Biscuit crumbs in trenches

Biscuit crumbs in trenches

Biscuit crumbs in trenches The Gallipoli War was a heroic battle for both sides. The Turks, determined to fight to death for their homeland, faced the Anzacs who were struggling to understand why they came to a war not of their own in this strange land on the other side of the planet. Accounts from both sides include stories of man-to-man fighting alongside touching memories of cigarette and food exchanges during cease-fires.

Food logistics at Gallipoli might have been influential in determining the end. At a first glance the Anzacs seemed to have the advantage. The Anzac side was well-organized and fully stocked with an ample supply of canned food, particularly canned meat (bully beef) and Anzac biscuits, the notoriously hard oatmeal wafers. The Turkish side, however, unlike the mighty Ottoman army of the past famous for its logistic arrangements, had little food supply and poor logistics. First of all, being from a country without a developed food industry, Turks had none of the pre-prepared packed or canned food. What they were to eat had to be prepared from scratch on site. All the food that a soldier could get for a day could be as little as a bowl of soup or hoşaf, a sweet raisin compote, along with a few pieces of peksimet, a twice-cooked dry bread.

The food logistics of armies seemed to be dramatically unequal, but the disadvantaged side might have benefited from this situation. Turkish soldiers were peasant boys who knew their land. They could easily identify edible wild greens and fruit, and had access to water sources or could find them. On the contrary the Gallipoli geography and its flora and fauna was completely alien to the young Aussie and Kiwi folks. They did not know the land, even the wild plants seemed to be totally inedible. Eventually, it was the Anzacs who suffered from their over-designed food logistics. The thirst-inducing salty canned beef, sickly sweet marmalade, and all the dried food proved to be a burden, making them miserable in scorching heat as they had no access to fresh water. The opened cans of bully beef and marmalade were like lightning rods of disgust, attracting dark clouds of flies, even more threatening than the Turkish troops.

HDN A quick look at the Anzac rations reveal much about this “irrational menu” designed from behind a desk, so far away from the realities of the trenches. A food historian friend, Janet Clarkson, from Australia provides a list in her blog “The Old Foodie”: Military orders stated in April, 1915, “the scale of rations after leaving Egypt will be: 1 lb. preserved meat, 1¼ lbs, bread or 1 lb. biscuit or flour, 4 ozs. bacon, 3 ozs. cheese, 2 ozs. peas, beans or dried potatoes,  ⅝ ozs. tea. ¼ lb. jam, 3 ozs. sugar, ½ oz. salt, ½ oz. mustard, 1/3 oz. pepper.” Strangely the foreseen ration also included 1/10 gill lime juice and ½ gill rum and 2 ozs. tobacco per week.

The soldiers might have had a chance to savor these last items, enjoying a rum gimlet perhaps with a casual smoke as if on a blue voyage cruise on the way from Egypt to the Dardanelles strait, but there was surely no place for such luxury in the trenches. However, there were moments of serenity during cease-fires, often enjoyed by smoking a cigarette or nibbling on crumbs of Anzac biscuits or peksimet softened with canned milk. That was the moment the two sides could come to a humane state, even passing notes to each other to swap goods, food from Anzac side and Turkish tobacco and cigarettes in return. We do not know if Turks enjoyed the brick-hard biscuits they received, but they surely liked the canned milk but deliberately avoided canned beef out of fears that it was pork. One note attached to a cigarette pack thrown from the Turkish trench to the other side included a kind note written in broken French: “Notre Cher Enemi- Prenez-A Vee”(to our dear enemy).

Upon receiving an unwanted bully beef in return, another note came along: “A Notre Herox Ennemis, Bully Beef -Non...Envoyez Milk.” (our heroic enemy, no bully beef, send milk).

Recipe of the Week: Time to bake Anzac cookies? My friend Janet makes a point; she writes: “Surely no self-respecting Aussie or Kiwi pastry-cook would even consider making Anzac cookies?” True, the authentic rock-hard original biscuits are never called cookies. She provides a handful of recipes from old sources, some seemingly edible. Check her blog for recipes or just for the delight of all the knowledge she gives.

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: Great Australian BBQ and the New Zealander lamb are world-famous, so they surely know about quality grilled meat down there. I suggest our Aussie and Kiwi brothers and sisters try the ultimate grill here, the ubiquitous Turkish kebab. There are so many kebab spots in Istanbul, but one place hidden up on the roof of a hotel in Laleli deserves a mention. Köşebaşı, the praised kebab house, now has a new branch on top of the Darkhill Hotel in Laleli with a magnificent view over the Marmara Sea, and more importantly, unlike some kebab places scattered in the historic peninsula, serves booze, with a good stocked wine list. Their meze selection is faultless, their kebab range is all grilled to perfection, lamb chops so tender and succulent that you cannot have enough. To finish don’t miss the ice cream hidden under a mound of warm semolina helva, and glossy pumpkin preserves with a tahini drizzle. Go before sunset, have a drink at the bar and enjoy the view toward the Marmara Sea, all stretching west to the Dardanelles.

Cork of the Week: To commemorate Gallipoli, the brand of choice for wine should be Suvla. The small boutique winery in Gallipoli derives its name from the Suvla Bay, the site of the landing by the British IX Corps, which ended up with high casualties for the Anzacs. Every single bottle Suvla winery produces is of high quality, with some outstanding ones winning awards worldwide.

Lodging of the Week: One good place to stay near Çanakkale is Hotel MRG at Biga, a family-run boutique hotel converted from an old timber mansion, much favored by Aussie and Kiwi friends.