Saturday, August 29, 2009

Eggplant Patlicanli Kebab - A Savory Turkish Dish

While I'm a vegetarian, my mom isn't, so she was able to order off basically anything on the menu (my next post will be on what I mostly ate during my trip. A hint - it wasn't anything exciting).

Kebab and gyro dominate street corners and menu spaces. Lacking in the vegetable department, my mom needed some 'fiber' in her dinner. We spotted eggplant patlicanli k ebab (eggplant kebab) and she was sold. Well, it turned out to be a kebab of cubed eggplant AND beef. It was a great deal at about $8 US and it came with rice (FYI, their rice is cooked in salt and butter, so not plain rice), grilled tomato, onion, and pepper, plus lavash to wrap the food in, such as a DIY burrito meal. The beef was nicely spiced and it was a lot of food. Our dinner also came with complimentary ezme (spicy tomato dip) and pickled condiments. I wasn't too fond of the dip (too spicy for me).

Although I didn't consume this dish, I still wanted to share it with you the reader because it is a typical meal you'd find in Turkey. It would be boring to just showcase what I ate. I think we can all learn something from each other through sharing our knowledge in addition to personal experience. I may not eat meat due to personal belief, but I still encouraged my mom to order some of the common, national dishes so SHE could experience what's it like to eat like a local. Food plays a significant role in any culture, so if it isn't due to religious, health or personal reasons, I think it's important to try out different food as a way to respect and appreciate a particular culture.

Bon appétit!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Turkish sweets

Now how can you have tea without a little 'something something'? To end our last evening in Istanbul on a 'sweet' note, we left the dinner restaurant and hit up a more local cafe to get our sugar fix. There was an array of Turkish sweets, such as the ubiquitous baklava, kadayif ((made from shredded pastry baked in syrup) or lokma (deep-fried lumps of batter served in syrup). We chose a pistachio kadayıf.

You see how small it is as my sweetie rested on the snow-white plate?? You don't usually order 'just one', but I just wanted a taste not a sugar rush at that hour. This two bite miniature is just perfect for my two sip Turkish tea. As I savored the last moment while looking out on the evening street, I recalled the warm hospitality in the smaller Turkish city and luscious history this country is built on.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Turkish Tea (çay)

Turkish tea, also known as çay was my favorite beverage while on vacation there. As I'm used to the American version of drink quantity (big cup of tea, big mug of coffee, big gulp of soda...), I was at first mystified by the small glass of tea when the weather there is so hot. How could one quench thirst with just 2 sip of caffeinated liquid? Then I learnt the beauty of savory and patience. Yes, one can discover wisdom by the art of tea drinking.

Turkish tea is served in a tulip-shaped glass along with a stainless steel spoons and exactly two sugar cubes. I don't like to sweeten my tea, but most Turkish do stir in both cubes. As I delicately sip the hot beverage, I soaked in the remaining heat from the early blazing sun along with the late evening breezes. Although I would welcome another glass of tea, I was surprised satisfied with just one. Rarity is bliss sometimes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Julie & Julia

I'm going to take a break from writing about my trip to Turkey to chat about a recent movie I saw - "Julie & Julia". As I don't have much disposable income, it takes a lot for me to invest $12.50 on a 2+ hour movie. But...because Meryl Streep is an amazing actress, plus the opportunity to see lots of food porns (instead of watching the Food Networks), I decided to indulge myself a bit and watched this movie alone. I also haven't gone to a movie theatre alone for a long time and actually, I quite enjoyed it. I got to rest my bags in the seat next to me instead of placing items by my feet. I could concentrate on the movie. I might actually go back alone soon. It's like dining solo. It could be very rewarding and enjoyable.

Back to the movie. Lots of reviews have mentioned that the Julia portion should've elaborated more, but because this IS a movie based on a book by Julie Powell and not a documentary about the lovely Julia Child, this justifies the equal balance between the two heroines. I thought both actresses did a fabulous job. Meryl Streep, of course, resurrected Julia Child's spirit, voice, and composition. I remembered the first time I watched Child's cooking show. I must admit, I was a bit afraid of her. She's not your typical prettied-up chef; rather, she's hunchbacked, has an alto tone voice, and a bit disheveled hairstyle. But her genuine personality and charismatic humor won me over. She made mistakes (like we all do) and admitted them. She made the kitchen fun and the most difficult recipe 'easy' to recreate (although I probably would be too afraid to cut a lobster). While watching the movie, I do secretly wished to see more Julia than Julie, but that's another story

I also was touched by the love relationships - Julia and her husband (Paul) and Julie and her husband (Eric). They are loving spouses who supported their wives' dreams and career. I also especially enjoyed the great passion between Julia and Paul and you could tell they treated each other as equal individuals.

While most French foods are probably too heavy for my weak stomach (lotsa 'butta' and vino), the French's attitude towards food should be noted. They celebrate and embrace food rather than the American way of calorie measurement and food categorization.
Julie & Julia could be seemed as a chick flick, but to me, it taught me two things: food brings people together and if you stick to your goal, you'll prevail.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mountains of Spices!

Another wonderful gastro contribution from the Turkish land is the amazing variety of spices sold in the local market. I bet if you buy one of each, your kitchen would become a symphony of smell! There were chili powder, mint, curry, saffron, was just piles and piles of colorful goodness that resembles a walk on a rainbow.

I took this picture at the Spice Market (also called the Spice Bazaar). You can bargain for a good price, but not too low though. Besides spices, tea leaves, Turkish delights, and other local delicacies were also sold by the vendors. It was a culinary heaven and the best part for me was I didn't have to smell anymore meat for a short while.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Another Turkish obssession - FIGS

Besides the amazing Turkish bread, I also felt in love with a nature's sweet - figs. At first, I wasn't too armoured by this small beauty, but after seeing street carts filled with this lusciously sweet fruit sold by kg, I got tempted in buying a couple to try out and I felt in love instantly.
Granted we can find the fig's green and purple versions in the supermarkets and street carts here, I was never a 'fig' person until now. Figs can be an expensive fruit to invest in. Right now, I find the cheapest deal at a street cart. I got a small basket of 6 little guys for $2. I just needed to buy me some Turkish memory and some sweet indulgence.

The figs sold here are from California and you can learn more about them here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Turkey Summer Trip Part 2 - Carb Overload

Here's an SAT linguistic question for you -

As rice: Chinese, ____:Turkish
a) rice
b) noodle
c) bread
d) potatoes

The answer....C!

Yes. Turkish people eat bread as other Asian population treats rice. Bread is their major source of carbohydrate. Whether it's paired with jam, cheese, or honey for breakfast, or envelope around sliced meat as a sandwich for lunch, or eating with kebaps for dinner, bread is the unanimous starch in every meal. Rice (aka pilaf) is also offered and served in restaurants or mobile food vendors, but the rice is always seasoned with margarine and salt, which is very untypical for other Asian cuisines as plain rice is always, well, just plain (unless it's stir-fried).

I actually had my best bread in a smaller city called Izmir. I think it's because most bread was baked on premise, whereas in Istanbul, the bread is probably produced in a large bakery and delivered to stores and hotels. I try to maintain a healthy diet, but as bad as 'white' bread is, I just couldn't resist the crusty French bread that's comped for every table meal. The bread is rarely toasted (as in the US), but because it's always freshly made, the exterior is always still hard and crusty (the way I like it) and the innard (the doughy section) is soft and fluffy. Since I enjoy the crust more than the inside, I've this pet-peeve of just sabotaging the crust, while leaving the white inside behind in the bread basket.

Pitas are another option, but mostly only at places that create Turkish pizzas. The pitas are much like Afghan bread, which you can buy in Middle Eastern stores here. The crust is usually too charred for me, but I still enjoy the bread, which I'll explain why in the next post. I think I've eaten more bread than I do at home. I do miss rice, especially brown rice, but after awhile, after much walking around, bread is really a great source to replenish lost energy.

What are your favorite ways to dress your bread? Recently, I've been spreading creamy avocado on and before that, it was with semi-frozen yogurt on hot and toasted grainy bread.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Turkey Summer Trip 2009

Every year, mom and I always embark on an annual oversea trip. Since we rarely spend a lot on entertainment or other opulent indulgence in NYC, we treat ourselves to a deserving 'vaca' since we both like to travel and prefer to spend our disposable income on travelling than on a thousand dollar handbag.

Turkey had always been on my mom's mind for a few years, but something always came up, but we eventually put our feet down and were determined to make this destination come true this year. Lots have been going on, so it was great to get away from it all. I felt so energetic and full of life while I was travelling. My daily walk is equivalent to a month of movement here! Quite sad actually.

This isn't a travel blog, but I still want to point out some great scenic photos and of course, food photos as well. At first, I thought I'd be in meze heaven in Turkey, but actually, it's a more meat-based country, so I had to reply on salads and bread (overload of carbs) on this trip. But if you like meat and cheese, this is the place for you. You meet cheap gyro and cheese sandwiches on every street corner and they're cheap street food! If you're not looking for fancy food, you can definitely fill yourself up quite economically.

I visited Izmir and Istanbul and you could guess that the latter city is very, very touristy, which I didn't enjoy very much. But, still got to visit this major capital city. I loved Izmir because the local people were really down to earth and showed great hospitality. They would even treat you to a cup of cay (Turkish tea) even if you're just a stranger! Very generous people.

I think my initial Turkey entry would be mostly on sceneries. Then I'll gradually introduce some food photos. Don't worry, they're not all salads because my companion does eat meat and desserts, so you will get to see some varieties. Without further adieu, behold the luscious and cultural aspect of this magnificent country that has an amazing history of Christianity and Islam.