Thrace is a celebration
Aylin Öney Tan - email@example.comImagine sunset over a vineyard stretching downhill towards the sea, tables spread on grass with light bulb chains hanging on top.
The music begins, clarinets, drums and dancing! This is a typical scene in the vineyards of Barbare just off Tekirdağ, in Thrace. We were among the lucky few to be there the other night and enjoy this wonderful atmosphere. But the real highlight of the night was the humble meatball, the ubiquitous “köfte” of Thrace, found in almost every corner of the region. When in Thrace there is no escape from köfte, people actually travel all the way from Istanbul to eat the little grilled morsels of mincemeat, in little shops serving only meatballs and nothing else.
Thrace and meatballs are related in the minds of Turkish people. All the cities and villages in Thrace rival each other when it comes to meatballs. Tekirdağ takes the lead, closely followed by Kırklareli, which is my personal favorite.
They are simply served with a few slices of tomatoes, the flesh and meaty type, perfectly ripened in the late summer sun, one or two grilled green peppers and “piyaz,” boiled white bean salad with lots of finely sliced onions. Some regions have their fiery hot pepper sauces accompanying the meatballs, which are never spicy, and in most cases only seasoned with salt. This year, the central municipality of Tekirdağ, Süleymanpaşa, organized a very clever event. With the initiative of Mayor Ekrem Eşkinat, five meatball masters came to Tekirdağ, to demonstrate their skills, and serve their meatballs to a crowd of food writers, researchers, journalists and leading cooks from all over the country. They all set their grills in front of the vineyard view and despite the expected rivalry, they showed their mastery in great fraternity.
The guests did not only savor the food but also enjoyed a panel solely dedicated to meatballs, led by the mayor himself, moderated by myself and Gökmen Sözen, editor of Food in Life magazine. One of the most exciting aspects of the panel was the attendance of all five meatball masters, talking about their craft, their history, where they learned their job, how they choose their meat and tricks of the trade. Another panelist, Osman Serim, a leading food and beverage consultant, tackled with the industrialization of meatball, whether it could be successfully turned into chains like burger chains, stirring hot debates among the guests. One interesting contribution came from Ali Çakır, a researcher of local cookery and culture from Kırklareli, also the founder and leader of Thrace Slow Food, talking about his findings in the oral history studies he made in his town. It appears that meatballs were not a quick lunch fix, but also eaten just like mezes, to accompany a good shot of rakı, the potent anise infused spirit. Nowadays, most meatball shops won’t serve alcoholic beverages, some are even only open for lunch, but the varieties and practices are endless, from hole-in-the-wall places, to big restaurants scattered everywhere in the region. Thanks to its visionary mayor who brought all the masters together, Tekirdağ acts as a leader in exploring the potentials of the humble meatball, making the whole Thrace region a culinary destination.
Simple but good food, great wines, high quality products, joyful music with drums and clarinets and above all wonderful people.
That is the true spirit of this magnificent region, a countryside that deserves to be visited and revisited again and again, just like the title of this year’s event: Bir Şenliktir Trakya: Thrace is a Celebration!
Fork of the Week
Unfortunately, there is no opportunity to taste all the meatballs in one plate like we did, but of course, a meatball-hopping road trip can be taken through Thrace, tracing all the meatball shops. If you attempt to do so, here are the names to look out for: Tekirdağ Sardunya Köftecisi, Edirne Köfteci Osman, Kırklareli/Ahmetbey, Köfteci Gözde, Keşan Satır Et and Uzunköprü Köftecisi.
Cork of the Week
The wines that accompanied the meatballs came from the vineyards of Thrace. Next week, they will all be competing in a blind tasting in Tekirdağ, with the judging board of Master Sommeliers led by wine expert Burçak Desombre. Thanks to all the wineries who contributed: Arcadia, Arda, Bağcı, Barbare, Barel, Chamlica, Chateau Nuzun, Kayra, Saranta and Umurbey.