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The best meal, an inspirational picture. (yes, Christina and I ate almost all of it before crawling off to the haman then bed.)
The Gilded Serpent presents...
We Shop, We Bathe,
And We Eat!
Justine's Culinary Adventures in Turkey
by Justine Merrill

Travel is so inspiring, wandering around ancient buildings, chatting with interesting people, buying silk and perfume; in short doing everything that you don’t do when you are at home.

The more I travel, the more I love to cook. Since I have been traveling for more than a few years my cooking has improved in quality as I have eaten my way across Europe. Italy was my main inspiration for food the past several years; I worked on my pizza and bread recipes until my family cried for new tastes. So it was time to travel to Turkey.

Trying Turkish food on my trip last year inspired me to try and make more Middle Eastern foods, but alas, my food attempts tasted a lot like Italian with out the proper spices and directions.

On my recent trip with tour clients to Turkey I made a decision to learn more recipes, bring home a lot more spices and make food that tasted like the wonderful food that I purchased in Turkey.

The Egyptian spice market in Istanbul is a wonderful place to be a new chef, not only does it hold a treasure chest in spices, it has the most charming men, who know how to cook.

Turkish Butcher
Doner kebab man

Imagine yourself in a fantastic bazaar, established since the early Middle Ages on the shores of the Golden Horn, just for the importing of spices to Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Baskets of fabulous spices are everywhere; rare and expensive spices are kept in containers at the back of the shop.

Standing in front of the Market, the ocean shore is just a short walk across the plaza. Ships from Venice, Marseilles, London, and Amsterdam came to the Egyptian spice market for the rare spices that changed cooking in Europe; cumin, saffron, pepper, sugar and many more. Merchants haggled for spices to take to Europe and make their fortunes, for what cook in Europe could resist these fantastic tastes after a lifetime of plainer herbal fare like rosemary and basil.

Today each Spice Market merchant has his own blend of special spices for meat, vegetables, and salad.

Since a fair amount of Turkish food is meat based, despite the rising price of meat, I had to have several varieties of spice packages both for meat and vegetables from different merchants. One charming man boasted that his mix had twenty-two different spices in it.

Vacuum wrap machines made packaging very easy and secure for transport; quickly I had a basket of spices to help me in my quest for a more Turkish flavor to my food in Oregon. (The hard question, do I buy silk or spices? The same question facing travelers since the Middle Ages.)

Locanta in Istanbul.
For inspiration, I just ate out at a lot of different restaurants and noted what I like best. There are several styles of food choices in Turkey. The fastest and least expensive is “Doner kebab” which is lamb or beef meat cooked on an open spit, cut off and wrapped in pita bread, options of different toppings include yogurt or mayonnaise. Next are “Locantas” a type of cafeteria style food, this is my favorite lunch choice on a trip, I never know exactly what I want for lunch, and enjoy choosing some salad and a stuffed pepper, or something I have never had before. Istanbul has several great Locantas that I take our clients to. The chefs are trained in the classical Sultan/ Ottoman style of cooking.

For evening I love mezes, another word for cute little bites of food. Stuffed mushrooms or “cigma” little rolls of philo and feta cheese. Shish kebab has restaurants dedicated to it, they serve salad and rice also.

Auntie rolling “pancakes pida” for dinner.
Pide resemble pizza superficially, the dough is a bit different and handled differently than pizza, the toppings are often feta and spinach.

So I ate for two weeks, thought a bit, ate a bit more, tried the wine, (that’s another story!) and now am ready to try cooking Turkish here in Oregon. I have a bundle of spices on the table, a new pepper grinder from the Egyptian market.

So stay tuned for the cooking adventures of Justine the traveler.

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Ready for more?
more from Justine-

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