Friday, March 21, 2014

When compiling my list, I realized how much I love Turkish cuisine and found it difficult to simply select 10 dishes.

Turkish food focuses on fresh ingredients and is packed full of flavor! Many of the dishes date back hundreds of years to the Ottoman era. Also, the variety of foods will vary from one part of Turkey to the next with the seaside towns focusing on seafood and garden-fresh produce; and the more central villages will have comforting, hearty dishes that center on meat.

The dishes I selected are typically found in nearly every city or village in Turkey. Whether you are going for a long vacation or late Turkey holidays, you will certainly discover a delicious meal here.

So here are My Top 10 Favorite Turkish Foods to Try in Turkey (in no particular order):

1. Throughout our travels in Turkey, the quintessential dining experience always involves Turkish mezes. Mezes are boringly labeled as ‘Cold Starters’ and ‘Hot Starters’ on most restaurant menus.

But, to me, mezes are really the star of the meal with the fish or entrée simply being an afterthought. You select several meze from a large tray that your server is presenting, you chat with your friends, you drink some Turkish raki and share in a good time together. Repeat for the next two hours.
Turkish mezes often consist of beyaz peynir (Turkish feta), cacık (yogurt with cucumber and garlic), hummus, olives, acılı ezme (a hot pepper paste mixed with walnuts), patlıcan salatası (cold aubergine salad), dolma (rice-stuffed grape leaves), olive oil dishes, hot or cold calamari, salads and more.

2. A simple grilled fish usually follows the mezes. You’ll find a variety of fish in Turkey, but the most common and my two favorites are Sea Bream (Çupra) and Sea Bass (Levrek). Try to stop by one of the lively fish markets on your travels.
3. Ahtapot (grilled octopus) is a somewhat seasonal dish, which is served with an herbed or spicy olive oil. Be sure to use some of your Turkish bread to sop of the delicious juices at the bottom.
4. Turkish cuisine, of course, focuses on plenty of meat dishes too. Adana kebab is a long, hand-minced meat kebab grilled on an open mangal with burning charcoal. This somewhat spicy kebab is named after Adana, the fifth largest city in Turkey, while the non-spicy version of this kebab is called Urfa after another city in southeast Turkey. Kebabs are served with charred peppers and tomatoes, an onion-sumac-parsley salad and lavaş (thin flat bread).
5. Köfte (Turkish meatballs) is another favorite in traditional Turkish cuisine. These simple, but tasty meatballs are made from ground lamb or beef or a mixture of both and seasoned with spices, herbs and onions. Children love köfte!

6. The Turks love soup! Look for Mercimek Çorbası (made from red lentils) on the menu. This soup is comforting, filling and a well-loved Turkish dish. 
7. Mantı (meat-filled Turkish dumplings) are traditionally boiled and topped with a garlic yogurt, melted butter and spicy red pepper flakes. One of my favorite places to eat mantı is at Ficcin in Istanbul.
8. For a quick snack or tasty appetizer, look for börek. Turkish börek are made from a flaky dough called yufka and are filled with cheese, meat, vegetables and/or herbs and then baked until crispy. I prefer the sigara böreği, which look like small, fried cigars and are stuffed with Turkish cheese and herbs.

9. Perhaps the most famous Turkish dessert is Baklava. This sweet pastry is made from layers of thin, buttered phyllo dough, filled with chopped nuts and soaked with a sugar syrup. Baklava is even more sublime when served with kaymak (clotted cream) or ice cream.
10. However, künefe is my most loved Turkish dessert! This sweet dessert hails from the city of Antakya in southeast Turkey and consists of a white cheese sandwiched between two layers of buttered kadayıf (similar to shredded phyllo dough). This sublime concoction is cooked in small copper plates, and then served piping hot in sugar syrup and topped with kaymak and pistachios. 
I’m sure you’ll enjoy these Turkish dishes on your next, or even your first, trip to Turkey! 

Afiyet olsun!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In 10 days, I’ll be back in Istanbul for a short weekend get-away.

I’ve already started making my list of Turkish goodies to bring back to Poland such as: cinnamon, pul biber, pistachios, walnuts, beyaz peynir, kaymak, 1 kilo of cocoa powder, Turkish olive oil soaps and more!

That means I’ll be paying a visit to my favorite spice girl, Bilge Kadioglu, owner of Ucuzcular Baharat, No. 51 at the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Bazaar) in Eminönü. The store has been open since 1980, but the roots of this five-generation business date back to 1886. The name “Ucuzcular” comes from the Turkish word for cheap or thrifty and harks back to the wholesale prices Bilge’s grandfather offered his costumers back then.
I love visiting Ucuzcular and being surrounded by the familiar and exotic flavors of Turkey! The herbal tea blends, dried fruits and nuts and aromatic spices are enough to make my head spin as soon as I walk inside.
Bilge is no ordinary spice seller at the bazaar. She is a female running her successful family business in a very male-dominated world. She is educated, enthusiastic and full of spunk. I miss my nearly weekly visits to the market!
Bilge and me in 2012. I think we should get a better photo this year!
During the three years I lived in Istanbul, I got to know Bilge and many of her staff members as well as her brother, Ahmet. Everyone always greeted me with a smile. They offered me new spice blends to sample as well as a glass of Turkish çay. I would chat a bit with everyone as I made my purchases, wait kindly in the background if the store got too busy and steal the occasional Turkish Delight whenever I could!

As someone who cooks or bakes nearly every day, I often needed to refill my spice supply. I preferred to buy in smaller amounts because I knew I would be back soon. I have always appreciated the quality of Bilge’s spices and teas as well as her honesty. When I had a bad cold, she would whip me up a special tea blend to soothe my sore throat.
To me visiting Bilge wasn’t just about refilling my spice jars.

We developed a friendship as we chatted over the spices and our daily musings. And that is something I miss most of all!

Sonra görüşürüz!

NOTE: If you enter the Spice Bazaar from the front entrance, walk through until the pathway Ts. Then, turn left. Look for the blue sign of Ucuzcular on your lefthand side about halfway down.

Monday, March 17, 2014

I’m not going to even pretend to be Irish or go searching for a pot of gold today!

But I did bake some cute green shamrock cookies for hubby to take to work in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I’m curious to hear what his Polish and international colleagues think of my decorated cookies. I don’t think this holiday is widely celebrated here.
Simply darling Shamrocks decorated with green fondant, sugar sprinkles and Royal Icing.
Here in Warsaw, there are a few Irish-themed pubs or simply a few bars where you can get a decent pint of Guinness beer. If you are looking to imbibe tonight, here’s where you can go:

Jimmy Bradley's, ul Sienna 39.

Irish Pub, ul. Miodowa 3.

Molly Malone’s Irish Pub, ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 41.

British Bulldog Pub, ul. Krucza 51.

Warsaw Tortilla Factory, ul. Wilcza 46.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll be staying home today and practicing my Polish.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day wherever you may be!

NOTE: You can make your own Irish-themed or any holiday cut-out cookies with fondant by following my directions on my old Halloween post. I know not everyone likes the taste of fondant, but it sure does make some cute cookies! I’m sure you’ll agree!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Earlier this week, I told some friends that learning Polish makes me want to drink – EVERY DAY!

I’ve been taking intensive Polish classes for 2+ months now (which is why the blog has been a little more quiet lately) here in Warsaw. I thought Level 1 was alright as I learned some of the language basics, and I passed with flying colors.

But now, I’ve hit a major roadblock in Level 2.

Jestem zła!” (I am angry!)

I’ve even told my teacher and my private tutor this! Polish makes me angry!

Polish is by far the most difficult language I’ve had to learn so far in my expat life. (I also knew some Spanish, French and Italian before we moved abroad.) I thought learning Turkish was awful, but I was wrong. Turkish has a few rules and made sense once you understand those rules. As my Turkish teacher always said, Turkish is “çok ekonomik!” He was right!

But Polish has more rules than I can or want to understand! Just when I think I understand a little, the endings change and then they change again! Why?

And there’s like 6 different verbs to say I go. Why?

Don’t even get me started about the cases – nominative, accusative, dative, instrumental and genitive  – I don’t even know what the hell these things are in English!

I just want to learn enough Polish that will help me in my every day life just like I learned enough Turkish to help me when we lived in Istanbul. I want to be able to communicate!
Yesterday, I made my own Polish flashcards at home.
Polish also makes me angry because I just want to get it! I’ve always been a good student, so the fact that I can’t understand it makes me angry. I either want to cry or go have a drink!

I basically need to memorize the phrase in Polish and forget asking why.

At least, I have learned enough Polish so I can go to the market and not look like a foreign idiot anymore. Most Poles seem happy that I’m trying to speak Polish and will repeat something for me if I don’t understand, especially the numbers.

I’ll keep trying to learn Polish. Yavaş, yavaş.

At the end of the day, at least I can go to a bar and say “dwa duże piwo proszę.”

The bartender doesn’t care that I didn’t conjugate the endings correctly.

Thanks for listening to my rant!

NOTE: A huge thanks to the Polish website/forum called Inside-Poland for republishing my article about learning Polish! Here's the link to that article: 

Finding Polish a Difficult Language to Master? Don't Worry, You're Not Alone!

Friday, March 7, 2014

There’s a whole lot more to Polish cuisine than pierogies and very cheap vodka shots.

If you want to go beyond those staples in Poland, you might want to try - chleb ze smalcem (bread with rendered bacon fat – one of my favs), schabowy  (fried pork cutlets), barszcz (beetroot soup) as well śledź z jabłkami (salted herring with apples) and herbal or potato vodkas.

And the best way to sample these Polish specialties is on a food tour with a local! This past year, while living as an expat in Warsaw, I’ve done two separate Food and Vodka Tours with the friendly folks at Eat Warsaw. I was introduced to one of our guides, Michał, through Eastern Station Warsaw, which organizes cultural tours for our local expat group. These 3-to-4-hour tours are a fantastic introduction to Warsaw – whether you are a tourist or an expat like myself!

During the summer, I joined two other Americans with our energetic guide, Magda, a local food blogger at Crust and Dust, for the Eat Warsaw Food Tour. Even though I’d been living in Warsaw for a couple months by then, Magda introduced me to Polish food I hadn’t tried yet like all kinds of varieties of śledź (herring), which is not my favorite.

Sadly, I simply dislike smoked, cured, salted and pickled fishes – from any country.
The herring dish served in a tangy mustard sauce was the best for me!
But I do enjoy anything with pork, and the Poles do a superb job with that! On the tour, we sampled traditional cured meats, bacon-wrapped prunes, fried pork cutlets with Polish coleslaw and mashed potatoes and smalec, which I affectionately refer to as bacon butter! Mmm! To me, smalec is the perfect bar snack washed down either with cold beer or vodka.
We ended our food tour on a sweet note with a slice of “Wuzetka Cake” – a rich, layered chocolate cake with whipped cream and ganache at Shabby Chic in Old Town. This tasty cake is named after the Trasa W-Z – one of the arterial roads in Warsaw built in the city after World War II. So you can have a piece of history and still eat cake!
On our recent Vodka Tour with a large group of expats, Michał and his partner took us round to some of their favorite haunts from Old Town to Centrum. They filled us in on a lot of Polish history and information about vodka, which I sadly failed to remember. But I do remember how much fun we had as we sampled our Polish vodkas on our pub crawl!
Michał kindly explaining some Polish history to us outside the Presidential Palace.
The tour included six shots of very different types of Polish vodkas – rye, potato, bison grass (Zubrówka – which is one of our favorites), herbal and even hazelnut! There also were plenty of Polish nibbles on the way such as white kielbasa cooked with caramelized onions, smalec and pickles.
My favorite shot of the evening was of Zołądkowa Gorzka – an herbal infused, sweet vodka – which makes a fantastic vodka tonic! A small group of us even stayed after the tour at Gryzę i Połykam to sample some more vodka flavored with bubblegum, vanilla beans and even hot chilies! Look for the friendly Australian bartender here!

Oh, and this small pub whips up a divine steak tartare!
Don't forget to mash in the raw egg yolk which was served on the side! 
Eating and drinking around Warsaw is much more fun when you know what you’re doing!

Na zdrowie!

(Note: I paid for these two tours on my own, and I was not asked to write a blog post about the tours. However, I really enjoyed myself and want to support local businesses such as Eat Warsaw. As always, all opinions expressed here are my own.)