Smoke gets in your eyes

Smoke gets in your eyes

Aylin Öney TAN -
Smoke gets in your eyes

DHA photo

As the smoke of the past weeks begins to lift from Taksim square, many protesters were making jokes about getting withdrawal symptoms. The peppery fumes of tear gas have become a feature of Istanbul scene now, and it’s hard to imagine Taksim without it. But how did we get adapted to accepting the smoke so quickly! Actually, as I’ve written before on pot banging cacerolazo, it’s in our genes. Any open air space in a Turk’s hands can turn into a giant BBQ park.

Grilling, parching, roasting, burning... Kebabs, juicy meatballs, kokoreç – the grilled lamb intestines, döner kebap, you name it... Turkish street food is pretty much about grilling something on the side roads. At every corner there is some smoke rising, definisng the Turkish culinary landscape. It seems like hell for a vegetarian, but it is not always a carnivorous feast. Any food char-grilled on hot embers can be called a kebap. We even call roasted chestnuts and corn cobs as kebaps! So, it is more the passion for that burning feeling of smoke, the scorching heat rising from the burnt coal. Simply put: When it comes to food, we surely like to play with fire!

Kebaps are an important part of Turkish cuisine, loved not only for the wonderful taste of the charcoal grill, but also for the social atmosphere a fire creates. Every Turkish man is Sultan of his barbecue, whether in the garden, on a picnic, on the balcony or in any green patch of land near a sidewalk. They suddenly become aware of hunter-gatherer roots of mankind, turning into a heroic state of mind. Of course women are the gatherers as always, this time gathering all the litter and dirty dishes left behind.

Turks can turn any spot into a kebab ground. Their fanaticism in grilling can cause controversies as it did years ago in Germany. To the horror of Germans, Turkish “Gastarbeiters” started to occupy the park in front of the Reichstag in Berlin, regularly every Sunday if the weather was good, turning the serene greenery into a hellish grill party. It was not an #occupy Reichstag demonstration, it was simply picnic allaturca, Turkish Berliners enjoying their Sunday roast. Even the green road strip leading to the famed parliament was filled with keen grillers. It was to be banned shortly, but now kebabs are regarded as one of the typical street foods of Berlin, featured in most Berlin guidebooks.

When I feel the smoke rising from a grill house, I have a sudden feeling of homeland. That is what I keep complaining about to my Londoner food writer friend Fuchsia Dunlop. When I stay at her house in the north-east neighborhood of Kingston-Dalston, there is always a feeling of home in the air, not because of Fuchsia’s profound hospitality, but from the invading smells of Mangal Ocakbaşı, a famous Turkish grill joint, just around the corner. I always keep saying; “I do not feel like I am in London when I stay with you.”

In that sense, the Gezi protests were downright complete with smoky scenes that occupied parks and streets. No protester was a bit scared by the inferno created by police forces. Instead they felt at home, at ease with handling the smoke, knowing how to play with fire!

It is apparent that the towering rage of the masses will continue to smolder. Even water cannons cannot put the fire out. So let’s get the smoke in our drinks and foods, and in the eyes of the politicians that refuse to see the reality. It is time to occupy Taksim for the biggest Mangal party ever. Let’s get grilling or “mangalling” inspired by the trendy protest term “chapulling.” Keep the fire alive! Let the smoke rise!

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: If you want to stay away from streets and squares but not don’t want to shut yourself closed indoors or malls, eating al fresco at Kanyon can be an alternative. There is no fire here but it’s possible get some smoke on your plate. The smoky Mediterranean taste of the week
comes from Carluccio’s. Their giant raviolis filled with a creamy paste of char roasted aubergines, smoked scamorza, matched with sun-ripened tomato sauce hits the point.

Cork of the Week:
Smokiness in your glass can be an acquired taste. One of my favorite whiskies, Ardbeg, must be one of the smokiest, for some like licking a chimney, for me pure bliss! For this week’s drink make a Smoky Mary! This one was made for me by Tom Jones (no, not the singer!), the global Scotch ambassador of Diageo, and to my surprise it instantly made me feel at the right spot. Mix one part of Lagavulin 18 years old with two parts of tomato juice on ice. Stir and sip. No need for any other flavoring, you’re already on fire anyway. For a smoother version, Johnnie Walker Black Label.

Recipe and Buy of the Week: Firik: Smoky smoky parched unripe green wheat. A taste to die for! The new harvest just arrived, for the best and smokiest one from Gaziantep, I’ll give you my secret connection. Have a Turkish speaking friend, dial Mustafa Almacı at 0532 650 80 90, and order the best of firik in town and their fiery red peppers. His recipe is to cook firik plain (without bulgur as some do).

Put one part of firik, with one and a half parts of water in a casserole with a generous pinch of salt, simmer covered very slowly until the cooking juices evaporate, add a generous tablespoon of clarified butter, toss and serve. Heaven in smoke!