Süleyman and I live fairly near an area called Kumkapi, which is famous for its fish market, right on the edge of the Sea Of Marmara. Across the dual carriageway and a block or two inland is a small square with several cobbled streets leading off it, where you’ll find wall-to-wall fish restaurants – often full of tourists, but equally popular with the locals.

As I have often mentioned, the fantastic thing about Istanbul is that you can walk barely a few minutes from a busy, touristy area and find something completely different. And this is the same in Kumkapi.

One of the streets leading off the fish-restaurant enclave is what used to be one of the main Armenian areas of Istanbul, most of whom left in the 1950s. It’s now populated mostly by Gypsy families, which makes it, in my eyes, fascinating. Shabby, yes. Run-down, definitely. But there’s something very beautiful about it, too.

And it’s never more vibrant than on Thursdays, market day. So, despite having to lug my shopping bags a little bit further than I’d ideally like, this place has become my favourite shopping destination.

As well as plenty of regular market stalls, there are many people who just turn up with whatever they’ve been able to lay their hands on, pile them up on any spare bit of pavement, and Bob’s yer uncle. Above is Kumkapi’s watermelon man, set up outside a little mosque.

Opposite the watermelons was a lorry loaded, from top to bottom, with peanuts in their shells. I couldn’t resist them and bought a big bag, after pestering this poor man for far too long taking pictures.

As with the watermelon man, this onion seller had set up his wares outside a house – the resident of which is peeking out to see what’s on sale today.

Further into the market proper, I came across a stall loaded with those odd mini-melons I had a run-in with last week. As interesting as they looked, I wasn’t tempted to waste my money (or valuable shopping-bag space) on them again.

Now, pictured above is something you don’t see every day. Yes, those really are cabbages bigger than a human head! The poor boy working on the stall could barely lift one. All the cabbages I’ve seen for sale in Istanbul have been that big, and I’m still trying to work out if it’s because the ground they’re grown in is super-fertile, or if they spray them with some gawd-awful chemical. Either way, I haven’t had the courage to buy one yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Being Kumkapi, I couldn’t really leave without buying some fish, and I plumped for these amazing fresh anchovies. In fact, when I bought them, I realised just how far I’d come with my Turkish language skills, as the guy on the stall overcharged me, and I managed to get annoyed with him in Turkish, and get my money back!

Finally, at the end of the road, I arrived at a shop selling my all-time favourite Turkish delicacy, kaymak, which I’ve written about many times. I’d been alerted to this particular shop by the food blog Istanbul Eats, and they weren’t wrong when they described the kaymak at Boris’in Yeri as some of the best.

As is often the case with places selling kaymak, a variety of other dairy products is also available. I haven’t yet found a Turkish cheese I really like, so, despite the intriguing window display, I passed on those pictured above. What I did buy, however, was some strained yoghurt. So thick you could stand a spoon up it in, it was sharp, fresh and incredibly creamy – simply the best yoghurt I’ve ever tasted.

So, despite an arm-stretching walk home with all my shopping, tonight’s supper will be a veritable feast. I haven’t quite decided what that feast will consist of yet, but I’m confident it’ll be delicious!

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Sunday lunch in Sultanahmet

September 7, 2010

Last weekend, our friends Meryem and Özgür came to our flat in Istanbul’s historic area of Sultanahmet to experience a great British tradition – the Sunday lunch.

Although tasked with cooking them something typical, it was clear a roast was not an option, as an oven doesn’t look like it’s going to make an appearance in our flat any time soon (just saying the word ‘oven’ makes me pine for roast chicken, roast potatoes, apple crumble… *sigh*). And, when I started flipping through all my favourite recipes, I was surprised to see just how many homegrown dishes did actually involve a good roasting.

Conveniently, some homemade hummus was given to me that very morning by my friend Mireille (who has a minor obsession with chickpeas, in which I am happy to share at every opportunity), which I decided to serve as a starter – not exactly British, but delicious nonetheless, and that’s really all that counts at my table.

Roasts aside, another great British staple that regularly pops up in my cookbooks is a good old stew. And, being in the land of the lamb, I plumped for braised lamb shanks (which I was very proud of asking for in Turkish – and the butcher understood me!).

So, I rolled the lamb in seasoned flour and browned it in hot olive oil, removed to a plate, then softened some onion, garlic and carrots in the same oil. I added a good pinch of dried rosemary (unfortunately, I’m finding it hard to get the fresh stuff) and a couple of bay leaves, put the shanks back in, then added about half a bottle of red wine, a good glug of Balsamic vinegar and topped it up with stock until it covered all the meat.

Then I turned down the heat and let it simmer and bubble away for about three hours. After this length of time, the sauce was beautifully dark, full-flavoured – and, I’m afraid, a bit twiggy from all the dried rosemary.

Usually, I’m all for the short-cuts in cooking, and normally would have left the sauce a bit chunky with the onions and carrots. But as this was the first time I was cooking for Meryem and Özgür, I didn’t want them to go home with the memory of nothing but mouthfuls of dried herbs.

So, once the meat was falling off the bone and the sauce suitably reduced, I removed the lamb once again, and strained the sauce, pushing the soft onions, garlic and carrot through a seive to get all the flavour. By this point it was looking a little too thick, so I simply added a bit more water, checked the seasoning, then threw all that lovely soft meat back in the pan, and kept it on a low simmer until we were ready to eat.

I knew the only thing to serve on the side of a saucy dish like this was mashed potatoes, so, to everyone’s delight, that’s exactly what I did. I’d also bought some amazing-looking greens at the market last week, so quickly cooked those down in some olive oil with some more softened carrots and a sprinkling of fennel seeds.

Now all I had to do was conjure up a pudding. And what a treat I came up with.

Again, it was a random flick through my cut-out recipes that inspired me. Remembering the five or six rapidly softening lemons in my fridge, when I came across a recipe for lemon posset, I knew I’d found my pudding destiny.

With just three ingredients – double cream, sugar and lemon juice – posset is such an easy-to-make classic British pud, but I’ve never attempted it before. Although I knew immediately that I’d have to use some ingenuity with it, as double cream is pretty much non-existent here. What there is though, is kaymak, that wonderful clotted-cream-alike that’s eaten at breakfast, smothered on bread and dripping with honey.

So, I simply replaced the cream with kaymak, set the ingredients on to boil and crossed my fingers that it would all come together. Luckily, all that was needed was to pour the cooked mixture through a tea strainer to get rid of some slight graininess, and it set beautifully.

I decorated each posset pot with a little chopped dried cherry and pistachio nut that I had leftover from last week’s cheesecake, put a sponge finger on the plate alongside it, and a very smart-looking pudding was served up.

So, despite using some very un-British ingredients, I was quite amazed at how all the elements came together to create something that tasted, to me, pretty traditional. And hopefully, in the process, I managed to give Meryem and Özgür a taste of my “home” cooking – in more ways than one.

Curds and wahey!

January 4, 2010

Yesterday, our lovely friends Meryem and Özgür took Süleyman and me for breakfast. We drove out to Beşiktaş, an area of Istanbul out along the Bosphorous coast, to go and eat something that has become a bit of an obsession for me. Called kaymak in Turkish, it has been variously described to me as a kind of Turkish clotted cream, the skin off the top of yoghurt and condensed milk. What it actually is, though, is simply curd. Eaten at breakfast, generously smeared on crusty white bread and drizzled with honey, it is fresh-tasting and delicious.

When I told Meryem of my passion for kaymak, she said we must go to a place run by an 85-year-old third generation Greek immigrant called Pando. Opened by his great-grandfather in 1895, the family has been serving breakfast in the tiny shop ever since.

The menu is basic – kaymak and honey with fresh bread sprinkled with carraway seeds, followed by an omelette with a few sliced tomatoes and olives. The traditional drink with this is a glass of hot milk, which comes from a great steaming bowl that’s kept on the go all day. This, however, I really couldn’t stomach, so I stuck with the Turkish tea.

Sadly, it looks like old Pando may the last of his family to keep this special place going. So, I’m really glad that I had the chance to eat there before it disappears.