Mystic Morsel

Mystic Morsel

Mystic Morsel “Hamdım, Piştim, Yandım”. A life-long spritual journey was summarized in these three words only. This was how Mevlâna has put it, saying of his mystical experience: “The result of my life is no more than three words: I was raw, I became cooked, I was burnt.”

Tomorrow is the night of Şeb-i Arus, the holy night to commemorate Mevlâna Celaleddin Rumi on the anniversary of the day he died 741 years ago. His death day is called Şeb-i Arus, meaning the wedding day (actually bride’s night: şeb: night; arus:bride) as he is believed to be united with God that night. Death is the ultimate unification with the universe and the whirling ritual of Sema brings worshippers to a trance-like state that rises them closer to God.

The word“ham”, actually meaning ‘unripe’ or ‘immature’ in Turkish, in this case, can be translated as ‘raw’ to English. The meaning in Turkish bears more nuances, often also indicating an uneducated or unexperienced person to the extent of being crude or unrefined. Rumi, in his elderly age, looked back to his youth, and considered his early years very ‘uncooked’, compared to his mature mellowness of later ages. He was actually ‘cooked’ in the kitchen of brotherhood, as the Sufi order starts in the kitchen! Whirling dervishes with their heads slightly tilted, arms raised to the sky, spinning in graceful circles are romantically one of the most inspiring mystical images but the path to whirling is not easy, and it strangely passes through the kitchen.

Becoming a Mevlevi was a hard task, especially strenous considering all the toil of serving as an apprentice in the kitchen. Sufi initiates had to take over all the lowliest kitchen work. Cleaning kitchen floor, scraping pots and pans, crying over chopped onions were the daily routine, as well as practising whirling on bare-feet tucking their toes around a huge nail pinned to the floor. Apparently Ateş Baz-ı Veli, the inspirational muse of Rumi went through this rigorous apprenticeship, becoming a noted chef, and the personal cook of the great poem. He is possibly the first cook ever to be have been granted a memorial tomb; “Ateşbaz-ı Veli Türbesi” is a place still visited by crowds paying gratitude to his memory. The kitchen was surely the heart of Mevlevi order, where the fire Sufi dervishes toiled over is placed, igniting the eternal never-expiring fire at the hearts of Rumi and his cook, his nickname coming from ‘ateş’, the fire!  

Mevlana’s tolerance and goodness are best exemplified by his well-known lines: “Come, come whoever you are / An unbeliever, a fire-worshipper, come. / Our convent is not of desperation / Even if you have broken your vows a hundred times / Come, come again.”

To follow his command, one does not need to go to Konya. Your path to eternal love is through the kitchen. To the memory of Mevlana, prepare this trational “Tekke Pilavı”, a truly authentic recipe from the family, and unite your friends around a table of friendship to enjoy and celebrate life!

Recipe of the Week: This recipe is huge! It is truly a heritage recipe. It was handed to me by a lovely lady from the family of Mevlana, Lale Dai, 17th generation descendant of Rumi. She is the grand daughter of the last heir in Turkey, Abdülhalim Çelebi, who has supported Atatürk and became a member of Parliament representing Konya. After all tekke’s were closed in Turkey, his son Bakir Çelebi was sent to Aleppo, to continue the Mevlevi tradition. Lale Dai’s mother Növber Hanim was the grand daughter of Bakir Çelebi, born and raised in Aleppo, but later moved back to Turkey, to Aleppo’s twin sister town Gaziantep. This is a wonderful pilaf cooked together with meat and carrots, deliciously spiced with cinnamon and studded with almonds and pistachios. For this pilav you need to have a coarsely minced mutton, or better still, quite smallishly hand-chopped lamb. Soak ½ kg short grain rice in hot salted water. Chop finely a big onion, and fry gently until translucent in ½ cup of olive oil, add ½ kg of chopped meat and continue to fry stirring constantly. Take care to push down any lumps of meat to pan to separate pieces that have clung together. Strain and wash the rice thoroughly and mix with the fried meat. Pour in 5-6 cups of hot water or meat stock, add 1,5 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, 1tsp cinnamon, ¾ tsp allspice. Meanwhile coarsely grate 4-5 carrots and add to the pan. Cover and let steep over low heat until all the cooking liquid is completely absorbed. Meanwhile fry 2/3 cup blanched almonds, ½ cup pistachios and ½ cup raisins in a few tablespoons of olive oil. When the rice is cooked, add the nuts and raisins to the rice, cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel, put the lid back on, and let stand for 15-20 minutes before serving. Eat with gratidute and enjoy with love!

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: The famed ‘Etli Ekmek’ of Konya must be the ‘Mystic Pizza’ of Konya. In Konya, one of the best is served in Cemo Etli Ekmek. For the ones living in Istanbul, and cannot make it to Konya, you still have some road to go, to Kazasker at the Anatolian side. Konyalılar Etli Ekmek serves one of the best in town. (Şemsettin Günaltay Caddesi No: 150 / G Kazasker – Erenköy; Phone: 0216 445 42 42)

Cork of the Week: Rumi praised and enjoyed wine, I can imagine he might have enjoyed the wonderful Shiraz wines of Turkey, a grape indigenous to Iran. Try Pamukkale Anfora Shiraz Reserve 2010, aged 18 months in oak barrels, a very good value for money delight from Denizli. He was also very fond of rose and spice perfumed sweet sherbets, and the awkward tasting honey-vinegar sherbet sirkencübin. All sherbets can be enjoyed at Konyalı Restaurant in Kanyon, with the recipes re-created by Nevin Halıcı and the former chef Aydın Demir, all still made to perfection.

Read of the Week: Sufi Cuisine by Nevin Halıcı, published by Saqi Publications, London, can be found in all good bookshops in Istanbul, or can be ordered through mail. It is a delightful read, as well as a perfect insight to Perso-Arab medieval influences in medieval Anatolian cookery.

Event of the Week: Visiting Konya for the night of Şeb-i Arus is a life time experience but one can get uneasy to make a last minute arrangement considering all the rush of tourists and spiritual pilgrims to the town. In Istanbul the true experience is a visit to Galata Mevlevihanesi, or tekke, undoubtedly the most famous Mevlevi Whirling Dervish place, being the first and original dervish hall of the city. It is located on Galipdede Caddesi, the road down to Galata tower from Tünel at the end of Istiklal Caddesi. Check the performance hours in their website.