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TRAVEL > Bursa retaining sweet chestnut taste, tradition

Wilco van Herpen Bursa - Hürriyet Daily News

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The center of sweet chestnuts is Bursa. In the early 1900s, a family came from Yugoslavia and continued their tradition of making delicious sweet chestnuts. It all started with a little shop in the center of Bursa. In the surrounding Bursa mountains, there were a lot of chestnut trees. Ali Şakir Tatveren collected as many as he could and made sweet chestnuts. He worked day and night and it did not take long before the shop on Atatürk Avenue became too small. Today the Tatveren family still produces sweet chestnuts, but times have changed and they now prepare the chestnuts in a big factory. Times have changed, but the chestnuts still taste as if grampa made them.
Tons of chestnuts are brought from all over the country to end up in factories that make all different kinds of sweets, flours or purees. I visited one of those factories and was impressed by the work they do there. Huge pans which can hold 2,000 kg of chestnuts at the same time are used to cook the nuts. Then the chestnuts are put in syrup and boiled again. After cooling down, thousands of chestnuts are checked by hand.
In spite of all the latest technology they use here, people do a large part of the work. It takes six or maybe eight people to check the quality of the chestnuts. You might think a clever machine is doing this job, but every chestnut is being checked by a woman and then put on another belt. They quickly remove the imperfect chestnuts. The crumbled chestnuts are used for other products. Twelve more women place thousands and thousands of sweet chestnuts in a bin before they are finally packed. I never realized that it was so much work to make sweet chestnuts.
There are also patisserie shops that make their own sweet chestnuts. One of the patisserie entrepreneurs, Hakan Doğan, gives workshops on patisserie practices and teaches people how to make the original sweet Bursa chestnuts. Hakan’s enthusiasm is endless. Once you start talking to him there is no longer any concept of time. He knows everything about bread and chocolate. Patisserie is his passion. He excitedly explains how he once won a prize for his chocolate work.
Today I am joining his workshop. He is going to teach me and eight other participants how to prepare chestnuts. There are a couple of things that are very important when making sweet chestnuts: how clean the chestnuts are and how long they boil in water and syrup. Four hours later I ate my self-made chestnuts. It was as if they were painted with gold, so beautiful their color was. The taste? Excellent! Hakan is not only a good cook; he is also a great teacher. As a surprise he made a beautiful fruit salad with sweet chestnuts served with a sweet sauce made of cheese. It had been a very informative day.
Just outside Bursa is a nice little village called Cumalıkızık. It would be the perfect décor for the finale of my cooking program at İZ TV. You enter the village via a narrow road. Suddenly you find yourself in the center of the little village. The entrance might be a bit overwhelming because of all the stalls you see with homemade marmalades, pastas and more. But I think the people have done a great thing there. All the little stalls are concentrated in just this one place. When you walk around in the little village you can therefore still see how life is or used to be, because not much has changed here. When I was walking around I found some very nice photogenic little alleys. Especially during late autumn and wintertime this village becomes magical with sun and shades dramatically projected on the village buildings. Dramatic skies, hard and long shadows on the buildings, this place is heaven for painters and photographers. Just aim and shoot, it’s that easy.
At the end of my program I always prepare some simple food on the street. I like the interaction with the people, because it is always different. They look with big curious eyes wondering what I am doing. There are always a couple of people who start a conversation with me, curious about what I am making. In Gaziantep the children loved my chicken curry. But here in Cumalıkızık? My food might be a bit over the top. I made pasta from chestnut flour for a dessert I wanted to make. I think most people were not ready for such “outrageous” food. Nevertheless the people were quite interested in what I was doing and a couple of times I even gave them my recipe. Do you wonder how my dessert was? Well, I can tell you it was one of the best desserts I ever made in my life.

November/15/2011

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