Food and people go hand in hand. Where there is food, there are people, and with it comes life, laughter, togetherness and lots and lots of love.
My love affair with the beautiful country Turkey started 6 years ago when someone walked into my life and became an important part of it just like that.
My friend had tied up with the university in Istanbul to get PhD students who wish to do a short term project in India through his company. That’s when I got introduced to one of the most amazing persons ever.
Her name was Nadin and she had tagged along with another girl from France to Hyderabad. Though her project was ongoing in Bangalore, my friend thought it would be a good break to take a weekend off in my city.
What started off as a formal introduction and staying as guests at my home continued further once she went back to Bangalore.
Gmail chats, Long mails about self, our respective countries, culture, views everything under the sun was exchanged between us day, night, midnight, anytime and funny enough there was no phone calls, just mails!
Then one day,I invited her again, not as a friend’s student, but just her, to pop in to Hyderabad for a weekend and spend time with me.
That weekend was one of my best memories of that year as we chatted, ate, drank, never slept and formed a strong bond as friends, as women who had similar views, opinions on almost everything. I knew this friendship was for life.
The day when she finally went back to Istanbul, my heart ached and wondered how come I got so attached to someone I met 3 months ago and spent a weekend with? It was such a soul connection.
Through the years we kept in touch sometimes frequently, sometimes once a while but the strong connection was there.
Whether it was our crushes, relationships, career, frustrations, I found myself expressing more to her than I did to my closest friends who have known me for years.
Then in 2012, Nadin made a visit again to India for the project and spent a longer time in Hyderabad with me and that cemented us more. Her presence in the house was filled with energy and love and with it came my exposure towards Turkish cuisine, coffee & more!
The dark black coffee that was stronger than any espresso you might have tasted complemented with a sweet cinnamon Turkish candy delight. She taught me how to sip it the right way. Having a glass of water, a candy and the dark coffee became addictive.
And the food! The food was just mind blowing. The sweet girl that she was, she would skype with her mother at night, get the recipe and cook something so simple and delicious.
We chatted, laughed, cooked, ate, drank our way from Hyderabad to Goa and back.
Finally I decided it was time to visit her country and know more about her culture, food, city, arts whatnot. And as Nadin said to me, ‘ Just book your effing ticket to Istanbul, I will take care of everything else’!
So in April 2014, I made a 2 week trip to Istanbul. What I thought would be a sight seeing trip to the beautiful multicultural city of Istanbul became an insight into the hearts, ambitions, hopes of the people living there.
Nadin was an Armenian Christian – a minority population living in Istanbul. Her community formed a very small but affluent economic percentage in the city.
Istanbul was a democratic Secular Republic in spite of having Islam as a major religion.This was all due to their great leader Ataturk who changed the face of Turkish Politics in the early 20th century.
That distinguished man’s short reign was nothing short of phenomenal. Overthrowing the conservative Caliphate, declaring it secular, westernizing the nation in terms of education, infrastructure, healthcare and all this in a matter of 5 years.
His influence was so strong I saw youngsters still looking up to him as a Hero, as a pioneer and visionary that brought a nation out of the brink of identifying itself solely by religion.
Istanbul was full of life and bursting with energy. Food Food Food and more Food! This was like paradise to me as Turkish people take their food very seriously, this is their religion!
From delicious kebabs to hot String Cheese served on a platter, Scrunchy salads, Clotted Cream, Turkish Eggs, different kinds of honey, Olives, Cream, Variety of Meats with pomegranate sauce, the list is endless!
Every day became Foodgasm unlimited . Every meal made me go into raptures as Nadin took me around like a local.
May I say that Turkish hospitality will spoil you. The people reminded me of how we used to be years ago. Open arms, open heart filled with warmth!
I stayed in the Asian side where most of the locals live, took the local bus, used the local turkish words to communicate as best as I can. I had innumerable cups of Turkish coffee every day and tasted every kind of meat and bread as possible!
One must try for everyone is the Yeni Raki. A drink so strong that it kicks your ass like a rocket! This innocent colorless drink sizzles when you pop in some ice and then when you go bottoms up,the way I took it, I saw stars!
With the food, drinks, sightseeing also came the issues.. The younger generation’s restlessness and agitation seeing the current governance stance on religion, the fundamental extremist kind.
The fear of the Taliban looming large in the region, the terror felt by people of this beautiful country, of becoming another Afghanistan, the way it was going…
In between, were the memories of the Armenian holocaust where at least 2 million Armenians were slaughtered during the Ottoman empire but was neither acknowledged nor accepted by the world as opposed to the Jewish holocaust.
Relegated to the background, the Armenian community lived in fear that it might happen again with the current extremism rising..
As I ate my way through Istanbul, smelt and tasted the herbs & spices, gorged on their many versions of the amazing dessert Bakhlava, soaked in the beauty of the East and the West and made my daily transit through the Bosphorus Sea that separated the Asian and European Side, I also made new friendships with some amazing young women.
Burcu, Pasa, Sena and Karin who not only invited me into their homes but also to their hearts, aspirations, likes and dislikes.
As I went back, I took all the memories as well as some of the recipes with me. Nadin’s mom sweetly gave me a recipe in English to try it for Easter when I had the best home cooked food at their place.
I also realized for us Indians, especially nowadays food is just about eating fast and getting going. While for the Turkish, it was an experience.
A good 3-4 hours were spent during the weekend for brunch, lunch to just spend time with each other.
After that trip, I started experimenting with Turkish cuisine at home. The important brunch, breakfast kind. So whenever I wanted that qualitative time with my loved ones, friends, I would do just that, attempt and make a Turkish Spread as much as it was possible for me.
Guess what happened after that, no longer was food treated as up and go. I had my own Turkish experience at home with us sitting for 2-3 hours, talking, eating, laughing, reminiscing about people,life, day to day things.
So whenever I feel a pang of separation from my dear friend and I want to go back in time and experience the beautiful city of Istanbul with it’s sights, sounds, smell, taste and our time together there, all I do is whip up a Turkish spread using the traditional Hyderabadi Naan, Kebabs, Cheese, Olives, Figs, Greek Yoghurt, Turkish Eggs, Eggplant all washed down with my favorite Turkish Coffee 🙂