Artisanal treats: Kunefe

Turkey is famous for many desserts, but one in particular remains a craving for every sweet tooth in Hatay: Kunefe. It is a dessert that is known throughout the country but  Antakya is famous for it.  There are rows of kunefe shops on some of this city’s streets. What distinguishes Kunefe made in Antakya from others is that it is usually made fresh daily, and its primary element is an elastic cheese that is only made in the Hatay region.There are a strips of Kunefe shops in Antakya, and within their well known, Long Bazaar, where we were taught how to make the dessert.

The steps are very simple: First Kadayif dough is made in a special shop where they spin a wheel that sits over hot coals. The result: strings of dough. It is shredded phyllo dough made from flour, milk and sugar. The Kunefe maker buys the dough from the shop to combine with other ingredients. They keep the treat moist by buttering the pan, and placing the dough inside. The dough is then cooked on a hot stove for about 10 to 15 minutes. After it has browned, a thick layer of cheese is placed on top. It is placed on the stove once more for the cheese to melt. You place it on the stove once more to make it a light flaky golden brown.

Then flip it, let it cool and then pour hot syrup, made from sugar and water, on top. When that cools ground pistachios are sprinkled over it, add a little ice cream and you have a simply elegant dessert.


Ancient ruins of Antakya (Antioch)

Hatay is known for being a region with ruins that are thousands of years old. On our first day in Antakya (also known as Antioch), we visited an ancient cave where Saint Peter and Saint Paul are said to have hidden with early Christians during the Ottoman empire. It can be traced back to the Acts of the Apostles in the Christian Bible. The oldest elements of this church date back to the 4th and 5th centuries. We touched the walls they touched as they were developing the essentials of the religion we now know as Christianity.

There was also a stone altar, and chair that were later added by crusaders around the 9th century.

Another great thing about this historic site was the tunnel created to crawl up to escape from Ottoman attack.

Delightful sweets

There is one sweet treat that is well known because it has this country in its name, Turkish delight. When popping a little square in your mouth, its not often that you think about what is in this wonderful treat. It comes in multiple flavors, and sold in many shops around Turkey. The treat is created from a mix of starch and sugar based gel. Also in the mix you can find nuts, such as pistachios, walnuts or hazelnuts. It can also contain sweet fruit like dates and fruit flavors like pomagranette.

The taste originates from either artificial flavors, syrup, honey, or molasses. The morsel is usually diced in small cubes, doused in powered sugar to create an explosion of flavor in your mouth when eaten.

A Right of Passage

Every day a little boy is celebrating his first entry into a healthy adulthood. Being circumcised is a tradition for children among many religions. It is an operation in which the foreskin of the penis is removed. It is common that this process happens when the boy is born, but in Turkey it is a celebration that happens anywhere from age 2 to 14 years old. It stems from a tradition in Islam that was brought by the Prophet Mohammed.  Anything that the Prophet does or says is called Sunnet, which is the word to describe this right of passage. When it is a young boy’s time for Sunnet, he and his family celebrate by dressing him up as a Sultan for a day. Sometimes families take their sons to the fourth holiest place in Islamic culture, Eyup. It is the name of a good friend of the Prophet Mohammed who helped him during his journey from Mecca to Medine as he hosted Mohammed in his home for seven months during his trip. Eyup is full of life and has a very popular mosque that many of these little sultans visit to celebrate their special day.

After a day of fun in their costumes with their families, the boys usually go to a hospital for their operation. When they arrive home, they are typically greeted by other family members who have prepared a big feast.  a big bed with the words Masallah or “God preserve him” written over it as they await their recovery.


Kadriye: There are no strangers here

Who would have thought that there were still single communities with 20 people. Coming from a huge city like Chicago, I was baffled at the thought that a beautiful and very small village of Kadriye could consist of so few. However within the limits of this small town, they had everything: water, shelter, a mosque, a lot of love, their family and great food. Things are simple, and it seems that they love it that way. The village was within the limits of Koceili, a section of Turkey with many provinces and undergoing fortification of its water systems, and surrounding areas. However, the only fortification that this village may see is of the earth’s natural doing. We arrived in the village and we were charmed by its character. The houses, though sometimes damaged, had amazing life and one could tell that there was history within every wall. One of our hosts from the village was so hospitable that he roasted a fresh lamb for us. We paired the meat with great tasting vegetables. The lamb and veggies were totally organic and were derived from the local area. We also tried fresh strawberries right out of his garden. The were a bright beautiful red, with a taste of freshness the blew you away.  Another breath taking element of this experience was the scenic views. This village was very close to the top of one of the Samanli mountain, and the rolling hills beneath and near it were astonishing. Why can’t life always be this simple. Our host had a son whom he obviously loved very much, and it seemed like they were happy living life in a place where they could trust every thing they eat and everyone they see. There were no strangers there. Even though we entered as visitors, we felt as though we left as family.

Monument of the Republic

In Istanbul, there is a known landmark in the middle of Taksim Square called the “Monument of the Republic”. It is a statue that honors the Turkish Republic in 1923. There seem to be many protective element that ward off superstitious evil in Turkey, but this statue, like the Nazar (or evil eye) is thought to ward off reminent taboos from the Ottoman empire. The statue stands at 36 feet high and shows the founders of the Republic such as the well known Kemal Ataturk who faces northward. This side depicts he and his comrades in the earlier days looking toward the popular shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi.

Looking at Luck

As you walk around Istanbul, there will always be eyes looking back at you. I wondered the streets with the popular American song, “Very Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder ringing through my head. Commonly known superstitions in America are if one breaks a mirror, or a black cat crosses their path they will get bad luck and need resolve the situation with different remedies. In Istanbul, Turkey as well as other countries, there is something called the “evil eye”. It is the belief that individuals can cause illness or harm to people and animals with evil if directed toward them. In order to protect people from this superstition, you will see a lot of blue circles with the shape of an eye in the middle of them.

This is to protect people against the potential evil by having an eye to face it back. In Turkish, these blue eyes are called Nazar Boncugu. They are usually found outside of homes, workplaces, on cars, or worn as beads. In Islam, however, it is believed that God is the sole protector against the evil eye. This belief within the religion may be fluid among different cultures, but I found this to be an interesting contradiction seeing that Turkey is a Muslim society. However there are other methods of warding off evil such as reciting different quotes from the Qu’ran or say phrases such as “Mash Allah” or “God has willed it”. No matter the superstition you believe in, friends do not let friends submit to evil. This blue eye is sold in shops all around, and it always makes for a nice gift as it brings protection and good luck to all.

Rug Talk

I traveled to Chicago last Friday to venture into the renowned rug retailer, Oscar Isberian Rugs. When I walked through the door I was greeted by Brian Rojanasumaphong, a rug buyer and merchant for the company, travels the world in search of the crème de la crème of Rugs.

He mentioned that his trips to Turkey have been a magnificent adventure. While there, he tours rug weavers’ shops and villages in order to guide them on the changing American tastes. It’s the buyers who tell the weavers what colors might sell best in the states, and what type of rug people buy more often. This dialogue is one of the most important in the rug industry. He gave me a tour of the Oscar Isberian store near Chicago’s mecca of interior design, the Mercantile Mart, where the dark grey, industrial feeling walls made the hues of the antique carpets come alive. There were rugs that would suit any fancy with varied colors of tans, peaches, to bright greens.

Here we can see Brian standing next to a Knotisse Rug.

Knotisse is the rug manufacturer we plan to visit while on our trip. Knotisse recycles rugs by finding or buying old ones, unweaving them, rewashing and re-dying them, and later creates a new design to hand weave a reborn rug into. According to Brian, Turkish rugs are big sellers in the Chicago land area. We will find out more on how he buys them when we meet him again in Turkey.