A Tasteful Blog

14/02/2010

alcohol, türkiye.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin @ 18:47

Rakı

I had never heard of this liquor before setting my feet on Turkish soil, but its brethren are pretty well known round the world, at least the Greek variation. Ouzo is the drink of Alexander and his minions; in Italy it’s Sambuca. There’s also an Arabic version my girlfriend tells me is called arak. Plus others. But I shall keep with rakı, the Turkish drink.

Basically this concoction is aniseed-flavored, which means that when you take a whiff you will notice the strong stinging sensation of licorice. It tastes similar as well, a bit herb-y. In the bottle, it’s clear as glass, like gin or vodka. It’s poured; water is then added to it. At this moment, it has the crazy power of turning to a milky color. Because of this, it is fondly coined aslan sütü or ‘lion’s milk’. It’s the national drink here in Turkey, and it is quite infamous for many reasons.

The frightening thing about this particular beverage is the inability of novices to the beverage to know when to call it quits while drinking rakı. I had had the drink one pre-winter’s evening in December of 2007 with a few friends. We had never had it, and decided time was ripe for a taste test. Those of us who ordered the rakı had one round. That’s all. It arrived as the folk band began playing at this nice bar on Balık Caddesi (Fish Street).

The smell of licorice always entices me, but the taste isn’t my favorite although still nice. The same with rakı. I knew it wouldn’t be the stand-out drink of choice whilst in Istanbul. Still, no problems the first go-around, just a small twinge of disappointment.

My second foray into rakı arrived when I went out to a local bar with an old roommate, Chad. We had just rented out an apartment with another expat and the two of us decided to celebrate with a few glasses. No appetizers with our drinks: the normal thing here to eat mezes and sip the raki. Companions. After two real strong helpings of rakı doubles, I was still sober enough, so I thought it would be safe to have another. Mistake. The final drop entered my system and – let’s just say – I have no recollection of how I got back to the apartment. I did. But the whole time was a blur, and the next morning gave me a splitting headache.

I didn’t learn my lesson; I had the same amount of rakı at the housewarming party on the last day of March of 2008. Next day, I vowed not to touch rakı again. I had it off and on, one very timid glass here and there, at the apartment. There was a bottle to finish, a birthday-present bottle, and it was rude of me not to finish it off. (I eventually did in September.)

Flash forward to 2009. I tried it again. This time with a few choice mezes in Turkey: a bit of haydari and patlican soslu for good measure. What a difference. I had had three glasses, generous pours as well. But this time around it was so much nicer. The taste of the aniseed and the spices from the dips were a grand combination. There are just some nights now where I think, yes, it’s a good idea to have some rakı. Going overboard is not an option any longer; I am quite careful now.

Efes

The next important alcoholic beverage the Turks are enamored with: the most popular beer in Turkey. Efes, a normal pilsner you will find in every single bar you enter. Honestly, walk into a bar and ask for a beer. There will be no inquiry as to “which one?” but a nod and query as to the size. Then the one tap there will spout out the yellow liquid that has haunted my nightmares.

It’s not atrocious, but it’s not decent beer you’d go out of your way to find and pull back. Have a few with your pals and watch the local football team. It’s comparable to a bit of Bud or an MGD at any American joint, or a Carling in England. As someone who prefers Guinness and microbrews more than the piss-water you see listed in the last sentence, I’ve lost whatever sort of positive energy I’ve given this beer.

There’s no easy way to run from Efes. There’s Tuborg maybe. There are other specialty brews that are amazing from this microbrewery in Istanbul called Taps. But those are expensive. And when you don’t feel like burning a hole in your wallet – even if you yearn for quality – Taps is not what you want.

To show the egregious popularity of Efes in this country, I must tell you of a recent jaunt to a local bar. They had a new special, Beck’s Lager on (wait for it…) tap, for 4TL. This is compared with Efes for a lira more. And it is so much smoother, lighter, just… tastier. My friend Jon and I had the Beck’s and were in another world, ecstatic that we could have something on draught that wasn’t simple, pissy Efes. The thing is that we were the ONLY ONES AT THE BAR drinking it. People are of the notion that Efes is the best beer in the world; still so good that they’d pay the extra lira to get it – even with the promotion of a different (read: better) beer for cheaper.

It was intriguing.

Just for your information, here’s what beer snobs everywhere say about Efes in its ubiquitous form: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/569/1506.

Not horrible. But not good. I guess when compared to the likes of Carling and Coors, it’s not too nasty.

After living in Turkey comprehensively for 16 months, give or take a few weeks, I will proudly say that if I had to choose, rakı would win. Still, I’d love for a nice refreshing pint of Taps’ Rauche if I have the lirasi to spare.

08/02/2010

drinks.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin @ 14:58

It’s been forever and a day since my latest gustatory adventure. A commenter from the last post told me my true passion lies with alcohol. In response to this, I will create an entry involving such.

As I’m in Turkey at the moment, I’ll share to one and all my experiences with the various drinks available in this country. This will involve me trying some beverages I have yet to consume. There are a few lovely selections that I am not looking forward to. But who knows? I might like everything I try. It took some time for me to enjoy a few of the many Turkish drinks out there.

I’m going to make this a two-parter: one entry for the booze, and one for the non-alcoholic beverages. I might as well add more space onto this almost-empty blog.

So ready yourself!

26/09/2009

çiğ köfte, istanbul, türkiye.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin @ 10:54

My digital watch flickers neon at a random place in time after midnight. There has been a copious amount of alcohol consumed no matter what type. Anything scotch- or Guinness-related sits at the top of the totem pole. The amount varies depending on prior dinnertime expenditures and the number of pints or shots already down the hatch.

All things aside, I am drunk. Or at least slightly intoxicated. Scratch that, I’m very, very, very tipsy and meandering home with a vast number of people, or I’m packed in a car with the poor soul in the driver’s seat who has to make sure I don’t do anything regrettable.

Even if you have just the faintest semblance of a coherent thought, the main thing on most people’s minds is food. That is if they aren’t yearning for a toilet or the side of a freeway. Let’s pretend it’s food on your mind and you just need something, anything, to stifle the gastric juices churning around and cogitating with frothy brews or a hard dram of tequila. If you ask most people from America, at least those who are in college or have recently departed from the said institution, the chorus will come out in two words: Taco Bell. When messily sloshed, that pink-and-purple emblem whacks a gong through your brain, and the focus is only on one thing: stuffing as much faux-Mexican down your throat.

Outside of the sunny and contiguous 48, you might have something remarkably unappealing as pub fare; or it could be something that just has an excessive amount of flavors because you’re either numbed from whisky after whisky or flattened down by cheap beer (or insert favorite alcohol here). While studying for a semester overseas, there was this burger joint on the way back to campus open until the ungodly hours of 4am. All of us would cram into the one-roomed, linoleum-floored, fast-food spot – labeled Zabi’s – and order a decently priced burger and fries one should not eat when stars are still out. Drunk and thoughtless, senses taking over and making the choices, it was the smartest thing to do. And really, after how much had been spent at the pubs or clubs, did it really matter if that burger cost £4 or £9? We were starving; it was late; we needed something to occupy the time for a tiny bit longer.

Let’s arabesque over to Istanbul, my current locale. Around here corner shops and takeaways are numerous, and many of these spots are open later to cater to those who’ve imbibed more than the normal çay-sipper. Walk by a shop while inebriated, and temptation usually wins. You have your food. You leave stuffed and satisfied until the morning hits.

I questioned a few of the people here to see what they classified as good drunk food here in Istanbul. There were different answers, the best ones being kokoreç and işkembe, the latter apparently a remarkable hangover-prevention food. But I wanted to tackle both of those delicacies in a sober frame of mind at a later date. Not to fear: I soon targeted a decent, quick eat that helped tackle a bloc not tackled yet in the repertoire of drunk dine-outs. As I headed back to my apartment one night a few weeks ago, my eyes zoomed to the right. I saw what I had been craving (at least for that infinitesimal moment before running over the threshold and placing my order). That, my friends, is çiğ köfte.

Most expats – and probably most locals – will sneer and tell me that it isn’t a food to savor whilst smashed. I should be in the right frame of mind and appreciate all that this dish has to offer. Touché. But I don’t agree 100%. You can eat as much as you like without any alcohol in your system. Add some, and it remains delicious. My stance is that it even becomes a transcending experience when booze has traveled down your throat before you eat your portion of çiğ köfte. Nothing fades. The spices stay, the flavors explode in full force, and you remain satisfied.

You might be asking, what is it çiğ köfte?

Well, it is an amalgam of ingredients: bulgur wheat, onions, parsley, mint, water, a tomato-pepper paste, and then raw mincemeat (but not always). All of this is kneaded together quite thoroughly. I’ve walked by these shops and the preparers almost always are behind the glass ceaselessly kneading this mixture, one second’s pause and the world ends. The kneading process is said to ‘cook’ the meat.

Here’s a nice shot of it before being tucked neatly away.

https://i2.wp.com/www.portakalagaci.com/photos/uncategorized/cig_kofte.jpg

I always order it in sandwich form, so I have a healthy serving of it wedged in a dürüm-like bread, a few leaves of lettuce as its bedtime companions. Normally it is best to drink a heat-reducing beverage with çiğ köfte (ayran being the preferred choice); whilst drunk however, one’s taste buds are normally weakened from the bland and watery beer most likely consumed. The spices – not too unmanageable – kick in after the first bite and continue to keep you awake as you’re stumbling back to your place of residence.

The flavors last, and bite after bite brings more until your mouth is back into its numbed state. This time it’s more a tingle than a yawn-drenched field of despair that the humdrum pilsener will bring. I appreciate every bite – more so than a Hawaiian burger from Zabi’s sluiced in ketchup or a Nachos Supreme at Taco Bell.

Take your intestines and tripe soup and save it for another day; this is what sets me straight. And we need more people who enjoy sculpting their food. See this guy and how much fun he’s having, and then go and nibble some çig köfte drunk (or sober). It’s your call.

https://i1.wp.com/www.dialogueokul.com/Photo/Ahmet_Sivil_Cig_Kofte.JPG

*Both images taken from the Google search engine. I take no credit for either, although I still quite like the second shot.

06/09/2009

jellied eels. london, england.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin @ 09:56

There are times when I imagine what something unknown might look like; I get snapshots that paint a vividly screaming scene that has no basis on truth.  Perhaps it is the optimist in me, full of hope that what is being described to me will indeed be delightful and pleasant.  Spotlights stream and flash overhead, gimmicky neon signs point at whatever it is, and it becomes the most alluring thing in the world.  As I sipped on a Samuel Smith’s bitter at The Princess Louise in London and heard about jellied eels and that – if I were to eat one thing while in the city and make it quintessentially “London” – this dish should be what I must try, I received a few images in my head.

The lighting of the café was dim and smooth, an orange glow you might find if a lamp shone from behind maroon curtains.  On the plate was a mound of what looked like orange gelatin, the kind you’d create from what’s inside Jell-O boxes; within were pieces of what could be mistaken for mandarin pieces or grapes and bananas.  Something delectable and refreshing during a hot August afternoon, so good that I was tempted at the moment to run off to one of the markets (if only they were open)!

My goal for the rest of the week was to get to the markets around Tower Bridge, or perhaps some little café that could have served the London trademark (eaten mainly by the poor) since the 18th century.  My sister – currently residing in London – did not see the intrigue and possible delights that consuming jellied eels might provide, but she went along for the journey to M Manze, located in Peckham.

A queue had already formed out the door.  Also available at the shop were pies and mash, covered with a green-hued gravy coined as “liquor.”   We ordered eels, and then two pies and two helpings of mash if the eels proved uneatable.

https://i0.wp.com/farm3.static.flickr.com/2609/3892289497_1b225b9569.jpg

As we marched to an open booth, my eyes skirted over other people’s dishes and found no one – not one person – putting down on any form of eel, jellied or stewed.  This, to me, was a warning sign.  Nevertheless, I sat down and looked at the plate; my visions of the beautiful aquatic dish shattered on a rank wooden table, replaced by a wriggly heap of what I hoped might be lemon gelatin surrounding what I hoped might taste like the eel sushi I’ve eaten (and liked).  The fork in my hand stabbed a piece that did not have much of its corpse-like skin, and I ate it.

The jelly served as the name suggested:  it gelled the pieces of eel together into a hideous quasi-cooked pile of seafood better left in the 18th century.  In spots it looked as if it had not quite thawed out, and my teeth scraped against hardness only to be bluntly described as bone.  There was no real taste, only a bit of the fishiness one might expect with such a dish, no fruity sweetness or even excessive saltiness you’d find in some seafood.  The gelatin served to bring out the slimy aftertaste, thankfully quelled by a few sips of lemon Fanta.

The pie and mash were a godsend.  The crust was crispy and not too filling, and the inside held a meager stuffing of mince that would leak out upon fork perforation.  The blandness did not rule for long, for the liquor seeped through the potatoes and brought a nice mixture of parsley and salt into my mouth.   The pie and liquor combination made me a contented cow, pleased with not having to eat any more of the eels and insisting my sister to taste the destruction.

With the pies and the mash fully gone, we quickly left the eels behind in a prison that Bill Cosby would be ashamed of.  The women behind the counter waved us off, not knowing we had left a fresh helping of jellied eels for them to pitch.  It is best left in a bin.

So.  On to bigger and tastier things.

17/08/2009

and so it begins…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin @ 21:04

Welcome to a new blog created by your elusive foodie-in-training, Kevin.   I shall be putting my first entry here in about a week or shortly thereafter.  At the present time I’m not sure what I’ll be feasting upon in the great beyond, but let it be known that it shall undoubtedly be divine!  Or a bit disgusting.

Be prepared to either be wowed or be weirded out.  Again, from what I put in my ‘about’ page, I won’t be going all “Andrew Zimmern” on you and eat scorpions or pig’s balls, but a dash of tripe might not be out of the question.  We’ll see! Until then…

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