4 MAGAZINE | Fabulous Fricot — May-June 2019

A herb and vegetable seller at the traditional food market in Ayvalık on Turkey’s north
Aegean coast. The woman is selling fennel fronds, golden thistle and mixed herbs, which are generally used in the savoury pastries called böregi.

Local Food Knowledge, Wild Plants and Plants to Save the Planet

Bodrum, once known as Halicarnassus in the days of Herodotus, is surrounded by  hills and a promontory that juts into the Aegean Sea. Here the Bodrum peninsula of Muğla province becomes a wild place amidst the touristic scenery of beaches and cafes and hotels and yachts and other distractions. Six kilometres away in the covered market in the heart of the town the wild products of that promontory are coveted, just as they have always been, before and since Herodotus took his first steps in this land.

When we spent time in Bodrum some years ago during high summer, mid-day heat in the mid-40s, our quest was focused primarily on the spices that are indigenous to the Mediterranean Basin. We searched in all the markets and eventually found what we were looking for. To our surprise, and regret because we were based in a hotel and despite building a relationship with the chief chef had nowhere to cook, we discovered something else and went on a walk.

Bodrum and the local gatherer tradition is synonymous with ancient Anatolian life. Villagers from the surrounding area gather wild herbs and wild greens and bring their surplus to the markets. With the land parched by the hot sun we did not expect to find anything interesting after we had arrived on the promontory, yet the evidence was there. The indigenous produce of Anatolia is more than fruit and vegetables, meat and breads, pastry and confections, and elaborate preparations. More than anything it is about wild edibles that are more apparent than they seem.

The traditional food of the western Mediterranean, with its emphasis on cheese, fish and pasta, contrasted with the traditional food of the eastern Mediterranean, with its emphasis on fruit, sourdough bread, vegetables and greens. The modern diet across the region is as diverse as it is different. Some of the most popular ingredients in the Mediterranean diet, especially with non-Mediterraneans, are a reflection of the hyperbole, ignorance and myth-making of those without knowledge. In the 1950s when American researchers found the food of Crete ‘swimming in oil’ and ‘wine consumed morning, noon and night’ that ignorance could be forgiven. Today it is obvious there is more to it than that, those with the knowledge will be among the first to explain.

If the Mediterranean diet is based on anything specific, it is the foraging and gathering tradition of their ancestors, an eternal habit that was not changed by farming and horticulture, especially in Anatolia. Cyprus, Greece and Turkey continue to provide a range of indigenous ingredients to their traditional foods that are unknown to the wider world.

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Böregi TURKEY filled pastries

The thin pastry dough known as yufka in Turkey, (below) cheese and spinach triangles

Iftar and sahur, the pre and post fasting meals at Ramadan, were once symbolised by the pastries known as böregi because they offered sustaining and satisfying snacks at the appropriate moment.

The Turks in particular worry that their ancestral iconic snack food is a thing of the past, yet the prevalence of the börek across the ancient Ottoman lands, the Balkans and western Europe would seem to suggest that these pastries are still relevant.

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It all began in the 19th century in the Tivoli Gardens, the heart and soul of Copenhagen, where restaurant Nimb introduced these open-faced sandwiches, Oskar Davidson later setting the record with 177 different smørrebrød pieces. Ole Troelsø recommends the Grøften and Kähler restaurants in Tivoli but he issues a word of  warning.

Smørrebrød contains hundreds of choices, but Danes have rules regarding the succession. The traditional way is to start with herring on rye bread, with butter or lard as the spread. Yes, it is contradictory to begin with such a fat and spicy dish, but that is why we drink akvavit, to clear the palate. After the herring it is time to savour the smoked eel or the smoked salmon, and it is considered correct to change your plates after the herring.’

‘Having done away with the elements of sea, you change your plates once more, and move on to chicken salad or directly to the pork. This could be sausage, liver paté and roast pork. Afterwards it is time to taste the red meat – raw beef tartare, slightly fried tartare and the roast beef. The cheese is your guarantee of not leaving the table without being absolutely full.’

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Marjoram and Oregano

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Herb bread rolls

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Cheminots, Brig

Cheminots is a small restaurant in the hotel Ambassador in Brig, in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Traditional food is the speciality.

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Ali the olive seller in Kadikoy market in Istanbul, to be featured on the cover
of our pocket book — Traditional Tastes of Turkey by Banu Özden

Khachapuri Georgian cheese bread ‘toast’

The Khachapuri Tradition ხაჭაპურის ტრადიცია

Khachapuri is a traditional Georgian bread with regional variations. Imeruli khachapuri from Imeretian in western Georgia is the common variation, with a vein of cheese through the middle of a flatbread. Acharuli or Adjaruli from Adjarian is a boat-shaped bread. Other shapes and sizes include Achma khachapuri from Abkhazian, Guruli from Gurian, Megruli from Mingrelian, Ossuri from Ossetian, and Penovani, Rachuli and Svanuri for a total of 53 varieties. 

In her book The Georgian Feast, American academic Darra Goldstein described the bread. ‘Khachapuri is found throughout Georgia in many guises – round, rectangular and boat-shaped. The dough can be yeasty with a thick crust, many-layered and flaky, or tender and cake-like. The bread is usually filled with a fresh, slightly sour cheese like imeruli or suluguni, but salty cheeses like bryndza may also be used … even the smallest towns have hole-in-the-wall cafés where piping hot khachapuri may be consumed on the spot or taken out.’

In 2018 Levan Qoqiashvili discovered 83 versions (53 varieties and 30 fillings). These include beans, mushrooms, onions and potatoes, and this revelation crushed the purist attitude that khachapuri is a ‘cheese bread’ and only authentic with a cheese filling. 

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Fish Soups and Fish Stews

Volume 2, issue number 3, 2019

© Small World Publishing