Under the Irish Sky! or Gallipoli or Antep?

Under the Irish Sky! or Gallipoli or Antep?

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Under the Irish Sky or Gallipoli or Antep “‘Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky than in Suvla or Sedd el Bahr.”
I do not recognize the tune, but the words are stuck in my mind on my way to Dublin. I’ll be attending the Dublin Gastronomy Symposium and it will be my first time visiting Ireland. The reason I keep repeating this line is the Gallipoli battle of more than a century ago, the topic of my presentation. I will be scrutinizing the food provisions of both sides in the Gallipoli War, which is usually recognized for the heroic and dramatic stories of the Anzacs, but other nationalities that fought with the British Army, including the Irish volunteers, often go unmentioned. This line is from “Foggy Dew,” the heart-touching ballad telling the story of the courageous Irish youth, which turned out to be inspirational in the onset of the Irish War of Independence. 

I’m writing these words under another sky, that of the southern province of Gaziantep, another battlefield of the Turkish Republican War. The city of Antep had shown a legendary resistance to the enemy, and they saved both their own city and their territory, hence they got the prefix Gazi, the Martyr. Antep, as most locals still call their town, is now struggling hard to accommodate Syrian refuges, and while under the immense pressure of such hard times, the Antep people are also working hard, as always, to sustain and promote their values. Renowned for their cuisine, the city was recently designated in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, in the category of gastronomy. They continue organizing events and festivals and seem to embrace their culinary assets more than ever. This time it was time for the important staple food of the town, bulgur, which in fact may be the first ever food product of mankind. To celebrate this age-old staple, the 1st Bulgur Festival was organized under the umbrella of Gaziantep Commodity Exchange with the support of the Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality. 

Bulgur is technically a way to keep wheat for a long time, preventing it from rot or germination. In the traditional millennia-old method, wheat berry is picked, husked, boiled and then left to soak up all the boiling juices full of nutrients while cooling. It is then spread under the sun to dry thoroughly, and then cracked in stone mills or mortars to the desired fineness or coarseness. Bulgur is never only one type, but comes in various types, often named according to town of origin (Antep, Urfa, Adana etc.), or degree of coarseness (iri/coarse, ince/fine etc), or to the dish it is going to be used (pilavlık/ for pilaf, köftelik/ for meatballs etc.), or even to the wheat variety (siyez, kavılca) and so on… Needless to say, bulgur was a staple of survival in both the Gallipoli battle and the Antep resistance. It made its way into soups in Gallipoli and in Antep it was made into meatless balls to fill the belly as a source of good quality nourishment. 

Wherever we are, we are all under the same sky! It may be foggy and cloudy in Ireland or bright and full of sunshine (this time with showers) in Antep, or windy in Gallipoli, but we all share our dependence on food and water. Humans can survive only three days without water and three weeks without food. Food is essential to mankind, plus our passion for food is also crystallized in our identity and belonging. Sharing our food and food stories is one way to understand each other and to communicate. I’ll be bringing a bottle of Suvla wine with a bag of bulgur to Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire, the chairman of the Dublin Gastronomy Symposium. I’m sure we’ll sing “Foggy Dew” together and raise our glasses to independence!

Bite of the Week

Recipe of the Week: Among all the unconventional bulgur tastes, a crumble created by pastry chef Taha Dinç is the one I would like to have at hand at all times to sprinkle a few on my muesli, or yogurt, or any fruit salad. Actually the method is quite suitable to have at hand to use whenever needed. Boil 75g of firik or any coarse bulgur in abundant water till al dente, drain and let cool. You must have about 200 g boiled bulgur. Whip 350 g butter (room temperature), 140 g brown sugar and 115 g sugar until creamy; add 100 ml tahin (sesame paste) and 1 tbsp honey, add the boiled bulgur until thoroughly mixed. Mix in 280 g whole-wheat flour and 280 g all-purpose flour and 100 g sesame seeds to create a dough. Shape the dough in a loaf or roll, wrap in foil and freeze. When needed grate the frozen dough into crumbles; spread the crumbs on a baking tray; and bake in a 180 °C pre-heated oven until golden, about 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle on anything sweet, especially ice cream, or just nibble. 

Fork of the Week: A definite mention goes to MSA, the Culinary Arts Academy of Istanbul, which has created an all-bulgur gala dinner, making use of bulgur in the most imaginative ways and getting their inspiration from tradition while creating a totally different modern attitude. The traditional bead-sized meatless bulgur balls were transformed into huge bulgur burgers, the firik and bulgur risotto had a fresh green tint of spring onions, bulgur sweet was astonishingly both modern and traditional, served with an amazing bulgur crumble (my favorite) and a surprise for many, a bulgur ice-cream. Under the leadership of Chef Murat Artukmaç, the team demonstrated great perseverance in the most adverse conditions; their empathy for the local staff, taked with creating two wedding receptions at the same time, from the same kitchen –a kitchen which was large in size but ridiculously under-equipped - was amazing. At least some of their utensils ended up being comradeship presents to the local chefs as a souvenir of the battle both teams survived!

Cork of the Week: These days, as I’m concentrated on Gallipoli, I’m also focused on wine of the Gallipoli region. I have two bottles from the Suvla winery in my suitcase for my Irish friends, the only ones I could find in Antep markets, and they’ll surely be sipped while singing “Foggy Dew.” I’d like to recommend also another Gallipoli wine, the Gali wines. Gali Pure Merlot 2011 has received 17+/20 points from Jancis Robinson, one among eight red wines that have received that score. Another wine worth mentioning is Gali Eternity, a sublime late harvest. It’s deliciously rich and would be perfect with a dessert topped with bulgur crumble.