Friday, December 28, 2012

A dessert with depth

Cooking aşure at a Slow Food event
in Istanbul.
"What kind of dessert is this?" I thought to myself the first time I tried aşure. A traditional Turkish pudding thick with wheat, rice, chickpeas, and white beans, and studded with dried fruits and nuts, it seemed more reminiscent of a hearty, good-for-you bowl of oatmeal than a sweet treat.

Joining the contributors team at Zester Daily, a website devoted to food journalism, gave me the opportunity to really dig in to this unusual dish, whose cultural associations and traditions are as rich, numerous, and varied as its ingredients.

Get to the bottom of a bowl of aşure with my debut piece for Zester, "A Pudding for All That Comes From Turkey's Melting Pot."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

TreeHugging in Turkey: A look back

For the past four years, I've been blogging for about environmental news and views in Turkey and wherever else has piqued my interest.

What passes for 'nature' in much of Istanbul.
In the main, the environmental news from Turkey has been distressing to follow: continual construction of destructive dams, stubborn plans to build a nuclear power plant in the face of earthquake threats, the tragic deaths of coal miners, and preventable flooding disasters, to name just a few.

Not that there haven't been some fun moments too (a cute little baby bear in a box! ice cream delivery by bike! translating Tarkan lyrics and calling it work!).

Most heartening, and rewarding, however, has been getting to know some of the people who are bucking the tide of unsustainable growth -- people developing eco-tourism options, helping others shop more responsibly, empowering consumers to learn about their food, designing green buildings, engaging in creative recycling, and planting permaculture gardens in the middle of the city.

As of this week, due to changes at the site, my tenure as a TreeHugger correspondent is over, though not my interest in covering these issues, of course. To mark the end of a little era, here's a baker's dozen worth of links to some of my favorite TreeHugger posts that I wrote about Turkey:
You can find my full archive of TreeHugger posts (for now, at least) on my contributor page.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Farewell, İnci

The marble slab below the door sagged on one side, worn concave by the countless thousands of shoes that had trod upon it over the last 68 years.

Photo: Athens Voice
Until this weekend, many feet still passed through the threshold of İnci Pastanesi each day, especially on weekends, when Turkish families, couples, and not a few tourists would crowd into the long, narrow pastry shop, grabbing a plate of profiteroles drenched in chocolate syrup to eat at one of the small, low tables along the wall opposite the counter.

Neatly printed signs above them read, "We don't have any table service" and "We don't have any other outlets." Boxes covered in shiny wrapping paper lined the upper walls, interspersed with tidy spools of equally colorful ribbon. Sometimes a face might peek out from the loft office, above the cash register and next to one of the framed photos of Atatürk. In the back, partly visible through an open doorway, a seemingly un-diminishing pyramid of pastry puffs were continually hand-filled with custard, while chocolate churned in a large white vat.

The eviction. Photo: Radikal
Opened in 1944 by Lukas Zigoridis, an Istanbullu of Albanian Greek origin, İnci hearkened back to an earlier time when Istanbul, and the Beyoğlu district in particular, was a place where religious minorities -- Greeks, Armenians, Jews -- and various residents of European descent made up nearly half of the population and İstiklal Caddesi was a grand avenue lined with fashionable local shops and elite residences.

Shuttered for good. Photo: Aktif Haber
Following anti-Greek riots in 1955, mass rural-to-urban migration, and a host of other factors, today's Istanbul is overwhelmingly Turkish and İstiklal Caddesi is home to three Starbucks, a Burger King, a Sephora, and a Gap (just to name a few). The fading memories of Beyoğlu's cosmopolitan past lend a melancholy undertone to the bustling and often rowdy neighborhood, where this history lingers only in the quiet, tucked-away old churches, in the Greek- and Armenian-origin dishes served at local meyhanes... and at İnci. But no longer.

On Friday, the local zabita (civil police) arrived at the storied pastry shop to carry out a long-fought eviction order of İnci and the other remaining tenants of the historic Cercle d’Orient building, an 1884 Baroque- and Rococo-style beauty reportedly slated for the same fate as its neighbor: renovation into yet another shopping mall.