My intrigue in the food of beautiful Turkish lands of Izmir & Urfa began when I got hooked onto Turkish sitcoms Fatamagul and The Little Lord respectively on a popular TV channel. The shows constantly referenced yum food like kebabs, meat balls and fresh bread in different episodes. A quick trip to the Middle East gave further information into famed sweets called Turkish delights, flat bread gozleme, traditional ice-cream dondurma & many more delicacies.
This small exposure had left me enthralled and craving for Turkish food, which I could not find in Mumbai. But, with the recent Turkish Food Trails experience initiated by Pondichery Cafe in Sofitel Mumbai BKC in association with Turkish Airlines, I knew I had found a solution to beat my intense cravings for Turkish food. So, with much excitement I made my way to the aforementioned restaurant. Chefs Emre Guven & Ramazan Aydin had been specially flown in from The Elysium Istanbul - MGallery by Sofitel to provide Mumbaikars an authentic Turkish food experience under the aegis of Manav Koul Executive Chef at Sofitel - Sofitel Luxury Hotels and Resorts & his sous chef Gurpreet Singh. The food experience is part of regular lunch and dinner buffets at the café.
Before I could dig in all four chefs were kind enough to explain the nuances of the cuisine, commonly used ingredients and regional variations between the Aegean Sea, Black Sea, southeast & western part of the country. The conversation shed light on the fact that Turkish cuisine is characterized by subtle use of spices and herbs and has tangy profile owing to pronounced use of yogurt and tomatoes in numerous dishes.
So, here is a look at my gluttony at this special Turkish food experience:
ÇORBASI OR SOUP
There were two, thick broths that paved the way for an appetizing start. One was the popular soup preparation from Antalya called YAYLA ÇORBASI. This was a tart yoghurt soup comprising of rice and flavoured with mint. A hearty preparation in itself and it felt like a warmer version of that we usually eat as curd-rice in India sans the spices. The second one EKŞILI TAVUK ÇORBASI was a tangy melange of tomato and tavuk or chicken shreds mildly flavoured with pepper. Both these soups are considered winter specialties and comfort food in Turkey.
SALATASI OR SALADS
While rice is an integral part of the Turkish diet, so is bulgur. And, a popular side dish in this cuisine is KISIR or a zesty salad made of bulgur, tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, chopped onions, lemon juice and parsley. The flavours were earthy and refreshing. Another salad that piqued my taste buds was LAHANA SALATASI or a mixture of yogurts, carrots, cucumber and mango with a perfect balance of sweet & sour flavors. The third one was more like our raita and was called PEMBE SULTAN. This was a vibrantly pink blend of beetroot puree and yogurt.
MEZE OR APPETIZERS
TAVUK KANAT or chicken wings were stir fried with capia pepper, onions and seasoned with just salt and pepper. The use of spices was in minimal quantities letting the flavours of meat shine over that of the spices. Turkish cuisine refrains from blatant use of spices, so it is perfect for a palate that enjoys mildly spiced nosh. The second appetizer was SOTE POTATOES or simply boiled baby potatoes with skin sautéed in salt, pepper and chopped parsley. The simplicity of the dish makes you indulge in copious amounts of it without heaving on your appetite. In KABAK DOLMASI fragrant rice flavoured with parsley was stuffed in zucchini that were pan fried in butter. This was a simple yet flavourful preparation.
Kuzu means lamb and tandir means tandoor, so this dish comprises of lamb chunks cooked in a tandoor. Onions, garlic, pepper formed the major flavourings in this dish of succulent lamb mixed with eggplants.
This was a very delicate dish where fish was steamed with onion, lemon & parsley.
NOHUT OR CHICKPEAS
Chickpeas form an integral part of the Turkish diet and their use ranges from salads, dips to even curries. On the buffet we got to taste a tangy curry version where the chickpeas had been simmered in a tomato based gravy. This dish was similar to what we call chole masala except that it did not have as much oil or garam masala but was rather a mildly peppered preparation.
This was a broccoli and béchamel preparation typical of any vegetable in white sauce preparation one would encounter in numerous continental cuisine restaurants in the city.
This was basically buttered rice flavoured with cinnamon and served with a garnish of cherry tomatoes. Its subtle flavour helped in pair with all the curries on the Turkish menu.
What I clearly missed in this menu for the day were some traditional bread preparations from Turkey like ekmek and pide.
In the Turkish special menu, two milk-based sweet treats were on offer. One was the yum and creamy KAZANDIBI made by reducing milk flavoured with sugar and vanilla in a cauldron or Kazan. The layer of this pudding in touch with the cauldron gets caramelized bringing a lovely smoky flavour to the sweet dish. The second dessert was the delectable MUHALLEBI, a milk custard made with milk, rice powder and dry fruits. The construct of the dish was very similar to what we enjoy as kheer in India.
The flavours sure made my experience great. But, it would have been even more brilliant if the spread was slightly more elaborate and not mixed with food from other cuisines that had more intense flavours than the Turkish cuisine.
So, do try out this festival that runs until March 26 and let me know of your experience.
Till then, HAPPY EATING...
- Regional Indian Food & Travel enthusiast