Aylin Öney Tan - email@example.com
REUTERS PhotoThe traditions of Ottoman gift-giving were phenomenal. Ramadan, the equivalent of Christmas, not religiously but in the sense of celebration, was a true gift-giving period. If one was to be invited to break their fast in an elite mansion in Istanbul, it meant that not only would the guest be thoroughly satisfied, they would also receive a parting gift called a “diş kirası,” which can be translated as “tooth rent.” This tooth rent could be a silver tobacco holder, elaborate prayer beads made of semi-precious stones, a few sweetmeats in a silk handkerchief, or just a silver dime for the poor. Sending back a box of candied fruits, Turkish delights or a fruit basket would be considered appropriate as a sign of the guest’s gratitude.
Christmas gifts can be problematic. Both my grandmother and mother used to have a cupboard reserved for unwanted items to be “weiterschenken,” that is to be re-gifted to another person.
Food gifts are welcome in any culture, in any part of the world, and Christmas is no exception. Gifts that are edible or related to culinary arts are at least useful; edible gifts are meant to be consumed soon and most other culinary gifts such as utensils and kitchen gadgets are hopefully going to be used happily in the making of delightful foods.
Here is a suggestive list of some delights available in Turkish markets.
With a selection of these, Christmas will surely be merrier!
Special olive oils
Fine olive oil from boutique brands, mostly family owned, offer delightful choices. Early harvest presses by Monte Ida and Kürşat from Ayvalık are slightly peppery, fruity and wonderful to be used raw; both brands also have a good olive selection. This year I fell in love with Monte Ida’s special sele (dry salt cured) black olive. Another good award-winning olive oil is from Urla: Olivurla by Ayerya farm. Not edible, but their olive oil-based lavender soaps are so delightful that they’re almost edible.
Some people detest flavored olive oils, but if you pick the right one, not artificially flavored but pressed with aromatic herbs or citrus peels, it can be heavenly. Laleli is the brand that started this method and theirs are still among the best. Ayvada also makes really good ones with tangerines and so on. Nar Gourmet’s thyme-scented one is good for lamb chops, while the orange peel-scented olive oil is a delight on roasted duck. Nar Gourmet also provides sets of different olive oils from various parts of Turkey.
For wine lovers
We all know that a good glass improves the joy of good wine.
This year, the Nude series by Paşabahçe was the joy of our tables. Everything that comes out of this brand is a delight on the table, and functionally very user friendly too. They will surely make good gifts, as a pair of wine glasses paired with a decanting carafe is what I would like to have, or maybe the elegant Martini glass. They are available at all Paşabahçe stores.
Though very hard to get now, the new wine glasses designed for Kayra by Karim Rashid are definitely unique in design.
The Coravin decanter apparatus is a gadget for impatient wine-lovers, as it gives just the necessary degree of aeration to wines in almost seconds.
Hand-crafted copper pots and pans are not easy to come by. The ones by Soy are truly exceptional; the silver-lined ones are the ultimate desired luxury items. Check the website, or just go to their workshop for an adventurous shopping experience.
For a sharper edge, try knifes by Pirge, a family-owned producer of knifes from Bursa, a city renowned for its knives. They have a wide selection of choices; you’ll have hard time picking, but do not miss the outdoor range, a good gift idea for gentlemen.
Another suggestion should be any item from Refikadan, by dear Refika Birgül. I know her true passion for supporting local artisans and she tries to sustain their existence. I’m particularly fond of the enamel pots and pans, charmingly homely and nostalgic, all available from www.refikadan.com
For the kitchen counter
Hayfene is a new spice brand on the market, but we have been enjoying their mixes for so long, secretly, or maybe not so secretly. Our beloved Ucuzcular Spice Shop No: 51 now run by Ahmet and Bilge Kadıoğlu has been in business for 130 years in Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar. They decided to have their own brand available in a wider market, and their shop has long been the star of the culinary walk I have been doing for Context Travel with my friend Hülya Ekşigil. If you have their special mixes you can amaze your guests with your unique creations.
Another series of jars or bottles one must have is the sours, extracts, molasses and concentrated fruit reductions of Yerlim. Based in Kuşadası, Gürsel Tonbul owns a big farm which is a little piece of heaven. Her produce is all traditionally made by local women. Their İncir Sızması (Fig Reduction) has the faintly aroma of ripe figs, while their Armut Sızması (Pear Reduction) has the delicate scent of succulent pears. Both would be ideal not only for sweets, but also as a swirly over roasted or grilled meat.
Both brands are available online, but also check fine stores, while they’re also stocked in Eataly at Zorlu Center.
For the holy night
Most things will be sweet anyway, but some will want to stay away from sugary food. That is the time to have a cheese platter to end a feast. If you yearn for French-style goat cheeses check a small producer, Miralem from Menemen, İzmir, with excellent goat cheeses, which offers a selection available online.
The jewel on the crown
Last but not least might be the ultimate gift of the season. Tertium non data is the name of the jewelry and objects line created by architect Gülnur Özdağlar from Ankara. Her creations give an eternal new life to once unwanted rubbish; disposable plastic pet bottles are transformed into the finest objects. It is somewhat thrilling that these ephemeral pieces were once water bottles considered trash. Hats off to such creativity and meticulous craftsmanship! Check the availability of the pieces by goggling “tertium non data,” or just pop into the ECNP gallery for her latest show.