Bring on the Beans: Baklahorani
It’s time to bid farewell to the gluttony and excess of fat days and prepare oneself for the lean days of Lent. It’s out with all the meat and dairy products, and in with beans and greens.
In Istanbul, both the Greek and Armenian Orthodox communities closely observed Lent, but as a last hurrah before the time of fasting, there of course had to be some entertainment. And for that, Baklahorani was the answer.
Bakla, which means fava beans, was the must-eat food on the first day of Lent. The term “Bakla Horani” literally means “I eat beans” and Lent traditionally began by eating “bakla” beans.
Baklahorani was the annual carnival in Istanbul, where it was especially celebrated in neighborhoods with larger Christian communities, such as Pera, Tarlabaşı and Kurtuluş.
The latter neighborhood was originally called Tatavla, which got its name from the horse sheds situated in the area (“Ta Tavla” meaning an animal stable in Greek).
The area was originally inhabited by Greeks from Chios Island who tended horses for carriages, perhaps since the times of Süleyman the Magnificent.
The name Kurtuluş, meaning “Salvation,” was given to the district after a massive fire swept the whole quarter in 1929, destroying more than 200 houses. Since then, the name Tatavla has not been used for the quarter, and it only refers now to the joyous carnival that was once legendary.
The neighborhood was originally essentially Greek, but by the mid-19th century, it had become very cosmopolitan, also featuring large groups of Armenians and, to a lesser extent, Jews.
By that time, celebrating carnival before Lent became customary, as it was the time to let loose a bit before the solemn spiritual days began. Jolly crowds enjoyed street parties, masqueraded around with fun costumes, went in and out of taverns, danced and sang.
In the early years, a procession was also held starting in Pera and moving toward Tatavla. According to records, it was led by prostitutes dressed in fancy velvet costumes riding horses, with their pimps walking alongside the horses. Now that must have been a scene!
The real festive mood was on the backstreets of course, as it was more spontaneous, and much depended on people’s own improvisation.
Masked groups moved around like an on-the-go theater, acting out roles in line with their adopted personalities, such as a doctor helping a pregnant woman give birth, mock funerals carrying live corpses followed by a mourning crowd and the like. Masks were useful in attracting crowds, allowing Muslims to also participate without being spotted.
Ultimately, masks were tools of social equalizers, as the rich and the poor, the ugly and the beautiful, the young and the old alike were all there, letting loose in the absence of social restraint.
Of course, the rich had their private posh parties at classy hotels, but it was the streets where one found the real fun, and the streets belonged to the people of cosmopolitan Istanbul, regardless of religion and ethnicity. It was a different time, when the streets were open to all who wanted to have their fun, in their own way, before eating their beans!
Fork of the Week:
To get a taste of the past, check out Tatavla Karnavalı 2020. Following its modest revival, the carnival has expanded each year with a series of events, concerts, talks, charity markets and tastings in the Pangaltı, Kurtuluş and Feriköy area. The meze tastings and meze market are definitely worth the visit, especially for a few bites of the Lenten and totally vegan sarma and dolma, as well as silky smooth fava, the broad bean purée. Check out the website https://karnavaltatavla.org/tum-program/. Note that some event require registration as space is limited, but the others are open to all, so the more, the merrier. Be sure not to miss the carnival parade on Sunday evening, just dress up and follow
Cork of the Week:
Lent is not only about abstaining from meat and all; if you want to observe it properly, you cannot sip your occasional glass of wine along with your beans. Staying dry for Lent might be good for one’s body, but who doesn’t want that last one or two glasses of that fancy cocktail? Look no further than World Class, which must be like the Oscars of the bartending world, as the winners go through a fierce competition, first in their own countries, and then in the World Competition. World Class also organizes the World Class Cocktail Festival, which is celebrated worldwide on the same day in over more than 40 cities. Istanbul is participating in the festival for the second time this year on Feb. 29 at The Marmara Esma Sultan Yalısı, which is the perfect setting to have that last tipple (or several), considering that the event starts early at 2 p.m. and goes on until midnight. Tickets are at Biletix (https://www.biletix.com/etkinlik/ZB2R1/ISTANBUL/tr).
Wine Event of the Week:
Another cork event coming even sooner is for those living in the United Kingdom. This week, my wine-loving friend Serhat Narsap DipWSET is showing some amazing wines at the Specialist Importers’ Trade Tasting (SITT), an event where independents from the on- and off-trade have been doing business with specialists. British wine lovers will get a chance to taste Anatolian wines in Manchester and London on Feb. 24 and 26, respectively. Narsap is a wine expert from London, a regular judge in many wine competitions around the world and a consultant for wineries regarding their branding, sales and marketing. He is also the founder of Sonvino Ltd, a specialist importer of Turkish and Bulgarian wines in London.