Riding on a carrettino

Riding on a carrettino

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Riding on a carrettino I was looking at the box in my hand, thinking. Was it a kitsch souvenir, or a local handicraft, or a much loved toy for a kid born in Sicily? I could not decide. Then I suddenly realized what it was meant to be. It was a time capsule! 

The box contained a miniature Carrettino Siciliano, the Sicilian horse cart, cheerfully ornate and colorful. The history of the horse carts in Sicily goes back to ancient Greeks; eventually, they became a folkloric feature in the Sicilian landscape, with each province developing their own distinctive style. The tradition of making carts have been handed from generation to generation, a joint collaboration of artisans working together, including woodcarvers, metal workers and artists, to paint the carts in the most colorful ways imaginable. These horse carriages were once like the local taxis, not only used for carrying stuff around, but also for a pleasant leisure ride, or festive occasions like parades and weddings. The “carrettino” was pretty much like the “fayton” we still have at the Princes Islands. What I had in the box was the cutest “Carrettu Sicilianu,” as it was known locally. 

This box was given as a souvenir, a little remembrance of a delightful Sicilian dinner we had prepared by two chefs from Sicily, one residing here in Istanbul, the other still living in Siracusa. These two Sicilian pals are childhood friends, both trained as chefs and though fate has paved different paths for them, they still keep close contact and try to meet and cook (or play) together as frequent as they can. This time, their playground was Aqua Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Bosphorus, where executive chef Sebastiano Spriveri invited his childhood friend Giuseppe Pappalardo to create a feast of Sicily. Sicilian cookery has strong influences from medieval Arab cooking. Its agricultural practices, the use of spices, the culture of sweets and candied fruits all are influences of the Arab period. Similarly Ottoman cooking has also reflections of from the same sources, especially the use of sugar syrups in desserts, spices and certain cooking techniques. To further historical connections, Sicilian geography is amazingly similar to that of the Mediterranean coast of Anatolia. It is no wonder that Sicilian tastes are so familiar to us. We surely have much in common, but the real joy of the feast was witnessing the joy of these two old friends uniting again in a kitchen and taking pride in preparing us their favorite childhood tastes. Watching them prepare pasta was a delight indeed; they were like little kids again playing with dough.

Chef Spriveri always does this; he truly enjoys bringing his beloved island’s popular flavors to the shores of Bosphorus, connecting Sicily to Istanbul with invisible ties. Both Siracusa and Istanbul for me are like legendary cities of mythical beauty, like the invisible cities of Italo Calvino, both having mysteries we’ll never find about. I was finally convinced that the miniature Carrettino was the time capsule; it was there to bring these two chefs back to their childhood and us to a mysterious journey in the past, maybe to the invisible cities of Calvino, or to our own childhood, or to the long forgotten shared tastes between Ottoman and Sicilian cuisines. Riding the carrettino was fun; the Sicilian menu will be available from today until Feb. 28, ending with a Sicilian brunch on its last sunday at Aqua. Yet the best tastes from the menu will continue to appear on the permanent menu. Enjoy the ride!

Bite of the Week 

Fork of the Week: I practically spent my entire lifetime with this man I never knew (an old love affair, that is). We first met during Christmas in Rome, Natale of 1983. How can I forget the lonely nights of cold rainy Trastevere, deserted at Christmas, warmed by his silent yet powerful companionship? RIP Renato Bialetti, creator of espresso coffee pot; you surely recognize him as his face was on each pot with the unmistakable formidable moustache. I’ll always remember you fondly. His ashes were even put in a replica of the iconic pot!

Cork of the Week: The farewell sip of the night was a shot of ice-cold limoncello. Limoncello is a favorite of Turkish people, maybe because we long deeply for our childhood “limonata,” the homemade lemonade that our mothers, grandmothers, aunts prepared in hot summer days. It is indeed a lemonade, but with a kick. I bet you cannot duplicate Spriveri’s recipe as his lemons were brought from Sicily. This one is from a local chef, Pelin Dumanlı from Bodrum, of course with delightful Bodrum tangerines. Cut roughly 6 tangerines, peel, seeds and all. Put in a 1 lt jar with 1 cup sugar, add the juice of another 6 tangerines. Mix well to dissolve sugar. Fill the jar up to the rim with vodka. Now, time to be patient. Let stand for about a month. Strain through a coffee filter. Enjoy ice-cold or on the rocks!