It was a long, long summer, as you know. The good news is, that, despite the stresses and strains, life is again returning to the city. It’s autumn and Istanbul is like that kid in the schoolyard that won’t submit to the bully. Sure it’s taken some hits. But it keeps on picking itself up. That attitude inspires us at Union Pacific. Our sign is properly mounted and lit up. We have a fantastic team led by the inimitable Chris James Maxwell, formerly of Cochine, who are plating up a great mix of flavours and experiences from the vast and varied shores of the Pacific. We have a fierce baker in-house whose skills with sweet or savoury are becoming legend. We have coffee from some of Istanbul’s artisan roasters. We have new items coming to the menu weekly (check up above). But most of all, what do we have? A great time.
Like to travel? You don’t have to go far to begin the journey. Step on in. We’ve got places to take you.
Union Pacific General Store & New World Eatery – Şah Değirmeni Sokak 6A, Şahkulu Mahallesi, Tünel, Beyoğlu,
+90 212 252 7274.
Early every morning in the village of Vouno, Elisabeth (pictured above) rises and sorts through what looks, at a distance, like a pile of rocks and twigs. Working in a shed beside her village home, her deft hands, gnarled like the trunks of the trees from which she harvests her treasure, meticulously plucking the sticky resin that drips like angels’ tears from the other detritus that carpets the ground of Chios. Reputed to be the birthplace of Homer, Chios is largely overlooked by the hordes of tourists from continental Europe who descend upon Greece each year. But despite the island’s literary pedigree it is the Pistacia lentiscus variety of gum tree unique to Chios that makes the island famous.
After scraping and scoring the bark, the tree releases resin which subsequently falls to the levelled ground around the tree trunks and is collected by people such as Elisabeth. This local industry is an important part of Chios’ cultural heritage and helps supplement and support earnings. I was told that one kilo of the pure resin can fetch up to 80 Euros. Mastic is used in everything from Mastica liquor, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics as well as instrument and furniture manufacture.
Mastic smuggling also features in Amin Maalouf’s entertaining and erudite novel, Balthasar’s Odyssey in which the “… Turkish authorities only allow it to be used in the Sultan’s harem, where it’s fashionable for the noble ladies to chew it from morn till night to whiten their teeth and perfume their breath. The farmers on the island who grow the precious tree (Pistachio lentiscus), which is very like the pistachio tree we have in Aleppo, have to hand the mastic over for a fixed price, but those who produce a surplus try to sell it on their own account, though if they’re found out they may spend a long time in prison or in the galleys or even be put to death.”
Thankfully for kind and generous Chians like Elisabeth, such penalties no longer exist and mastic can now be enjoyed by a much wider audience than the Sultan’s harem.
Today I finally get to share something with you that I’ve wanted to share for a while. One of the reasons my posting has been so spotty of late is that I have been busy working on an interesting new project for BABAJI PIDE, a new venture by famed London restaurateur, Alan Yau, which places pide centre stage while celebrating the many pleasures of Turkish cuisine.
Working with Simon Johnson from THAT Magazine, we’ve been creating content for the new website, which just launched and you can view here. I’m pleased to say that I’ve done all the original photography for the site so far as well as a bit of writing too.
A high point in the work so far was getting to shoot with Ayse Dilek from FOOD PROJECT, who shared this recipe which you can make at home. So as a bonus today, I’m including the extremely delicious pide recipe she shared to make at home and tide you over until you can drop in on BABAJI PIDE on Shaftesbury Road in Soho. Here it is:
MOZZARELLA, COTTAGE CHEESE, SEMI-HOT PEPPER PIDE
INGREDIENTS (Makes 5 pides)
500 grams flour
12.5 grams olive oil
10gr granulated sugar
12.5 gr salt
1 grams fresh yeast
625 grams mozzarella / Turkish string cheese (if available)
375 grams cottage cheese / Turkish Çökelek (if available)
25 small pickled semi-hot peppers
Add fresh yeast to warm water (slightly warmer than lukewarm) and wait until it dissolves, set aside.
Combine flour, olive oil, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Make a trough in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Using your hands knead the dough together until it is smooth and consistent. Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to rise for minimum 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Divide the dough into five equal pieces. Using a thin rolling pin, shape each portion into an oval.
Place ovals onto an oven tray. Distribute the toppings equally among the ovals.
Drizzle with olive oil and bake for approximately 10 min or until the pide dough is golden and crisp at the edges.
Serve with some fat dollops of Balkan style yoghurt and roughly chopped fresh mint & parsley … afiyet olsun! And drop me a line if you try the recipe at home, please. I’d love to know what you think.
I have a confession to make. Wait … I have two confessions to make. One, I have neglected the blog a bit lately and for that I am genuinely sorry, so I hope today’s post helps rectify my shabby behaviour. Two, I have an addiction.
My addiction led to wanton coffee consumption all across Istanbul. Worse, not all of that coffee was virtuous. To be honest, much of it was downright awful. You see, I did not know the origin of my espressos and lattes. And, yes, I am ashamed. Fortunately, a little over two years ago, I met a coffee snob who helped reform me. I am a new man, thanks to Çagatay Gülabioğlu. In coffee, once more, I trust.
Thanks to Çagatay’s high standards, he drew the attention of Mr Mehmet Gürs, top chef and the founder of Istanbul Food and Beverage Group, who has since become involved as a patron of coffee excellence. My own personal stake in this story is that I have had the pleasure of doing a couple of photo shoots with the new Kronotrop gang, both at their Cihangir shop location and their roastery, and truly enjoyed myself witnessing the processes involved to brew a worthy cup.
Perhaps to some coffee seems like a rather mundane affair, but in all seriousness, I really like to explore the processes and the degree of attention which the people who work together to bring me — and, I hope, you too — a much better cup of coffee. Think of all the different people a single cup of coffee connects. It’s the attention to detail and the eagerness to share a better experience which I can relate to and inspires me in my work.
Above and below are some of the keepers and outtakes from the shoots.
These days there seems to be a lot of debate about what is and isn’t Turkey’s official line on just about everything. Recently, this discussion spilled over into what Turkey’s national drink is — with one rather prominent member of Turkey’s elected government stating: ayran (pronounced: “I ran”). As tempting as it is to boycott something on that basis alone, it really wouldn’t be worth it. Besides, you can’t really blame a drink for its fan club, now can you? Like blaming lager for louts … perhaps I digress?
Made with yoghurt, water and a pinch of salt, Ayran is a powerhouse of refreshment — whether you’re depleted after a day in the heat, a night out, or suffering from insomnia, there’s something magic about this drink. It sets you back on your path somehow. It’s also pretty flippin’ tasty with a spicy meal.
Next time you’re feeling a little under it all, I recommend you reach for an ayran. Whether you have it with mint or not is up to you. I’m going to add a little honey to my next batch, so I can get sweet and savoury all at once. Is that a controversial move? Should I dare to mess with Turkey’s national drink? I really don’t know. Should you drink it in a tin cup or a glass? I rather prefer it in a glass.
If you want to make it yourself, I figure that it’s about as easy as falling off a bicycle. It also has the virtue of allowing you to control the salt content. I find the trick is to put a ratio of about 2 cups of plain yoghurt to one cup chilled water, plus a pinch or two of salt and then blend them together till it’s good and frothy. I hate lumpy homemade ayran, so that’s how I make it myself. Some people use cucumber water instead of regular water for an extra dose of cool. Again, whether that’s adulterating your ayran experience, or whether it’s truly Turkish or not with cucumber water is not for me to say. Turkish purity control is not my concern. I hope you have the freedom to enjoy your ayran in whatever way, shape or form you prefer. Peace be with you.
Istanbul has been sweltering. And even that tricky little trickle of water and so-called strait, otherwise known as the majestic Bosporus, doesn’t seem willing or able to wash the heat out even at night. As I’m cooking for guests tomorrow, I thought I’d start by giving an old favourite a new twist, a cooling little concoction I’m calling”limonade” because I used more limes than lemons. Now let’s introduce you to the key flavours of our episode today …
6 cups of ice cold water
1 cup of brown sugar loosely packed
2 tablespoons of honey
small bunch of basil (washed)
small bunch of mint (washed)
1 inch of ginger peeled and cut into discs
INSTRUCTIONS: Wash all the ingredients thoroughly. In a small pot on a low, low heat dissolve brown sugar into 2 cups of water. Add ginger discs. Zest one lemon and one lime and add to syrup mixture. Do not boil the syrup and remove from heat once sugar is dissolved. Stir in honey and then set aside to cool. Squeeze all the lemons and limes and strain them into a pitcher. Add mint and basil leaves. Once syrup is cooled strain mixture to remove ginger discs and add to pitcher. Add remaining 4 cups of ice cold water to pitcher and stir. Serve with plenty of ice and extra lemon or lime slices.
Can you guess who our special guest is today, friends? That’s right, it’s Coconut — more formally known as Cocos Nucifera. Ms Nucifera is with us to preach a parasite-free existence. Don’t let that hard exterior fool you. At first she’s a tough nut to crack, yet once you get to know her, she’s really sweet on the inside, with plenty to offer in terms of health, beauty and overall wellbeing. However, what I like about her best is that she really helps do a number on pesky parasites.
So what’s her secret in the battle on vile parasitic entities? Does she fling herself with stealth from the security of her palm fronds onto unsuspecting parasites and dash them into oblivion like a kamikaze of the fruit and nut world? Not exactly … she does, however, sacrifice her water and flesh for an array of delicious food and drinks that deal a one-two punch to many parasites, viruses, fungi and bacteria. In fact her water is so pure, nutrient-rich and so readily absorbed into the bloodstream that it has even successfully served for plasma infusions! The coconut has received some bad press in the past due to having the highest saturated fat content of any food anywhere. Yet deeper research has also revealed that not all saturated fats are created equal. Coconut is also the best source of medium chain triglycerides, about 50% of which are composed of lauric acid, which is one of the body’s most important fatty acids, used to build up a strong immune system. So let’s hear it for this parasite-busting beauty.
Recently, I thought my death was imminent. Not at some hazy, grainy point in the future, but soon, perhaps lingering around the corner like a mugger. What had started as a feeling of persistent indigestion a couple weeks before we left Istanbul on a family vacation began to get steadily worse on a flight over the Indian Ocean. I didn’t sleep for more than 48 hours. After visiting a clinic, and being prescribed antibiotics, I became dehydrated. Though the doctor who treated me was an excellent guy, he didn’t want to guess as to what was causing my discomfort. There was the distinct possibility of an ulcer (as I’ve had one before) but like any responsible medical person he didn’t care to speculate as to why my symptoms weren’t improving, simply urged me to get more tests upon my return to Istanbul.
So like any good sleep-deprived hypochondriac I punched all my symptoms into a website. I wanted answers. With every new symptom entered into the medical website’s database the probability meter edged closer and closer to that sneaking suspicion that I didn’t want to share with anyone — cancer. Back in Istanbul, barely off the flight, I went to the American Hospital in Nisantasi. I was given several purgatives and then knocked out so that medical technicians and the gastro-enterogolist who attended me could stick cameras in places I don’t want anybody to stick anything.
Anyway, barring any unpleasant accidents or mishaps, I might have another half century to go before I shuffle off this mortal coil. The bad news is that the cause of my discomfort is still unclear. Although I have finished several courses of antibiotics and medicines I still don’t feel entirely right. I have a sneaking suspicion, based on what the first doctor I saw told me, and doing some more internet-based on some possible cause of of my lingering discomforts, I might well have acquired a parasite. From what I understand this is not uncommon, and may in fact plague many millions of people in the developed world. Seems I might be a better host than I thought.
S0 today, I am here to celebrate the existence of pineapples. Apparently, pineapples are an excellent source of bromelain. So what’s bromelain? you might ask. In short, a digestive enzyme packing a whole range of health benefits, but the foremost of which I’m interested in sharing with you today is that this particular enzyme attacks and clears certain parasites of the intestine. So guess who has started stocking up on pineapples? It also happens to be excellent for sinusitis, gout, arthritis and a load of other things you’d be better off not experiencing.
The interesting thing is that before I had any possible notion of my internal ails, I had, but mostly ignored, cravings for both pineapple and coconut. One more reason to give ear to your hunger pangs, no? So thank you mother nature (and modern day transportation) for providing me with both pineapples and coconuts. I love the idea of food as medicine and hope you will continue to stay tuned over the coming weeks as I sing the praises of other parasite-fighting foods.
Today I’d like to show you a few good apples. They’re a little bit nicked and pocked in spots, but overall, pretty beautiful with an honest bite, surface to core. Perhaps that’s because they’re not modified or engineered to grow excessively large, or coated with wax to shine under fluorescent lamps. Cut one open and you can see the apple goodness. They’re from a farm that doesn’t manufacture apples — they’re from a farm that grows them.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to identify good apples, to tell those that are grown from those that are manufactured. I only wish I could say the same about elected leaders. Good luck at the polls, everyone. I’ve been thinking long and hard on your dilemma.