Chubritza to lokum, delightfully Turkish - in Kolkata! (Eating Out With IANS)

June 12th, 2011 - 11:23 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, June 12 (IANS) Thyme, chubritza and oregano blend magically with nuts, lamb, zucchini, eggplant and cheese…welcome to the tantalizing world of cuisine from Turkey that begins with exotic spices and ends with Turkish delight.

The vibrantly-coloured dishes and their aroma are a feast for the senses at a 10-day Turkish food festival that started last week at the Hotel Hindustan International (HHI) in Kolkata.

Chefs Cuneyt Bahadir and Hristo are dishing out a synthesis of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisine which reached its height during the days of the Ottoman Empire.

Chef Bahadir who has come all the way from Izmir in Turkey has brought special herbs for the dishes. “I brought a lot of thyme, chubritza, oregano and paprika with me to give a distinctive smell and taste to my creations. Our cooking involves extensive use of herbs, zucchini, eggplants and cheese.”

Spices and herbs like parsley, cumin, black pepper, paprika, mint, oregano and thyme as well as nuts, especially pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts find a special place in the Turkish kitchen with meat being the main stay.

From sumptuous Mantarli Tavuk Sote (chicken saute with mushroom) to toothsome Balik Dolmasi (bekti fish with walnut), from appetising Nohutulu Pilav (rice with chickpea) to pleasant Karides Salatasi (shrimp salad), not to forget the soups and the mouth-watering pastries, the delicacies are exotic in name and taste.

However, the dazzling star in the menu is Hunkar Begendi or sultan’s delight. The tempting and succulent speciality of a lamb ragout served over a cheesy eggplant puree has an equally delightful history to boot.

According to lore, this very dish was served to Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III of France, on a visit to Istanbul in 1869. She liked it so much that she sent her own chef to the palace kitchens to get the recipe. But the sultan’s chef was reluctant to give away his secrets and said an imperial chef needs only his heart, his eyes and his nose.

A morsel of it is enough to make one appreciate why Eugenie fell in love with it or why the sultan’s chef was so protective and reluctant to share the recipe.

The side dishes will include specialty pastries such as baklava, dolma and sarma stuffed with vegetables, meat, or cheese delicacies fit for the most discerning palate.

Taste the most delectable delights, along with authentic Turkish salads and a wide variety of other meals and baked goods.

“Eat sweetly and speak sweetly” is an old Turkish adage, as such desserts have always been an integral part of Turkish cuisine. The first one that comes to mind is lokum, more better known as Turkish Delight.

Chef Bahadir said, “The lokum is my favourite. I not only love eating it but also enjoy preparing it. It comprises chopped dates, pistachios, hazelnuts and walnuts bound by gel, flavoured with rosewater, mastic or lemon and sweetened with honey. Its subtle flavours are known to compliment coffee and sweeten the breath at the end of a meal.”

Bahadir also said if he were getting married, he would prepare the lokum for the guests.

Lokum has also an imperial heritage. A fanciful account says that in an effort to mollify his many wives, a well-known sultan ordered his confectioner to create an only one of its kind sweet.

Rising to the challenge, the confectioner blended a brew of sugar syrup, various flavourings, nuts and dried fruits and bound them with mastic, an Arabic gum. After numerous attempts, a most scrumptious bonbon materialised. The sultan was so delighted with the result that he declared the enterprising cook the court’s chief confectioner.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at deyvil@gmail.com)

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