Spice up your life

January 2, 2010

Any visit to Istanbul must, of course, include a visit to the city’s spectacular Spice Market. From fresh, crunchy pistachios to juicy, sweet dates to pungent, yellow Iranian saffron, everything the dedicated foodie could desire is available in plentiful amounts.

But, as is often the case with these kinds of places, it has become something of a victim of its own success. Packed from dusk till dawn, often with not an Istanbul native in sight (apart from the shopkeepers), it can be somewhat overwhelming and come across a little like a tourist theme park. However, walk one street to the west of the Spice Market, and you find yourself on Tahmis Sokak, the street were the Turks do their shopping.

And this is where the shops are that sell my new favourite condiment, pul biber. ‘Biber’ is Turkish for red pepper, and pul biber is the dried flaked variety. I first tasted it when I did a cooking course here in Istanbul, at the Cooking Alaturka cookery school. We were shown how to use it in a delicously simple tomato and onion salad, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It has a much more subtle flavour than straightforward chilli pepper – a bit smoky and a bit sweet. It’s made in paste form too, and the helpful man at the shop where I first bought it suggested I mix it with tomato puree.

I’ve used it to add flavour to stews, soups and pasta sauces, but my favourite way is in what I’ve come to call a Turkish omelette. Add a spoonful of the pul biber-tomato paste mix to a couple of eggs, beat well and then cook the omelette. Sprinkle over a good handful of fresh parsley, and Bob’s your Turkish uncle!

This morning, I tried it out on Suleyman, alongside the more traditional Turkish breakfast of olives, cheese, yoghurt, baby cucumbers and – the only concession to an English breakfast – toast. And he thoroughly approved!


5 Responses to “Spice up your life”

  1. Nick Says:

    Is this stuff you gave me for my Birthday? Very nice.
    Have you had ANY bad food experiences since you started the blog? Everything seems to be successful and delicious etc. Writing of the odd failure might be engaging and instructive. But maybe you never have a bad day! Just a thought.

  2. Me? A bad day? Never. I take your point, but I’m not sure people want to read about recipes that fail. Although if anyone thinks otherwise, do let me know.
    And yes, this is the stuff I gave you for your birthday – the dried flaky kind. I’m sure if you put a spoonful in regular tomato paste, you’d get the same effect.

  3. Meryem Says:

    hımmm, I like this breakfast,very delicious!

  4. jasnieres Says:

    Now back in boring France – only croissants or French bread for breakfast – or pain de mie toasted with delicious honey – I still think with great nostalgia of the absolutely wonderful breakfasts at the Empress Zoe hotel – and also the fantastic, healthy and delicious meals we ate in different restaurants, plus the totally wonderful baklava lunch Lindsey and I ate – she will will know the address. It resulted in a rather tiddly evening after wonderful aperitifs made by Suleyman, followed by an excellent meal which escapes me now.
    Still – am stimulated to try some new recipes while I watch the snow fall – after feeding the birds, of course – their needs being much more urgent than mine.
    Right – prawns with mayonnaise sprinkled with pul biber.

  5. jasnieres Says:

    p.s. Just eating the last of wonderful Turkish pistacchio nuts with some rather nice French dry white wine – but have to say that turkish wine very good.

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