Friday 9 December 2016

A Taste of Turkish Street Foods

I wanted to share with you some of my favourite street foods... and drinks from my trip to Turkey, where eating on the street is a feast for all the senses.

  1.     Simit – chewy sesame crusted ‘Turkish bagels’ brushed with pekmez, grape molasses, available from street carts all over the city. Enjoy them anytime, anywhere with Kahue, Turkish coffee or Cay, black tea, in curved glasses.

2.    Kestane Kebab– roasted chestnuts

3.    In summer don’t miss Misir freshly boiled or grilled sweet corn.

4.    Baklava– buttery flaky pastries in a myriad of shapes filled with nuts, dripping with syrup or honey – seek out Karaköy Güllüoğlu bakery and Develi Baklava in Eminönü – for a flat breakfast version with pistachio.

5.    Lokma– a traditional Ottoman Palace dessert, little dough balls, fried until crisp, then soaked in a honey-syrup and occasionally sprinkled with chopped pistachios.

6.    Doner Kebab– I’ve never been quite brave enough to try Doner Kebab until I visited Istanbul, it's made with chicken, lamb or beef sometimes interspersed with vegetables then char-gilled on a vertical spit and served in lavash (bread), sooo good.

7.     Dolma–  vine, cabbage or chard leaves, stuffed with rice and meat, there's also a meat less version made with currants and pine nuts known as Yalance – called imitation or cheats dolma – eat them with yoghurt.

8.    Balik Ekmer– freshly grilled fish sandwiches from the Karaköy Eminönü area close to the Galata bridge.

9.    Midye Dolma– Mussels, still in the shell, stuffed with spicy rice.

10.  Borek–  flakey savoury pastries filled with cheese, meat or vegetables. Sometimes cigar shaped or rolled into to a snake like coil 

11.  Pide–  (pronounced pee – day) long boat shaped pizza like bread stuffed with mince, a variety or meat, vegetables, cheese and egg filling,  cooked in a wood burning oven.

12.  Gösleme– a sort of flat bread pancake rolled up with a variety of savoury fillings, then cooked on a Saç or metal griddle.

13.  Dondurma–   Turkish ice-cream whipped in the Kabraman Maras tradition.

14.  Lahmacun – a pizza-like flat bread with a paper thin crust topped with spicy minced lamb and cooked in a wood oven. Eat it with lots of flat parsley and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

15.  Kokorec – another famous Turkish street food, kokoreç is an old Ottoman dish made of rolled sheep’s intestines roasted on a horizontal spit over a charcoal fire, then chopped and mixed with ripe tomato, dried thyme and red pepper flakes, served with crusty bread.

16.   Icle Kofte– crisp little croquettes with pointy ends stuffed with minced meat, usually lamb, walnuts, spices and red pepper flakes.

17.   Kunefe – made from kadajif, a kind of shredded wheat pastry, tossed in melted butter, filled with melting cheese, soaked in syrup with pistachio nuts sprinkled over the top. It’s cooked in little tin dishes over a charcoal fire – divine.

18.   Lokum – Turkish delight in a myriad of flavours, nothing remotely like the sweet sugary tooth wrenching confection that passes for Turkish delight outside Turkey. Seek out Altan Sekerleme a fourth generation family business in Kuciek – Pazar where they make their own Turkish delight and Akide sekeri. (rock candy)

19.   Kebab or Kebap –  some on skewers but others like little patties, A restaurant in the Kurdish area under the viaduct served buryan, a kind of pilaff, with shredded chicken, currants and some gentle spices in a crispy pastry crust decorated with almonds.

20.   Kaymak – clotted cream, best is made with buffalo milk and eaten with honey. 

21.   Manti – Turkish ravioli, tiny meat or vegetable filled pasta served with a garlic yoghurt sauce and hot paprika butter drizzled over the top just before serving.

22.   Tripe soup, Işkembe Çorbasi – a brilliant hangover cure!

23.   Pickles – Tursu are an integral part of Turkish daily eating and drinking. There are pickle carts and shops in every neighbourhood, pickle juice is drunk as a digestif and considered to be a brilliant hangover cure!

24.   Turks have a fantastic selection of dried fruit, nuts and seeds.


1.     Raki – the national drink of Turkey, made from distilled grapes, flavoured with aniseed and drunk with ice and water, served in 'meyhanes' with mezze.

2.     Pomegranate juice –  freshly squeezed on virtually every street corner.

3.    Ayran –  a frothy yogurt drink, simply natural yogurt whisked with ice cold water plus a tiny pinch of salt. This was our best simple find of the trip, we have been making Ayran since our return and both grandchildren and students love it.

4.     Boza – a thick drink made from fermented milk with the texture of slightly fizzy apple puree. It is eaten with a sprinkling of cinnamon and  roasted chickpeas on top and is reported to cure the plague.

Thursday 1 December 2016

Visiting The Golden Triangle - Rajasthan

I’m driving through rural Rajasthan, a world apart from well-known Golden Triangle of Jodpur, Jaipur and Udaipur. The fields are a patchwork of crops: wheat, sesame, mustard grown for both oil and seeds…

 Here and there, bananas and tamarind trees and occasionally a huge banyan tree. Shepherds with long walking sticks, tend their flocks of sheep and goats, now and then a camel cart laden with anything from fodder to huge slabs of sandstone from the local quarries. 

Women in bright saris are working in the fields, pulling weeds or harvesting and occasionally by the roadside carrying broken rocks in tin bowls on their heads, men supervise...

There’s virtually never a time when there aren’t people in sight. Lots of little villages bustling with life, a ramshackle and mesmerising mix of stark new build cement cubes and crumbling traditional houses, often a mixture of both. 

The electricity is a mélange of wiring that would put the heart 'cross wise' in a health and safety officer, yet it all seems to work. Lots of tiny shops, selling everything and anything. Street carts piled high with fruit and vegetables. Others sitting on the roadside with just a few little chillies, aubergines, maybe a few beans to sell

Little hardware shops selling all kinds of pots and pans, grinding stones, coconut graters, coir ropes, handmade brushes, rat traps, tin utensils…  open-fronted shops with dressmakers, cobblers and tailors, sewing on old fashioned treadle machines, barbers and shavers who lather up people’s chins with old fashioned shaving brushes by the roadside. Every service is provided bicycle mending, woodwork, basket making, even ironing with huge heavy metal irons  relegated to museums over here.

In the tin area, craftsmen are turning out huge metal trunks for dowries.  Virtually all the signs are in Hindu, cows nonchalantly ramble through the streets confident that no one will harm them,  the cow is sacred and revered in India. 

In the little villages everywhere the children wave and cheer when they see us ‘take my photo’, ‘take my photo’. I’ve never known an area where people were more welcoming or friendlier, no one asks for rupees or a peno!

Men, sip tea in the Chai shops, katori, bright orange jalabas and samosas are piled high for sale in open air dhaba’s . There are sweetmeat shops, Indians have an incredibly sweet tooth and also love their snacks. So lots of shops sell just bags of crisps, namkeen and lotto tickets.

Hairy, scrawny pigs and chickens snuffle amid the garbage and there are lots of stray dogs. Out in the countryside the bird-life is astonishing, white egrets and mina birds walk along the buffalo’s back picking off ticks. Cow pats dry on walls and rooftops, fuel for the little clay or outdoor stoves over which most people cook their food. A totally holistic and sustainable system. 

Here in rural Rajasthan many women, partially cover their faces with their saris, older men still wear a colourful turban  and sport an impressive moustache. The houses are colour washed, blue, ochre, pink or plain. There are a few jeeps gaily painted, colourful lorries, lots of richly decorated homemade tractors with no cab or cover on the engine (something to do with tax) and of course countless bikes and motorbikes with three and often four people riding on top including a sari clad lady sitting side saddle.

We’re on our way to Ramathra Fort in the Karauli district – it’s a four hour drive from Jaipur airport along a mixture of roads, tiny bursts of motorway an occasional dual carriageway but mostly potholed roads, dirt tracks with numerous ramps. After 4½ hours we turn up a steep stony roadway and at last we are there...... This gives new meaning to the words ‘off the beaten track’. It’s an endurance test to get here but what an oasis…

A 17th century fort still owned  by descendants of the original Maharaja of Karauli who built the structure in the 1700’s and the family have been here for over a 1,000 years. Rajasthan was never conquered by the British. It has now been restored and opened as a heritage hotel by the Thakur Brijendra Raj Pal family with just 6 suites and 6 luxury Rajasthani tents.  There's a 365 degree view over Rajasthan from the 80 ft ramparts. Below us the Kalisil Lake and dam and the forts, organic gardens owned by Brijendra Rajpal who invested the hard earned profits from her carpet business in Jaipur into restoring the fort from an advanced state of dereliction.

The food is delicious here. Virtually everything is produced on the farm or in the local area. They grow and mill the wheat for the chapatti, paratha and poori . The mustard oil is made from mustard grown in their own fields, the yoghurt from the milk of the buffaloes whose manure is used to activate the compost to enrich the soil for the organic gardens.

No swimming pool but an unheated Jacuzzi on one of the turrets with a staggering view of the local countryside, possibly the best in the whole of India. The fort has been restored using traditional building techniques and local craftsmen. We had a memorable boat trip on Kalisil Lake before sunset. It’s on the fly path to Bharapter, a rich feeding ground for ducks, storks, cormorants, kingfishers, sarus, cranes, stilts and herons. The lake was formed over 50 years ago when the Kalisil river was damned for an irrigation scheme that now benefits local farmers in Rawathara and neighbouring villages along the canal. The lake is fed by monsoon rains and when full spreads over 17 km,  all the way to the Holy City of Kailaden.

A walk through the local village, Ramathra was quite simply enchanting, the villagers are so friendly and welcoming and curious. They welcomed us into their houses and invited me to dance with them to celebrate a recent wedding. 

In the local school, the teaches were eager to show us around and one me an impromptu Hindu lesson.

The big bonus for me was the food. It was particularly delicious here and guests can learn how to prepare any of the dishes on the menu. I had two cooking classes with the owner Geetanguli and her shy and brilliant chef.  At Ramathra Fort they make all their own chutneys and pickles and the best lime pickle I have ever eaten. He showed me how to make this fascinating smoked Ramathra chicken curry and raita, home made paneer, several Indian flat breads, paratta  and particular fascinating local bread called Batia.  Ovens are rare in Indian homes, even in the more affluent homes of people so in villages all cooking is done over an open fire on a clay or in more affluent homes in the urban kitchens on gas rings. For over 60% of people in India, the fuel of choice is still dried ‘cow pats’  and despite our understandable initial surprise it doesn’t smell and is totally sustainable. Ramatha Fort is quite a find – particularly for the more adventurous traveller – I long to return…