Veal chop with frittedda

March 29, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with some old friends in Southgate, which, if you don’t know London, is just about as far north as you can get on the Victoria Line before falling off the end. It is, without doubt, suburbia.

We met in an updated version of an old-fashioned family-run Italian restaurant, called Fantozzi, and, if I’m totally honest, I wasn’t expecting much of the food. So, with that in mind, it was a rather risky choice to go with the veal chop from the menu. However, I was very surprised to find a full-flavoured, gloriously tender piece of meat on my plate. Mustn’t judge a book by its cover, I reminded myself that night.

Last Saturday, while wandering around Borough Market, I thought I’d give the veal chop another go, this time cooking it myself. So I headed to The Ginger Pig to buy one.

One of the best butchers in London, I imagined I’d be getting another succulent, tasty piece of veal. I decided to cook it simply – salt, pepper, a good olive oil and slap it on the griddle pan. On the side, I thought one of my favourite spring vegetable dishes would be perfect.

A Sicilian dish, frittedda is a sautéed concoction of onion, fennel, broad beans, peas and fresh baby artichokes. With a smattering of salt and pepper, plus a pinch of sugar, this dish absolutely makes the most of the flavours of new season vegetables, and goes beautifully with meat of any sort.

And the frittedda was delicious. Unfortunately, the veal was more of a disappointment. It was much tougher than the one I’d had in suburbia, and it didn’t have a great deal of flavour. As I said, I’d assumed that coming from a great butcher, it would be a treat of a piece of meat. Hmm, I once again thought, mustn’t judge a book by its cover.

But, not wanting to see it go to waste… oh, okay, because I’m a greedy so-and-so, I still ate the lot.

Yesterday was my last full day in Istanbul, so, after buying up half the Spice Market to take back to London, I needed some serious sustenance. A short walk from the Spice Market, on the road that leads away from Sirkeci train station, is another little hole-in-the-wall Istanbul secret – the best köfte in town!

There is only one meal on the menu at Filibe Köftecisi – lamb köfte, tomato and onion salad, and crusty white bread. And it’s this simplicity that is the key to its success. The man at the grill cooks each order absolutely fresh, so you’re always guaranteed a plate of perfect little balls of meaty deliciousness.

It was one of the first places Süleyman took me to when we started going out together about three years ago, and it has been a rather special place for us ever since. In fact, I joked to him yesterday that if we ever got married, we should have our wedding party there – although I’m not sure my vegeterian brother-in-law, Roland, would be too happy eating just tomatoes and bread!

Let me eat cake

January 8, 2010

If you’re beginning to think that my days in Istanbul revolve around little more than eating, well, you’d be right. And yesterday was no exception. Süleyman and I were on Istiklal Caddesi, the main shopping street on the European side of Istanbul, so we took the opportunity to go and have some afternoon sweet treats at Inci.

Inci is one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shops that populate so many of this city’s busy streets. A narrow old building with lovely wooden window frames and panelling, the shop serves huge piles of profiteroles, stuffed with a kind of creme anglais and smothered in unctuous chocolate sauce.

And let me tell you, after a plate of Inci’s profiteroles, the walk down the long stretch of Istiklal Caddesi suddenly seems a little more daunting…

Catch the birdy!

January 6, 2010

Round the corner from Süleyman’s flat there is a little stall that sells live quails. The cages are perched on a wooden trestle table, with boxes of quails eggs surrounding them. The wee birds look healthy enough to me – although I’m no expert on that kind of thing. And I suppose the least you can say about the set-up is that you’d know the eggs were fresh.

As I was taking the photo, the guy running the stall kept saying “doner, doner” to me, and I realised he was explaining the final destination of the balls of feathers in front of me. Forget doner kebab, it was doner quail on the menu that day! And that was when the evil carnivorous devil on my left shoulder appeared and told me I just had to have some quail.

Often, when I’m keeping Süleyman company while he’s working late at the bar, we’ll get some food delivered from a traditional Turkish grill restaurant nearby called Buhara. Usually we have something simple, like lamb köfte with aubergine, and the yummy – although ubiquitous – tomato and onion salad. After my conversation with the quail man, Süleyman mentioned that Buhara has grilled quail on its menu. So, guess what I had for dinner last night…?

One thing no-one can ever accuse me of being is squeamish about where my meals come from!

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.

In the three years I’ve been coming to Istanbul, I’ve eaten and drunk many many delicious things. But I was recently introduced to something quite unlike anything I’ve tasted before. I hesitate to call boza a drink, because its consistency is so thick, it easily supports the roast chickpeas you sprinkle on the top, and really you have to eat it with a spoon.

Not dissimilar to lassi in appearance, boza actually has no dairy in it at all, and is, in fact, made from fermented millet. Only drunk in the winter, its mild, tangy, yoghurty flavour is supposed to give you the strength to get through the cold weather.

And the only place to drink boza in Istanbul is in the beautiful old Vefa Bozacısı, on Çelebi Caddesi. It’s quite a ritual to have your boza there. First you buy your chickpeas from the little shop opposite, then you cross the street and take your place at a wooden table, under the immaculately tiled walls. The glasses of boza are lined up along a long counter, sprinkled liberally with freshly ground cinnamon. Then, drop a few of your roast chickpeas on top, and dig in. It’s a surprisingly light and refreshing pick-me-up, made all the more special by the surroundings, of course.