[Video and photos copyright: Right Impact Media Inc.]
Dancing with Dervishes!
My heart, aflame in love, set afire every heart that came in touch with it. – Hazrat Inayat Khan
It must have been in the winter of 1993 when I met an Australian Sufi researcher, Shah Khan Seniotis – a 5-Dan Black Belt in Gung-fu (Kung fu) at the hallowed portals of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Khankah in Nizamuddin. He was my initiator and mentor in Sufism. Turkey had since been on my mind. Shah Khan would unremittingly narrate tales of rabid Sufis in Istanbul with verve – where he had most of Sufi teachings.
My email inbox never got me more excited than it did on March 5 as I read the subject line: Turkish Food Festival at Shangri-La’s - Eros Hotel, March 7-16. It became overbearing as I started to read further. The festival was being mentored by Chef Gazi Ciftci from Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul and there would be the Sufi singers’ troupe and whirling dervishes to regale for two days!
So there was I, in the lawns facing Café Uno telling myself that it was my tryst with the beautiful Turkey in New Delhi! The Turkish quintet belted out some fine jilted-lovers’ tales in-vocals with the musicians playing traditional instruments such as Baglama, a string instrument used for Turkish folk music and the bamboo flute and hand drums. Performances by Engin Uçan and group were organized by the Indialogue Foundation.
All this while I relished mojitos in the fine half-moonlight with tavuk doner, chicken doner kebab and prawn and lamb liver skewers from the live stations and accompaniments of haydari yoghurt with mint and garlic, yogurtlu havuc salatasi – carrot salad with yoghurt, humus – chickpea puree. Then I came to and fro to the café to fathom fine Turkish cuisine starting with Türk mutfağı that comprised salads, meze exquisitely prepared in olive oil.
Most Turkish dishes comprise lamb and beef with rice and corn bread. I thoroughly relished some of Chef Gazi’s best selection of signature dishes including çoban salatası – sheppard salad, zeytinyağlı pırasa – leek in olive oil, zeytinyağlı enginar – stuffed artichoke in olive oil.
The main course comprised zeytinyağlı mantar – mushrooms in olive oil, ıspanak borani – sautéed spinach stew with onions and carrots, circassian chicken in walnut sauce tasted heavenly as did the firinda kuzu – oven roasted rack of lamb, imam bayıldı – onion, garlic, tomatoes stuffed eggplant simmered in olive oil, antep ezme – spicy tomato marmalade, nar ekşili sogan kebap – grilled onions, patlican sogurme – eggplant gravy, levrek buğulama – steamed sea bass, meyhane pilavi and iç pilav – green swiss chard with almonds, oriental rice. Undoubtedly, the mercimek çorbasi, the lentil soup needs acquired taste-buds.
The dessert I relished the most was antep fıstıklı baklava – pistachio baklava from the selection that included fırın sütlaç or caramelized milk pudding, cevizli bal kabak tatlisi – pumpkin dessert with walnuts, bademli keşkül – almond pudding and Irmik helva that resembled the Indian semolina halva in taste and texture.
Later, I caught up with Chef Gazi:
Gazi Çiftçi was born in 1984 in Bolu, Turkey, a city famous for its chefs. He started his Chef Education at 12 years old at Culinary Vocational School and had 7 years of theoretical and operational training at the most famous 5 star hotels of Turkey and graduated at 2002.
In 2002, he started to work at Margaux, one of the first fine dining restaurants of Istanbul. He went to Ankara, capital of Turkey to complete his military service and was chosen to be the Chef of speciality kitchen serving the General Officers. He cooked special meals for President and Prime Minister of Turkey along with local and international bureaucrats. In 2013, he joined Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul and he is still a part of Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul team.
fnbworld: Since the Ottoman Empire is the mother for Turkish cuisine, where all can we find its traces and why is it almost extinct so soon in Asia?
Chef Gazi: It surely is the mother of Turkish cuisine but also many other regional food styles were heavily influenced by the Ottomans such as the Balkan States and Caucasian Russia in the north but also the remnants of their influence stretched as far as the Yemani peninsular in Southern Arabia.A lot of dishes can still be found today in these areas that are still true to original Turkman recipes.
fnbworld: Most Indians I spoke here during the festival felt the food was bereft of the spices…is that how you have it all over Turkey.
Chef Gazi: In Turkey, the use of hot peppers depends on the region. As far as the uses of spices are considered, the South Eastern Region uses more spices as compared to the Western region. For example, the difference between Urfa kebab and Adana kebab is the thickness of the skewer and the amount of hot pepper that kebab contains. Urfa kebab is less spicy and thicker than Adana kebab.
fnbworld: What is your favourite cuisine and why?
Chef Gazi: I relish Turkish and French cuisines.
fnbworld: What is the main cooking style in Turkey?
Chef Gazi: In Turkish cuisine, grilling and braising are the major cooking styles that are used.
fnbworld: Cuisine from which country is most loved in Istanbul and in other parts of Turkey?
Chef Gazi: People in Istanbul enjoy Asian cuisine apart from their authentic Turkish food. The majority of Turkish people prefer to eat at home.
fnbworld: What beverages are liked in Turkey as it is a hot climate region?
Chef Gazi: Tea is the most common beverage that is consumed but never with milk.Turkish coffee is still important but it is waning in popularity due to the plethora of other beverages in the market.
Ayran (salty yoghurt drink) is the most common cold beverage, Sherbets and Salgam Suyu (mild or hot turnip juice) are also popular in Turkey.
fnbworld: Is sea-food popular in your country…please describe?
Chef Gazi: Turkey is surrounded by seas which contain a large variety of fish. Apart from fish, prawns, calamari, mussels and squid fresh water river fish is important in Turkey’s large interior regions.
fnbworld: What position do you hold at Shangri-la hotel in Istanbul?
Chef Gazi: I am working as a Chef de Partie at Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul.
fnbworld: Is this your first trip to India? What do you like most about Indian food and Delhi?
Chef Gazi: This is my first trip to India. I am yet to discover this diverse country. I have heard about the amalgamation of the diverse sub-cultures spread all over the Indian subcontinent and traditions that are several millennia old. Indian people are kind hearted and very helpful. I want to describe Delhi in three words: Artistic, historic and addicting. I like Indian food, preferably less spicy.
fnbworld: You said food is like loving a woman, please explain?
Chef Gazi: If you love someone, you also respect her. Treat your lady with respect and in return she will care for you and show you love. Similarly, I love my cuisine because I respect it and it’s my passion.