Aylin Öney Tan
Winter is about to turn into spring. The days and nights will be equal for a day. The turning point is marked by Spring equinox, the word coming from the Latin aequinoctium, combining the words aequus (equal) and noctis (night). Equinox is described as the instant of time when Earth’s equator is on the same plane with the center of the Sun. This year the moment will be at 20 March 21:58 Universal Time, which will be 00:58 21 March for Turkey.
Earth’s shift of angle creates the change of seasons in continental climate zones. The geographies that live four seasons fully have many rituals to celebrate the change of seasons. Nevruz or Nowruz is one of them, literally the new day, which also marks the first day of the year, as the equinox is regarded as the start of the annual cycle of seasons, thus the New Year. Nowruz is mostly known as the Iranian New Year, but it is celebrated in a vast geography from Central and Western Asian countries to the Caucasus, Black Sea Basin and the Balkans with names Norooz, Newroz, Norooz, Navruz etc. It is listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage as the shared tradition of Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Though it is a celebration beyond faiths, some religions and ethnic groups identify themselves more strongly, attributing spiritual or nationalistic significance, such as the Zoroastrians and Bahais regarding the day as a holy one, and Kurds taking it almost like national day. In most of the these cultures the celebrations are spread to several days; starting several weeks earlier, culminating to climax on the equinox day. For example Çarşamba Bayramı, literally Wednesday Holiday, is usually the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowroz, when people set bonfires jumping over them, hoping to be purified for the coming year. Typical foods are eggs and fresh herbs representing the spring, and nuts and dried foods representing the past year, to eaten and consumed thoroughly to make the way to call for the bounty of the coming year. Even such food choices represent the transitional significance of the day.
There was wisdom and logic to start the year at spring equinox, before we illogically adapted today’s Gregorian calendar. Ottoman fiscal year started on the equinox day, and all court registrars were kept accordingly starting by March 21st. We continued to pay our taxes because of this fiscal year tradition, the Ottomans wisely kept their Asian heritage of accepting Nevruz as the start of many things, despite being a predominantly Muslim society also following the Islamic calendar; this was the very pragmatic approach of Ottomans to life matters. Perhaps it is time to look back to our Asian ties, and remember many Anatolian traditions have ancient roots beyond its geography, a shared culture of many nations sharing similar climates and the same celestial shelter. Learning from the wisdom of celebrating spring might be a way to raise awareness on climate change, and take urgent precautions to combat climate change. If so many countries have joint efforts to have the day as their intangible heritage, they might do something to sustain not only the tradition, but to safeguard the environment as well. Otherwise the existence of spring season might be in danger, or reduced to that ephemeral equinox moment, and the transition to hell might be nearer than we anticipate.
Recipe of the Week: Eggs are a must in spring celebrations, be it Easter or Nevruz. Eggs are also good when dieting. The time starts ticking for an urgent call for dieting with the equinox. This recipe inspired by the Asian ways of cooking eggs. This might be your turning point to start dieting, insanely delicious, very filling and super easy to make. The amounts are up to your taste; feel free to add more or less according to your preference. Melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large pan; add 1 teaspoon of chopped ginger and half of a fresh chili pepper. Fry a little; add 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped, and a few cremini (about 4-6 according to size) mushrooms, sliced thinly. Add a few spring onions sliced diagonally, toss everything a few times, add a handful of coriander leaves. Make two hollows in the mixture and break in 2 eggs. You may scramble in some of the egg whites but leave the yolks intact. When eggs are about to set add a few splashes of soy sauce to taste, just enough to make up for all the salty, savory umami flavor you need.
Fork of the Week: It might our Asian roots, but Turkish people have an instant bond to all tastes Asian. Even the unimaginable raw fish in the form of sushi was well received by the Turkish palate. The secret could be the shared umami taste in Turkish and Asian flavor palettes; that is what hit me as a revelation when I tasted the endless parade of Asian bites at Isokyo at Raffles Istanbul last Saturday. The beef rib eye taco was both very Asian and Anatolian, despite its Mexican sounding name, so were the bao bun sliders. It might be our love for tucking tenderly cooked meat into a wrap of dough, but there is surely something to investigate more about Asian Anatolian connection, where Anatolia acts as a passage between continents, just like the equinox, we might be standing on transition point. ‘Isokyo Unlimited’ cheers palates on Saturday afternoons from 01:00 to 05:00 pm, serving all-you-can-eat endless little bites of Pan Asian cuisine at a fixed price, with floral teas included.
Cork of the Week: Celebrate the spring with a floral cocktail. While the presentation of Fleur d’Isokyo is a spectacle with clouds created by dry ice, my heart goes to Code Breakers, a fusion of contrasting tastes, mixing gin with lychee liquor, pineapple and coriander which all add a floral and herbal spring note, while spice syrup, ginger and Mexican chili peppers give the bite of a chilling winter frost, overall giving just the right feeling of equinox, the passage from winter to spring. Note that all the cocktails at Isokyo might be the best in town for good value for money; they come in satisfying sizes at reasonable prices compared to their artisanal crafted high quality.