on a tight budget. Perhaps the most well-known shop of this type is Saray on Istiklal street in Beyoglu-Istanbul, in addition to the entire village of Sariyer on the Bosphorus. You have to be in Turkey to get the real and the best taste of the above desserts. However, in addition to the variety of Turkish Delights, there is a lesser-known type of dessert that can be taken back home in a sweet box. These are nut pastes-marzipan made of almonds and pistachios. The best marzipan is sold at the tiny, unassuming shop at Bebek in Istanbul. A few boxes usually will last for a month or so and bring delight after dinners. Finally, candied chestnuts, a specialty of Bursa, are among the most wonderful nutty desserts. Beverages : Knowing beyond the Turkish Coffee and "Ayran" Volumes have been written about the Turkish coffee; its history, significance in social life, and the ambiance of the ubiquitous coffee houses. Without some understanding of this background, it is easy to be disappointed by the tiny brew with the annoying grounds on which an uninitiated traveler (like Mark Twain) may accidently end up chewing. A few words of caution will have to suffice for the purposes of this brief primer. First, the grounds are not to be swallowed; so, sip the coffee gingerly. Secondly, don't expect a caffeine surge with one shot of Turkish coffee, it is not "strong", just thick. Third, remember that it is the setting and the company that matters-the coffee is just an excuse for the occasion... Wooden coffee mills Tea, on the other hand, is the main source of caffeine for the Turks. It is prepared in a special way, by brewing it over boiling water and served in delicate, small clear glasses to show the deep red colour and to keep it hot. Drinking tea is such an essential part of a working day, that any disruption of the constant supply of fresh tea is a sure way to sacrifice productivity. Once upon a time, so the story goes, a lion escaped from the Ankara Zoo and took up residence in the basement of an office building. It began devouring public servants and executives. It even ate up a few ministers of state and nobody took notice. It is said that a posse was immediately formed when the lion caught and ate the "tea-man", the person responsible for the supply of fresh tea! A park without tea and coffee is inconceivable in Turkey. Thus, every spot with a view has a tea-house or a tea-garden. These places may be under a plane tree looking into the village or town square, on top of hills with majestic views of a valley or the sea, by the harbour, in the market, on a road-side with a scenic overview, by a waterfall or in the woods. Among the typical tea-gardens in Istanbul : the Emirgan on the European side, Camlica on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus, the famous Pierre Loti cafe, and the tea-garden in Üsküdar. (Nargile) But the traditional tea-houses are beginning to disappear from the more tourist-oriented seaside locations, in favour of "pubs" and "Biergarten"... Among the beverages worth mentioning are excellent bottled fruit juices. But, perhaps the most interesting drink is "boza", traditionally sold in neighbourhood streets by mobile vendors on a winter night. This is a thick, fermentated drink made of wheat berries, to be enjoyed with a dash of cinnamon and a handful of roasted chick-peas. Boza can also be found year-round at certain cafes or dessert shops. Finally, "sahlep" is a hot drink made milk and sahlep powder. It is a good remedy for sore throats and colds, in addition to being delicious. Reference: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey

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