Artisan Antakya: The Art of Roasting

Walking around the market in Antayka this weekend, my nose stumbled upon a shop, selling an assortment of roasted nuts. After tasting a variety of samples, we settled on a bag of roasted cashews. Then the owner, Ismai, came out to greet us and invited us to a back corner for some tea. Bar none, Turkish hospitality is like no other I’ve experienced. Where ever you go, people will eagerly offer you a cup of tea, insisting on continuously refilling it. It takes about three cups to become best friends with someone here! Enjoying our tea and roasted nuts with Ismail, I learned that he has been in the nut industry for quite a while. He first started out by himself, pushing a little cart up and down the streets selling nuts. Now, fifteen years later, he owns his own nut roasting company, and ships to many different cities across Turkey.

His business is in Antayka, the Hatay region, which is close to the border with Syria. Currently there are four Syrian refugee camps located in the Southeast region of Turkey. While some of the shopkeepers have been hit hard during the turmoil in Syria, because it’s harder for people to cross back and forth over the border, Ismail said he hasn’t experienced the same loss of business as others.

Several shopkeepers report  their profits drastically declined because Syrian customers aren’t able to frequent them anymore. But, when talking with these various shop owners, there was one theme in common–empathy. They all expressed in some way that even if their businesses took a hit from the Syrian conflict, the most important issue for them was their Syrian brothers and sisters, as they affectionately referred to them. They displayed such humanity and concern for those across the border who are dealing with violence almost daily.

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.


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.

The Art of Coffee-Making

Clink, boil, clank, pour, done. The coffee-maker at Pierre Loti Cafe moved seamlessly through the process of making a cup of Turkish coffee. After attempting to capture the process on camera, I realized that it isn’t just a routine: it is an art. The speed with which he stirred or the amount of time he let the cezve sit on the hot coals are coordinated acts in creating a perfect cup of coffee.


Pierre and Me

As the burial place of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed, the village of Eyüp is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from all over the world. The famous Pierre Loti café stands at the top of the hill in Eyüp cemetery. The path up to the café passes by a  picturesque array of tombstones, most of which date from the Ottoman Era. We chose to take a cable car up to the top, from where it commands sweeping views down over the Golden Horn. The café is named after the French novelist and Turkophile Pierre Loti, who frequented a café in Eyüp-claimed to be this one-during his stay In 1876. He was a French naval officer who fell in love with a married Turkish woman and wrote an autobiographical novel, Aziyadé, about their affair (though there is some speculation that this affair was in fact with another man). While enjoying the view and fresh air, I had a refreshing snack of Turkish ice cream (dondurma) and Turkish coffee- great combo!

In Turkish coffee, there is a layer of sludge that settles to the bottom of the cup. Superstition says that one can read a person’s fortune, not from their hand, but from this same sludge that lies on the bottom of their coffee cup; the thick, dark grounds can also be read to determine when and who a person is going to marry.

We decided to test this theory out.

The group gathered around as Susanne Fowler poured out the sludge from my cup onto the saucer. We then looked inside the cup at the remaining residue on the sides to see the shapes left behind that would tell of my fortuitous future. From the shapes of a tree, turkey and rabbit it was discovered that I was on a growing (tree) journey and in my future lay travel, marriage to a farmer (turkey) and strong fertility (rabbit). To determine the first name of my future farmer husband, the sludge was poured from the saucer back into the cup to see if any trace of a letter was left behind–the majority agreed it was a P. This could obviously mean only one thing–I was going to marry a French farmer, Pierre, live in the countryside of Provence and bear multiple children. Not too shabby, only time will tell!


Turkish Fast Food: Döner

Döner is a Turkish dish made with lamb, beef, or chicken topped with tomatoes and fries. The ingredients are wrapped in a flatbread or stuffed into a sub. The sandwich is served hot from a grill. Meat lovers can find these stands all over Istiklal Avenue by looking for a Döner, or rotating roast. Meat is stacked and seasoned into an inverted cone. The stacks of meat rotate slowly, rotisserie-style, in front of a cast iron or electric burner. Once the outer layer of the meat is cooked, it is shaved off into thin, crisp pieces with a long knife, by which it falls into a tray below the spit.

This dish is common fast food in Europe and the Middle East.



Tricks for a Treat

Turkish ice cream vendors are known for teasing customers before they can finally have their dondurma.

Turkish ice cream is made with milk, sugar, salep, and mastic. The salep is a flour made from the tubers of an orchid plant. It gives the ice cream its thickness. Mastic is a resin from a tree within the Pistachio genus that makes the ice cream chewy. The mastic allows vendors to throw and stretch the sweet treat to catch people’s attention. I found several of these vendors clad in their embellished, gold vests and fez’s all over Istiklal Avenue (a main street in the Beyoglu District).

Turkish Delicacies

If you like a good strong cup of coffee in the morning for your daily caffeine dose, Turkish coffee doesn’t disappoint. Chock full of aromas and flavors, Turkish coffee is made from finely ground beans, that are boiled in an open pot known as a cezve, traditionally made out of copper. Sugar is added for desired sweetness, along with other optional spices such as cardamom. The mixture is brought to a boil, allowing for a thin layer of foam to develop. The coffee is sometimes put on reduced heat and brought to a boil two or three additional times to achieve a thick layer of foam–the success of a well-prepared cup of Turkish coffee. Finally the coffee is served steeping hot, poured into small, espresso like cups. There is a thin layer of sludgy grounds that remain at the bottom of the cup. If you’re superstitious you can pour your cup upside down over the saucer and read your fortune in the pattern of the grounds.

And there is no better way to enjoy Turkish coffee than with Turkish delight! This traditional sweet comes in a variety of flavors, typically made with chopped dates, pistachios and hazelnuts or walnuts. The ingredients are bound together by a molasses gel, and then dusted with powdered sugar. While this is the traditional version, many variations of this delicious sweet exist featuring marshmallows, chocolate and coconut!

Eastern Turkish Breakfast and Beyoglu Snacks

(A little late, but today was memorable in terms of cuisine.)

For our first breakfast, we ate van kahevlti — a type of Kurdish, or Eastern Turkey, culinary style. Among the more familiar olives and orange juices was cucumber yogurt, rose jam and apricot juice, along with various breads and Turkish cheeses.

Around 10 a.m., we went down Istiklal, a main street and the heart of Beyoglu, and saw multiple food vendors and restaurants. But food that was literally on every corner was the kestane kebap that street vendors sold in little red and white carts. The roasted Turkish chestnuts, which are harvested in the fall and are sold throughout the year, are a common snack around town. If you want to see the chestnuts (and learn the pronunciation), click below for more.

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When Food isn’t Just Food

Turkish subcultures can be displayed in many different ways, but in my opinion, food is the most relatable way to do so. Everyone eats, everyone is hungry and everyone, though they may be hard pressed to admit it, wants to try food from different cultures.

What is really interesting me, though, is how resturants in America tend to be more generalized toward the countries as a whole. Rarely are there any “Tatar” diners or “Kurdish” coffee shops in Chicago, but rather, there are simply “Turkish restaurants.” This is surprising, especially when you take into account the amount of cultural groups that migrate to Turkey.

Granted, the United States is able to differentiate certain specific cultures from some countries—I’ve eaten at many Cantonese restaurants before in Illinois–but there are some countries that have subgroups lumped together in terms of restaurants in the states. What’s the difference between Cretan Turks and Anatolians? As of right now, I don’t know. But they are two different walks of life, so why does the cuisine have to be the same? My hope is to find that in Istanbul, the restaurants are sub-culture specific, something that is not the case here.

Of course, I had to first establish some background so over spring break, I visited “Turkish Cuisine,” a general Turkish restaurant located in downtown Chicago, on the ethnic strip of Clark Street. Between feeding the meters, and navigating I-88 going home, I had the pleasure of talking to Marina Cardak, the manager at that time. She said she brought Turkish Cuisine to Chicago because of the need for a Turkish restaurant in the area. Though Cardak is the first to admit that the menu is comprised mostly of Mediterranean and Anatolian dishes, she said that because the food is general, Turkish Cuisine is able to feed multiple people.

These are some of the pictures from Chicago. Check back soon for some more from Turkey. Hopefully, I’ll discover different cuisines that accurately represent the population breakdown of Istanbul. At the very least, I’ll be constantly eating, which is one of my more serious hobbies.