Kill the bird!
AYLİN ÖNEY TAN
Ottoman cookery was rich with tastes of the wild, especially bird kebabs. The most popular hunting party dishes were kebabs of partridge, quail and wild duck.Just a week ago, bread was the iconic symbol for protest in Turkey; now it has a new companion: the bird. Social media bird “Twitter” is officially banned, making the little chirping bird another symbol for freedom. Hunting game has a long history in Anatolia. “Bird” kebabs have a notable place in Ottoman cookery, not just for flavor, but for a reason. Hunting was a favorite pastime for the ruling classes of this land.
Hunting has always been a strong tradition throughout the ages, uninterrupted since the early cavemen of Öküzini and Karain, both situated near Antalya, in the south of Turkey. All of the peoples of Anatolia have definitely enjoyed chasing wild beasts and fowl since the first hunters and gatherers of the Taurus Mountains, still a preferred place for professional hunters. The Greek goddess Artemis, the Lady of Ephesus, was the patron of the hunt, wild animals, and the wilderness. Her successor Roman hunting goddess Diana wondered in the Aegean woods. Hunting may have rooted from necessity, but eventually it became a display of power and heroism and consequently a show-off of luxury and wealth. Hunting evolved into an elite game and royal sport demonstrating chivalry and gallantry for all ruling classes. There were several Byzantine kings killed in hunting accidents, not necessarily in heroic ways, one, for example, by scratching himself with a poisonous arrow. Hunting was also very much favored by Turkish royalty. Seljuk princes were famous for arranging days-long hunting parties, ending with carnivorous feasts, namely “toy şöleni”, where guests were served plates laden with roasted birds. Actually, two Seljuk rulers, Melikşah and Alaeddin Keykubad, were said to have died due to an overdose of wildfowl kebabs.
Ottoman sultans were also very fond of hunting; some are even known to have chased birds and rabbits in the gardens of Topkapı Palace. Early Ottoman history, probably that of Europe was doomed to change after a hunting accident actually, when Şehzade Süleyman Paşa, the son of Orhan Gazi, was killed by his own horse on a hunting run in 1357. He was the first Ottoman military leader ever to lead an expeditionary force into Europe, and if not killed in his wild run, he would have definitely pursued his dreams to move westwards deep into Europe. Two centuries later, Süleyman the Magnificent was reputed to be a great hunter. There were numerous hunting lodges built in the woods, especially in the vicinities of Edirne, sometimes serving as a constant residency for long periods for many sultans who were keen in hunting. Some sultans were almost obsessed with hunting, some followed the rituals as a duty, but no sultan’s schedule was short of a hunting campaign. In peace times, it was a substitute for the battlefield, a show of warfare and warrior like qualities. It was, in a way, the sultan’s manifestation of fighting the empire’s internal and external enemies.
In such an atmosphere, Ottoman cookery was rich with tastes of the wild, especially wildfowl kebabs. The most popular hunting party dishes were kebabs of partridge, quail and wild duck. The birds were either roasted on a spit or grilled on hot plates and then covered to sweat for the flavors to develop. This latter technique is called söğürme, which can still be found in the kebabs of Gaziantep.
There are rumors that our prime minister is suffering from Süleyman the Magnificent syndrome, imagining himself as the last mighty sultan. He definitely tries to follow one royal tradition of Ottoman monarchy at least, the bird hunt. “Kill the bird!” he said, and “chirps from the bird” were silenced in an instant. Heroic hunting at its best executed! This act was a declaration of war against all and “all” meaning imaginary enemies inland and outland. Entering an age of cyber wars, censorship imposed on social media seems to be the rescue for the ruling few, but can it be that easy when flocks of birds are destined to fly to their instinctive target?
There is a saying in Turkish, “Her kuşun eti yenmez” literally translated as “not every bird is edible”, meaning “not every person will bend to your will.” That might prove to be true, and this bird may bring ill fate to the prime minister, just like the destiny of his Seljuk ancestors.
Bite of the week
Recipe of the Week: Wild fowl is hard to come by, so our recipe is a vegan dish from Italy without the birds, but with a gamey taste. It is called “Fagioli all’uccelletto,” beans cooked “bird” style, so called as it is cooked with sage and garlic, two essential flavors used when cooking little hunting birds. Soak 300g dried beans (cannellini would be the best) overnight in water. The next day, drain the beans, and put in a pot with fresh water to covering 2-3 cm. Cut crosswise a whole head of garlic, put over the beans cut side down, add a good long branch of dried sage and 1 teaspoon salt. Let simmer for an hour over low-moderate heat, or until well cooked. Add more water if necessary. After cooked, you must have still some of the cooking liquid, but it must not be soupy. Serve lukewarm with a generous drizzle of early harvest extra virgin olive oil and crushed black peppers. You may decrease the amount of water and add a can of peeled tomatoes for a sunnier Mediterranean version.
Fork of the Week: Birds eye view of the city is now at Marriott Şişli in Istanbul. You can even get a more realistic bird’s eye view when you use their helicopter service. Dining with such a view is an experience indeed!
Cork of the Week: The good news is we have Hennessy directly represented here in Turkey. Despite the oppression on alcoholic beverages, it is a relief to have more and more companies attracted to the Turkish market. A delightful cocktail with Hennessy cognac is the perfect end of a hectic day in Istanbul, the one we enjoyed at Mikla was a true delight. Mix 3 parts Hennessy with 1 part lemon or lime juice, 1/2 part sugar syrup, and a handful of blackberries in a cocktail shaker half filled with crushed ice. Empty the contents of the shaker into a tall glass, lace with one part Crème de Mûre. Garnish with more blackberries and enjoy! More delightful recipes are at http://www.hennessy.com/en-int/art-of-mixing/hennessy-mixed-drinks.