Book offers Turkish-style culinary adventures

Turkish-Australian chef Somer Sivrioilu and Australian political journalist David Dale have recently published a book on the food culture in Anatolia, bringing together not only recipes from Turkish cuisine but also many anecdotes and information on the historical and social aspects of life in Turkey.

“Anatolia: Adventures in Turkish Cooking” opens with a story by Dale about how he wanted to name southeast Turkey “Garden of Eden” because the location is believed to be the place where Adam and Eve originally lived.

“The town of Gaziantep turned out to be very strange. For breakfasts, they eat liver kebaps or chili soup. They make the best baklava in the world, using the best pistachios. They proudly present a cooking style that has never needed to make compromises with tourism. Whether or not it was once a paradise, it was the best possible place for me to begin my lessons in Anatolian Culture,” Dale writes in his preface.

The duo tells a story with every recipe. It is sometimes about the mythical origins of a dish or its ingredients, sometimes the experiences of Sivrioilu with that dish or its rituals in Anatolia. Dale explains that a Gaziantep tradition inspired him to develop the style for the book. “Whenever a family has to spend the day rolling the hundreds of tiny meatballs that go into a festive soup called yuvalama, they bring in a professional story teller to keep the rollers from getting bored,” he writes.

The two met at Sivrioilu’s famous restaurant Efendy in a Sydney suburb. Dale points out that the dish he ate there shattered the stereotypes he had about Turkish cuisine and he also realized that Sivrioilu was not just a cook but also a scholar. Eventually Dale proposed that they write a book together and they traveled to Anatolia to delve deeper into the culture.

Sivrioilu says that in Australia he is regarded as a quotTurkish chef with a modern presentation,quot while in Turkey he is regarded quotan Australian chef experimenting with some sort of Turkish fusion.quot He thinks he is simply doing what people of Anatolia have done for millennia.

They called the book quotAnatoliaquot rather than quotTurkeyquot because the former reflects the history and diversity of a land. It shows how Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, Balkan, Greek, Jewish, Kurdish and Romani ways of eating contributed to the cuisine.

The book has six chapters about breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, meze and dinner together with a section titled quotEssentialsquot that details the history, ingredients and techniques for various dishes. After the recipes, they prepared a list of recommendations on where to eat in Istanbul and around the countryside. It also gives tips about how to order food with concrete examples.

It is not only the writing style of the book but also the photographs which are included that are unusually informative about the way of living in Turkey, such as a photo of Sivrioilu in front of an apartment building in KadikOy where he grew up as a child together with Armenian, Greek and Sephardic Jewish neighbors, or fans of the Galatasaray football team gathering in Istanbul’s meyhane district just before a game.

“Anatolia: Adventures in Turkish Cooking” is published by Murdoch Books and can be found in major bookstores, and its Kindle version is available on the Internet.