Food & Drink

Ro’s Recipes: Turkish Delight

The journey continues. My dream was to go to the famed Grand Bazaar within the walled city of Istanbul, dating from the mid-1400s, where days are not enough to explore all the 5000 covered stalls covering many streets. Impossible to see everything, I focused on carpets, food and spices as areas to explore, tripping over trinkets, beads, blankets, pots and plates.

It is important to understand that shopping in many Middle Eastern countries, especially in bazaars, there is a different style and etiquette. Prices may not be listed. Even if you are a “local” and know what an item should cost, there is still the bartering game to be played. It is central to communication between strangers within their roles as buyer and seller. Expressing a real interest in a carpet begins the barter process, so it is not advisable to express an interest in a carpet unless you are serious. It wastes time and is impolite. It is not meant to intimidate, though if you don’t know what to expect, it can be culturally and financially confusing. And to be honest, some do take advantage of foreigners’ cultural ignorance and naivete about the custom.

Having been fascinated by Tibetan carpet weavers in India as a child, I had immense respect for their art, craft and culture and keenly wanted to see some magnificent floor coverings while in Turkey. Konya has been the carpet weaving capital of Turkey since 4th century BC. It should be noted that carpet weaving, requiring dexterity and detail, was highly respected women’s work, while the men tended crops and animals.

Women, working alone in their homes designed the rugs, weaving their own traditional family symbolism and age old patterns of place and origin into each individual piece. You would no more walk in street shoes on an embroidered table cloth or handkerchief than a hand woven carpet. It is a cultural work of art and as such demands care and respect: bare or stockinged feet, never  shoes — just as you tread in a mosque.

Then to the spice market, called the Egyptian Bazaar, originally dating from 1420, before it was demolished in a fire and rebuilt in 1660. It is the heart of the important European and Asian spice trade. You smell the spice bazaar before you see it. Whole spices are displayed in pyramid piles at the front of each vendor’s small shop. Dried fruit, nuts, pickles, Turkish delight and other sweetmeats also have their place in the spice section.

There are numerous tiny eateries hidden in the bazaar, selling kebabs, grilled vegetables, dolmas, unleavened breads for wraps, tooth-tingling sweet pastries that should be eaten with Turkey’s unsweetened black tea.

One night we went to a restaurant for dinner famous for its belly dancers. The dancers were not the slender, sinewy shimmering I’d assumed I’d see. They were dressed in bright colored, sparkly patterned masks, shawls and skirts, thick hipped, bulky and male! Most of the tea drinkers and diners at the restaurant were also male, appreciating the percussive, shiver-skill of the dancers along with the trilling tinklings of finger cymbals. They were not substituting for women. This was clearly a valid alternative male entertainment. “Oryantal,” “Eastern,” “Country,” or “Folk” dance from the Middle East and Spain dating from before the 1st century AD was termed belly dance in the U.S. when it became popular in the 19th century. It carries no sexual implications.

Like most eastern cuisines, a large variety of vegetables are very important in Turkish cuisine, along with grains, fruit, including olives and bread with a primary protein sharing the center of the plate. The main meal starts with meze — assorted small dishes, then soup with plenty of grilled or stuffed or wrapped vegetables, meat stews, kebabs, fish on the coastal areas, salads and finishing with sweet layered pastries.

Turkish cuisine is one of the most diverse, developed and refined. It has been influenced over the centuries by Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese, North African, Middle Eastern and Eastern European cuisines emanating from the influence of 600 years of the Ottoman Empire.

Some of the best, most balanced and flavorful meals I’ve ever eaten were in Turkey, with each region specializing in different ingredients and dishes.

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. March 31, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    I wish I could time travel to the Turkey of your memories, Ro.
    Another wonderful adventure shared with readers of WVFC.
    Many thanks for this and for the tempting recipe for Kibbehs.
    I know now why I order in a restaurant and “don’t try this at home”!!
    Who has this much time?
    Pat Allen

  • Millicent Borges Accardi March 31, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    This was a lovely article, BUT I had clicked on it, hoping for a recipe for the candy called Turkish Delight!