18 June, 2011
I went to Istanbul last week end for a few days of Middle-eastern atmosphere. Mosques at every corner; busy bazaar selling cheap T-shirts, carpets, spices and turkish delights; muezzin call five times a day; city busy with tourists; Bosporus busy with ships; grilled kebabs; turkish bath. Usual clichés, but I found them comforting for my first trip there and reminiscent of Iran, which I had visited ten years ago.
I must admit I have never been keen on kebabs. After all, it is just skewered grilled meat. So I was particularly interested to try out the Ottoman court cuisine at the Asitane Restaurant. Just like musicians playing early music on period instruments in a historically informed way, this restaurant has gone through the process of uncovering from the historical records the recipes and flavours used in the sultan's palaces. The humus was definitely not regular: a crumbly paste with whole pine nuts and cinnamon. My main dish was extraordinary. A stuffed baked melon. Imagine a British Christmas-time mince pie, add minced beef and pepper, all baked inside a ripe rock melon, served with melon flesh poached in butter. Each mouthful was a surprising combination of sugar, salt and spice. The sharp local red wine was perfect to wash the mouth before another go at the sugar, salt and spice.
If you have time and some money to spend during your next trip to Istanbul, try out this incredible cuisine. They even have historically informed kebab on the menu.
Istanbul (not Constantinople)
They might be giants, Dial-a-song, Rhino record