Soup’s on in pleasant center of little island
Wilco van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Photos by Wilco van Herpen.Five years ago I went to Bozcaada and now, after a nice flight, I find myself again on this lovely little island. Yahya, an old friend of mine, came to fetch us. My crew and I came with a purpose; this weekend there would be a Bozcaada island cooking festival and we wanted to make a program about it. The idea was to promote the unique and specific different kinds of food of Bozcaada like goat meat or rabbit. Yahya brought us to Eski Kahve where he informed us about the festival. It was going to be the second festival, and he was quite optimistic that it would be better than the first one.
For my cooking program “Wilco ile Yaşasın Yemek,” I always take the local cuisine as a starting point for my episode. The format of the program is conceptual cooking. Every episode we choose another ingredient to work around. It can be potato, spicy peppers or anything else. I also visit some old aunties who know their old recipes and the taste of the country. I might speak to a food specialist and, at the end of the program, I make food with a picnic burner to show people that making food does not have to be difficult. I prepare my food on the street so I can have some interaction with the people.
The photo right shows Wilco Van Herpen
preparing mussel soup at Bozcaada’s food
festival. A different ingredient is chosen
for each episode of his program.
This time, I was planning to cook “live” at the festival’s place. Yahya was expecting around 2,500 people so this would definitely be my most exciting live performance. My idea was to make mussels in the Dutch or Belgian way. My idea was that it would be difficult for me to make something traditional like the local Bozcaada cuisine. It would be a mixture of Greek and Turkish cuisine, and I am not that kind of a food specialist. Therefore, I wanted to use an ingredient that would be on hand on the island and make something completely different.
The next day, Oğuz, my cameraman; Sinem, my assistant, and I started working. Wherever we walked, woman had already started their preparations for the festival and some of them were even finished.
Fortunately, I found a woman who was making Yaprak dolma (stuffed grape leaves). Since the moment I came to Turkey, I have always been impressed by people who make this. Living in the Netherlands, I only knew the Yaprak dolma from cans; tasteless, big and soft. In Turkey, however, women make them fresh and very thin. I never managed to make them as beautiful as the woman in Turkey do.
Nevertheless, I gave it a try and the first couple of dolmas looked more like origami. Slowly, though, the shape improved and after half an hour, my dolmas started looking like the one the woman was making.
Yahya showed up with a big plastic can filled with mussels. I was in shock; this was not what I wanted. I wanted mussels with the shell, not cleaned and stored in their own water. I didn’t know what to do.
It was almost 5 p.m., and the festival would start at 6 p.m. I sat down and thought. I went to the bakkal (small supermarket) and looked around. As in most of the smaller places in Turkey, the bakkal had just a limited selection of vegetables. I made a decision; it was going to be a mussel soup. Maybe not the most exciting dish, but I knew I could make it within the limited time I had.
At 5:30 p.m., I put my ingredients on my table, lit my little camping gas stove and started working.
While cleaning and cutting onions, I looked up and was in shock. A tsunami of people approached my table. People with their mobile phones in their hands, young and old; all of them gathered around my little table. I had never experienced something like this. Everybody was really excited to see me and all of them wondered what I was making. At the same time, they wanted to make pictures and have a chat but I had to finish my soup. Cooking, posing and answering all the questions; it was stressful and exciting at the same time. All the food from the other tables was about to be finished and I was still cooking. Finally, my soup started boiling and, after pouring cream in my soup, I took a deep breath. My soup was ready.
What would the people think of it? Would they like it? Turkish people are sometimes a bit conservative concerning food, so I was really wondering if they would like it. Well, I can tell you: It took me about one hour to prepare the soup, and it took about five minutes to finish all the soup in the pan. Handing out the last spoon of soup, I suddenly realized that I had not tasted the soup myself yet. There were one or two drops at the bottom of the pan, so I took a spoon and tried my creation. Wow, it was delicious, and I slowly started gathering my things. I was happy; it had been a busy and stressful day, but this experience was awesome. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to taste any food made for the festival but I really enjoyed being there. I will come back to Bozcaada another time when it is quieter to taste the island’s food. Late fall will be nice, and with that decision, I headed to the plane that would bring me back to Istanbul.