1. Last week, driving from Sinop to Ankara to return our rental car and catch a flight back to Istanbul, we stopped in Çankırı — a city that appears thoroughly uninteresting from the highway but hides a lovely little section of shops and tea houses and Ottoman-era buildings.

    We stretched our legs and wandered the old city’s lanes, ate a fine pide and chatted with a few shopkeepers. The friendliest was this 84 year-old salt dealer. Çankırı sits about 30 miles from a mammoth and ancient salt mine, which we visited (driving into it in our car) in sub-zero temperatures in early 2012. That afternoon we watched miners harvesting salt from the mine’s walls with electric tools, by hand. The salt being collected that day was light gray, nowhere near as beautiful as the salt sold by our new friend Ahmed.

    At Ahmed’s shop we tasted salt and bought a bag of crystals to take home. We’ll crush it in a mortar and use it sparingly, at the table. As we were leaving he presented us with two small salt bricks, clear as glass, which he claimed are at least 50 years old.

    (The horn handle knife was purchased by Dave for 10 TL from a knife maker in Kahramanmaras. The artisan’s name — Biber  or “pepper” — is carved on its blade. The salt brick sits in an old-fashioned brass sugar holder, a gift from a tea house owner in Çorum.)

     
  2. Our haul from this morning’s Inebolu market in Istanbul, populated by vendors selling mostly seasonal / homemade foods from Turkey’s bounteous Kastamonu province: clockwise from upper left — parsley, runner beans, dense sourdough village bread, green chard, chard+onion bread, leeks, wild mushrooms (just one of many varieties for sale), pears and grapes.

    Not pictured: lovely kaymak, hand-churned butter and a freshly killed village chicken. Not purchased: sour plum fruit leather, all manner of dried fruits and fruit recel (pastes for spreading, mixing with yogurt, or blending with water for tart-sweet drinks), handmade eriste (noodles), fresh tomato puree and tomato and red pepper pastes, cheeses …..

    If you’re in Istanbul with a kitchen you owe it to yourself to carve out time early on Sunday morning to hit this wonderful market. For more info, and photographs, head here: http://eatingasia.typepad.com/eatingasia/2012/12/kastamonu-market-istanbul-weekly.html

     
  3. Turkey — where men often hang with other men, exclusively. The Black Sea — where fish is always on the menu, and is often eaten with the hands. Sinop — a small town where no one blinks an eye if, on a beautiful day, you drag a table outside and literally eat on the street.

     
  4. On the Turkish Black Sea coast, autumn’s other attraction: wild mushrooms. These beauties, seen recently at the market in Sinop, ranged in price from TL 5-10 /kilo. (That’s about U$ 1.25-2.50 per pound, folks.)  Delicious sautéd with heaps of gorgeous fresh Black Sea butter.

     
  5. In Antakya last weekend a home cook told us about black carrots, a winter vegetable that she hollows for dolma or cooks with meat in her neighborhood’s wood-fired oven. Three days later we found them much further north in Sivas. The vendor wrinkled his nose when we asked after black carrot dolma — in Sivas they’re eaten fresh or used for şalgam (combine carrots, water, salt and a little bulgur in a large container, set in a cool dark place for a month). We know these gorgeous dark violet vegetables from our time many years ago in Sichuan, China. They’re as we remember them: exceptionally sweet and flavorful. And here (as was the case back then in China), because the carrots are sold just harvested instead of after months of storage, they’re so crisp they almost crack your teeth. 

     
  6. Every day in Kahramanmaraş men — only men — cluster near a cart parked in front of the city’s Ulu Camii, or Grand Mosque, their heads bent over pink napkin-lined plates of syrup-soaked irmik (semolina) and peanut cake. 

     
  7. A hearty market vendors’ breakfast in Sivas, cooked by produce guy Bilal. Yahni — meat (ground lamb, in this case) simmered with onions, peppers, tomatoes and oil (here, oil is replaced with lots and lots of Sivas’ fresh unsalted butter). In Turkey out beyond Istanbul, so much of what’s delicious is simple, just a few ingredients prepared with uncomplicated techniques. Like Bilal’in yahnisi.

     
  8. Ivaz, a meddler-like fruit that we have encountered twice this trip, once in Corum province and then again yesterday at the rollicking weekly market in Zile, Tokat. It’s eaten soft and slightly mushy, squeezed between tongue and roof of the mouth until the flesh escapes the skin (which you throw out). Cultivated (not foraged), ivaz tastes vaguely of plum and apple. A mystery fruit, at least to us.

     
  9.      Celiacs look away, please. Crispy browned bulgur fritters, somehow simultaneously light and satisfyingly dense/chewy, on an expertly dressed salad (read: just a lick of oil, no sogginess) of cracked wheat, cucumbers, tomatoes, mint and parsley. A warm drizzle of lemony tahini pulled it all together.
         Let’s be honest: Cihangir-bleeding-into-Cukurcuma is challenged only by Galata for the title of Istanbul’s Most Achingly, Annoyingly Hip ‘Hood. Many of its eateries/drinkeries are distinctly so-so.
         Cuma, on Cukurcuma, is an exception. Yes, service can be slow. But Cuma’s food is earnest, and seriously good. Also hoovered up on this visit: pulpy lemonade (we love pulp!), world-class sourdough bread and roasted pepper-walnut-pomegranate molasses-dried red chili paste that left us scraping the bowl with spoons and bread crusts.

     
  10.      Merat from Balat, a very serious 14 year-old selling grilled corn near our favorite Istanbul tea spots, in Kabataş. We promised him photos, which we’ll deliver tomorrow afternoon. The corn was mature and starchy, but sweetish, smoky and pleasantly chewy too. If you don’t go in expecting American-style sweet corn it makes for a lovely late afternoon snack, especially if eaten while standing behind Merat’s cart and people-watching the Sunday afternoon Bosphorus-side passiagato.

     
  11.      Yesterday we returned to Istanbul after almost a week in Sapanca, where Dave (the photographer for this tumblr) co-taught a workshop in Turkish home cooking and photography with Olga Irez, a brilliant cook and writer of the blog Delicious Istanbul. Though I (Robyn) mostly used down time to meet deadlines, I wasmprivy to the intensity of the week as we — the participants and their tag-along partners, Dave and I, and Olga and her husband Ozgur, whose family owns and runs the lodge where we stayed — bonded, and as the photographers dedicated themselves to cooking well and ramping up their shooting skills.
          On the last night, as we listened to Black Sea tunes played by a local musician, we watched a slideshow of the participants’ work: twelve photos chosen by each from the hundreds — or thousands — they shot during the workshop. I was amazed. Only one of these folks is a professional, but all presented work that was miles beyond amateur level.
         Here’s one Dave included in his own twelve for the slideshow, shot during one of the week’s two market outings. This fishmonger’s expression as he wets down his hamsi (anchovies — first of the season from the Black Sea!) captures the intense spirit of what turned out to be a fantastically exhilarating week. We look forward to more of the same in 2014.

     
  12. Most folks know Turkish pasta in the form of manti (aka Turkish ravioli — pasta squares filled with meat), but few are aware that noodles are also part of the Turkish diet. Erişte [eh-reesh-tay] — short, semi-wide wheat noodles made with or without eggs  — are a common Turkish pasta, often baked with meat or cheese and other ingredients. In Kars province, in Turkey’s northeast, women come together in autumn to make erişte by hand; after the noodles have dried they’re toasted in the oven, which gives a nutty flavour.

    A couple of days ago in the inland Black Sea town of Göynük we ate keşli cevizli erişte: boiled noodles tossed with butter, crushed walnuts (ceviz) and keş cheese. This dish spoke to season and locale — right now walnuts are being harvested all over the Black Sea area, and the cheese is local, made from cow’s milk, the dominant milk of the region.

    The noodles were boiled beyond al dente — a bit too soft for my taste — but contrasted beautifully with the crunchy walnuts and cheese, which was firm and chewy, and slightly sour.

     
  13. Two years ago, while road tripping along Turkey’s Black Sea coast, we did what I’d thought was impossible: we ate so many figs that we got sick of them. Of the final kilo that we bought at the market, more than half went to rot in their bag.

    But that was then, and this is now: we’re in Istanbul, and it’s fig season. These beauties — soft, heavy, leaking syrup from their split bottoms — filled my palm. This morning we ate them (along with late-summer nectarines, light on juice but as intensely flavored as compote or jam)  with tangy, crumbly-moist sheep’s cheese from Erzincan.

     
  14. A kebab is not a kebab is not a kebab. Or not all kebabs are created equal. Or everything you think you know about kebabs may not be right. Or something like that.
    What we have here is chopped lamb seasoned with nothing but salt, molded around a skewer and grilled, then sauteed in fresh butter — lots and lots of fresh butter — with long green peppers and tomatoes. A twice-cooked kebab. The Tire kebab. Phenomenal.

     
  15. Adiyaman is as near to a dry town as we’ve been in Turkey. That doesn’t mean residents are free of vices; there seem to be at least two dozen dondurma (Turkish ice cream made with mastic, the resin of a tree related to the pistachio) shops within a three-block radius of downtown. Since dondurma originated in Kahramanmaras we had to include a pastane (pastry shop) with “Kahramanmaras” in its name on our Adiyaman dondurma crawl. As luck would have it the owner had a freshly baked Kahramanmaras-style katmer on hand as well.

    What is katmer? Katmer is many things, depending where in Turkey you are — an issue we plan to address on our blog — but for the purposes of this post it is paper-thin yufka (or phyllo) pastry layered with pistachios and butter that’s baked and drizzled with sugar syrup. “Sounds like baklava,” you say. Well, yes and no. The layers, the nuts, the sugar syrup are similar to those of baklava. But the pastry is thinner and more delicate, a difference that might be apparent if you compare the photo above to this photo of baklava taken in Gaziantep in March.

    As for the dondurma — it was great. We can always go for a bit less sweetness so in that respect I’m not sure that we’ll ever find our ultimate dondurma, but in this version the flavour of the mastic (pleasantly piney) shone through and the texture was perfect: velvety-creamy and hard enough to require cutting with a knife. We love an ice cream you can chew.

    Maras Pastanesi, Golbasi Caddesi, Adiyman.