An amazing day with a dear friend:
Although today began with a typical Turkish breakfast of 3 cheeses (tolum, white cheese, and feta) cheese and rose and green fig jam with simit and ekmek (a braided and sesame cover Turkish bagel like bread and a loaf bread) followed by coffee (of course!), it was completely an auspicious day for me. This might be a typical breakfast, but it was not a typical time, as I got to spend it with someone who I have been friends with for over 13 years sharing our love of Ottoman food and all things Ottoman. Mary İşin is a world-renowned author, translator, and food historian of the Ottoman and Anatolian world (all of Turkey).
And not only does Mary try to preserve the history of Ottoman and Anatolian food, but she has gone to great lengths to participate in projects that would provide the Turkish people with varieties of fruits and vegetables that might be lost to time.
One of her projects was a fruit history project where they documented as many kinds of Turkish fruits they could (here you see a poster of just the kinds of pairs that they could locate.) The variety is staggering.
After spending most of the day kibitzing and chatting about various food history topics, she shared with me a couple of pieces of her collection of Ottoman food-related items. Both were leather flasks, one much more ornate than the other. She discovered what she thought was an Ottoman water flask. The first being the more decorative item was actually a powder flask for a musket. The second she went back and got because she realized that was an actual water flask! Both are incredibly beautiful in their own way; the more rustic water bag is well-made, sturdy, and simple, but oh so needed to be carried.
After we traipsed out into Kadıköy (her neighborhood In Istanbul), we went to pick up things for dinner.
We stopped first at a bakery, which had a huge array of baklava sweets, breads, and more. I sampled their folded baklava. It was delicious and lightly sweet. We purchased a laminated dough bun (tarihini çorek) that will be having for breakfast tomorrow.
Next, we went on to the shop that makes and sells yufka and mantı (Yufka is the extremely thin flatbread used to make Borek and baklava and many rolled, folded, and layered pastries. Manti is a dough-filled pasta served modernly with a tomato sauce, or more historically with a yogurt sauce and sumac).
The owner of the shop, Nedim, has been making and selling these as his profession his whole life. It is not unusual to see these small shops of individual proprietors who specialize in a product and have been making it generationally for hundreds of years. The skill and knowledge is passed down. In this case, Nadim shared with me his son’s profession (which is photography) and tells us that his son is trying to get a scholarship to the United States to study photography there, so it may be that Nadim might be the last of his family to make yufka and mantı as a form of living. For everyone’s sake, I hope that there is someone who will continue on this practice and art.
We also purchased his specially-made soup base for a very traditional soup called Tarhana. Tarhana is a spicy tomato, pepper, herb, and bulgur wheat base that is typically either dried and then reconstituted or made into a paste (several types shown here) In this case, Nadim’s is a paste, made with yogurt and wheat; he explained how it was imbued with Tarhana herb. This herb gave it a very dill-like flavor. It was incredibly soothing, spicy, and light and warming for the winter.
Mary then made a delicious borek (a layered pastry of yufka with cheese, sautéed chard, and shredded carrot that is baked until golden brown). It was delicious and we deemed it to be Mary’s Börek!
After enjoying dinner, we sat down to chat more and allow our stomachs to rest before we sampled her güllaç (a specialty starch wafer that is layered and soaked in a sweetened milk typically with the addition of rosewater, and in this case, musk, which I had given to Mary earlier in the day). She wanted to see how it would influence the recipe as it was in the 15th century Ottoman culinary manuscript byŞırvani). Although it was delicious, it required a little more restraint on the musk. We decided that instead of the three or four drops that she put in, one would’ve done the trick, but it was still delightful after a long day of talking and walking and learning about her neighborhood.
I feel that my greatest joy was just being with this lovely lady, who is so incredibly generous with her time, knowledge, and energy. And if you ever get a chance to find one of Mary’s books (which are many), I highly recommend them; I have them all on my own shelves at home! They include the amazing Bountiful Empire, which is a book about the history of food in the Ottoman Empire; Sherbet and Spice, a book about the sweets of the Ottoman Empire, and so so many more. They are both my Bibles when it comes to better understanding these two topics.
Çok teşekkür ederim Mary!!
İyi akşamlar herkes!
Thank you very much Mary! Good evening, everyone!