Turkish delights

The writer shares experiences of culinary delights in the cradle of civilisation  Mehru Jaffer Ciya  Ciya, on the Asian side of Istanbul, is a gourmet’s paradise. In the Kurdish language, Ciya means mountains, in Persian a love flower, and to the people on the shores of the Black Sea it is the spark that follows after a cherry tree is caressed by fire. The name is symbolic of all the cultures that have contributed over centuries to make Turkish cuisine.  Although the oldest known recipe of the region is spring lamb stewed in onion and garlic, the staple diet here is grain, vegetables, and fruits based. This is the birthplace of agriculture and cradle of beans, chickpeas, grapes, lentils, pomegranate and the cucumber civilisation.   People still consider the above foods sacred and call them cennetten cikma or from the heavens. Before the Roman emperor Constantine conquered the region, the Greeks called the place Anatolia, the abode of ana (mother) east of Greece, or the land of the rising sun. The capital was Byzantium and the diet a rich variety of plants. Constantinople became the capital of lands conquered by Romans but populated by people whose lingua franca was Greek. Soon the pomp of Constantinople attracted more Europeans, Kurds, Arabs, Jews and the nomadic tribes of Central Asia, including the Turks. In 1071 Anatolia became the permanent home of the Turks who combined their diet of meat and milk with wheat, barley and millet, fruits and vegetables and introduced the inimitable art of grilling meat over open fires.   While waiting to be escorted to Ciya by Sema, several meals made from seasonal greens were sampled at home. The entire stay in Istanbul was spent in Sevil’s kitchen that is transformed at this time of the year into a treasure house of a 1,001 herbs, roots of plants, fruits, vegetables and salad leaves of different dimensions, fragrance and colour.We chomped on dolma from the Turkish word, to stuff. Transparent green leaves plucked from the grapevine in the garden and stuffed with rice and nuts, rolled and arranged in a pot for a quick steam is only one kind of dolma. This particular one is called the prostitute’s dolma as its preparation is similar to the spirit relished by the oldest profession in the world when compared to much more four play required by dolmas filled with minced meat.  Fish is a must while in Istanbul and especially hunkar begendi or the ruler liked it. One cylinder shaped sweat meat is called Vizier’s Finger and the round one with a dent in the centre is the Lady’s Navel. There is always a choice between a Twirling Turban and a Nightingale’s Nest at a pastry shop. The Imam Fainted is an eggplant delicacy that has to be sampled at least once.   In fact the chunks of meat served today as Turkish food has to be sidelined in favour of the vegetarian feast available at Ciya’s with impossible to forget names like the Mother-and-Daughter plate of dumplings dressed in a saffron coloured sauce.  Inspired by the imagination of poor people to create much out of almost nothing, Musa Dagdeviren, founder of the Ciya chain of eateries continues to travel all over the country collecting recipes concocted in ordinary homes that are older than all the kebabs introduced into the royal kitchen by the Ottoman court. What makes Musa most happy is to see people take time to taste a little of everything, in the right combination, morsel at a time. And once Musa is pleased he is able to see the future. Often he is seen sitting with guests, having turned their empty cup of Turkish coffee upside down to interpret the signs splashed on the inside wall of the vessel like a visionary.