When I moved to Turkey in 2013 I had zero Turkish but new love and a desire to try to learn so I could at least try to communicate with my soon to be family.
It was hard work and I spent a lot of time with google translate and notebooks passed between my mother-in-law and my own hands.
That was, until we got into the kitchen, somehow between passing spoons and handfuls of this, pinches of that we both forgot that neither of us were forming full sentences.
‘Patlıcan’ she would say as she pointed to the side table for the item she wanted. Patli-kan I would say.
‘Hayır-hayır! Paaat-luuh-jaaan she would mouth.
Eventually item by item, season by season I would acquire new Turkish words to go along with the new recipes I was learning each time I went over to her house to play the doting gelin.
Armed with new words and increasing knowledge I started to get braver asking friends and Teyzes how they’d done this and what had gone into that. Before I knew what was happening I had a bug for Turkish cooking and I would eagerly search out new recipes from Tv shows and magazines, eventually, I got confident with reading and interpreting Turkish cookbooks.
Each time I made a new dish I found myself getting curious about the origins of the name, food culture and history behind the Turkish kitchen.
I was constantly seeking more and my husband would come from work and be served a table laid not only with food but notebooks, magazines, pens and highlighters: I had a desperate urge to learn more than just how to make the best of end of season produce but how to stock up for the other seasons.
One of the biggest shocks I had when first cooking in Turkey was that things like aubergine were not available year-round, it would be the middle of winter and I’d want moussaka, I had no idea how I was to ignore that craving.
Eventually, I learnt to slow down and appreciate fruit and vegetables at it’s best: that nothing could beat the juicy sweetness of tomato in the middle of July, that excitement and appreciation is to be gained in eagerly waiting for the first fig of the year and to savour that last scraping of quince from the jam jar before you’re all out.
Recently we’re seeing more and more out of season produce pop up in our local pazar but it’s too late I’m too invested in seasonal eating and homemade preserves.
When it feels wrong:
I’m not sure if everyone goes through it but in the early days I believed that salça, sundried tomato/ pepper paste was the star of the kitchen and no decent meal could go with it. Thankfully I eventually leant that in the cooler months no matter how good tomatoes look they do not make a dish tasty but a little salça can.
When it feels right:
Even after all this time I still get a kick out of the shocked and impressed faces of Turks who hear that I make my own preserves including salças, grow vegetables and have learnt how to make dishes such as Aşure, içliköfte and keşkek along with a fondness of researching both Ottoman and Dervish cuisines.
A place to share:
Much like a full meze table, it’s good to share and I found myself waffling on about Turkish cuisine too much. Sometimes a dinner guest would also be interested in the merits of a good yufka brand but most eyes would glaze over as I would explain why I thought that basil was the better herb in cranberry bean stew or why I think cheap pomegranate molasses is ruining home-cooking.
Eventually, I fell upon Facebook groups and discovered there were other people out there who want to get the best out of using meat here and also needed inspiration for that 2kg of green beans the market seller insisted they could haveat a steal.
A short while after my blog Exploring The Turkish Kitchen was born. A chronicle if you like of my journey into discovering Turkey’s food delights, a place to share recipes, tips and tricks that I pick up along with photographs of some of Turkey most delightful dishes and produce.
If you would like to read more about Christa’s recipes and blogs you can visit her website at https://exploringtheturkishkitchen.com