The color of the year was announced as ultimate gray paired with an illuminating tone of yellow. Amongst the duo, naturally, the yellow shines by overshadowing the solemn gray. But the other day, another color rose to the stage. The color purple dominated the scenes at the inauguration ceremony of Joe Biden. It seems that shades of purple will dominate fashion in the coming year, at least in the U.S. Hopefully, the color stands for unity and bipartisanship, bringing together Republican red and Democratic blue melt in one to make purple. Of course, the intensity of red or blue affects the final shade -- resulting in either a reddish hue or a bluish one. Interestingly, purple is the opposite of yellow, supposedly meant to be the color of the year, which stands alone among the primary colors against the combination of red and blue.
In Istanbul, we consider purple as the color of the city. It was the color of choice of Byzantine emperors, who wore purple cloaks to differentiate themselves from the rest of the crowd. Purple tones were very difficult to achieve when dyeing textiles, thus, it was reserved only for royalty and the elite. A legacy from the Roman times when purple dyes were much praised, its origins credited to the Phoenicians who managed to obtain purple from the glands and veins of sea mollusks. The shells of certain sea snails were also utilized in obtaining the wildly expensive pigment. Of course, it was not only the Byzantine elite that favored the color. Any ceremony in the Vatican still vibrates with shades of violet, mauve and purple -- again a legacy from the Roman past. Ottomans were not remote to the color as well. They loved the color on everything from the deep magnetic aubergine purple in Iznik tiles to velvety embroidered kaftans of the Ottoman sultans. Eventually, named as Tyrian purple, the color purple remained to be the favorite of the ruling classes. So in that context, Biden’s inauguration colors just hit the spot.
But what identifies Istanbul with the color best are the amazing Judas trees. In late April, Judas trees blossom, covering the flanking shores of Bosphorus with a pinkish-mauve color, a joyous node to spring. It is a period when Istanbul wears its purplish cloak. The tables of Istanbul also have their good share of purple as even the cuisine is heavily tinted with shades of purple. A quick stroll in the market reveals many. The glistening mussel shells stuffed with an almost purplish rice filling and studded with blackish purple currants represent one of the most prominent features of street food. Eggplant is the most praised vegetable in Turkish cuisine -- there are hundreds of eggplant dishes cooked with their purple skins on. The kebabs are accompanied by the magenta-colored şalgam drink, which is made from black turnips and purple carrots. Thinly sliced red onions with their purple skins are the perfect accompaniment to grilled fishes in Istanbul, together with the greenest bunch of rocket leaves.
Throughout the year, purple-colored foods parade in greengrocers. From grapes to figs and from plum varieties to a myriad of berries, the choices are amazing and found in abundance on Turkish soil. All children in Turkey know very well that stealing black mulberries from the neighbor’s tree is a crime to be caught very soon -- a droplet of its bursting juice is enough to tint hands and clothes instantly. Another favorite of children, purple used to be abundant also in confectionery and sweet drinks in Ottoman times, with violet-scented hard candies and sherbets. Recently, a sweet shop in Ankara made purple baklava by using purple carrot, sour cherry, pomegranate, blackberry and red beets.
Now it is also the season for two purple-colored foods; red cabbage and beetroot. Red cabbage is purple when raw but turns into the most shocking pink, adorning salads in kebab houses -- topping the green lettuce together with orange carrots. A stunning color combination indeed. The dark beetroot, magnificently shining with shades ranging from bright magenta to deep purple, and unlike others, its color not only remaining on the surface but are present deep in the flesh as well. Interestingly, in Tudor England, the beetroot was called Roman beet, not referring to the color but its origins in Asia Minor. Beetroot pickle is a favorite in meze tables, and the pickle juice gives its tint to pickle juice cocktail that the pickle vendors like to concoct for thirsty customers.
Purple should be the color on your plate if you want to stay healthy, and it is not a metaphor. Doctors praise the benefits of antioxidants found in purple-colored foods, and anything in purple is very tasty and palatable indeed. Have it on your plate, and you’ll benefit. It will boost your health, and you’ll also be keeping with the latest fashion.