Ever since Fiona visited here a decade ago her answer to the very important “if you could only eat one cuisine…” question was: Turkish. I’m as partial to the occasional Donner kebab as the next person at 3am in the morning (or from Daniel’s fine foods with hummus, garlic yoghurt and three lines of hot chilli, at any other time) but I struggled to see what she was on about until we got here. Now, I understand.
The Turkish food that’s available at home is just the tip of the Turkish culinary iceberg. Like Mexican, the foods we associate as the whole of the cuisine at home are really on snack foods here. Kebabs are on every street corner, sure, but they’re not what’s on offer in nicer restaurants. And they’re never offered with the sauces that define their flavour at home. They’re typically only meat, onion, tomato and maybe a pickle or two. Not hummus in sight. Pide, a sort of cheeseless pizza, all lamb, tomato and egg, rounds out the snack offering with aplomb. In a mostly porkless land, it reminded me of bacon and egg pie. In a good way.
So what else is there beyond snacks in the Turkish food universe? A wide range of other approaches to grilled meats (and meatballs), an abundance of complimentary salads, and a delightful array of artfully spied stews and casseroles. Seafood is also a feature for those that are so inclined. The good people of Izmir have even managed to create a thoroughly agreeable way to eat mussels for those who are not: cooked in their shell and stuffed with a lightly spiced rice dish.
Then there are mezes. Like anti-pasti, these are small bites to be eaten with bread before lunch or dinner. Highlights so far include ezme, a mushed tomato and pepper thing that is delicious, an implausibly delicious dip constructed from broad beans and dill peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes are either more tomato, or more sun-dried, because they are the best I have sampled. There’s also a delicious option which is based on raw minced lamb. We tried it on our first night in Turkey and had no inkling of its butchered content.
Maybe best of all, Turkey is a country where people care about food and therefor eat out. A lot. So as opposed to, say, Iran, or most of South America, where you need to wrangle your way into a home to get a decent meal, there’s good fare to be had everywhere you look in Turkey. And if you happen to want a home-style meal, there are lunchtime places that offer that very experience in their bain-maries (bains-marie?), and the piles of crusty breads besides.