Ramazan is perhaps one of the most important months of the year in Turkey: as a country whose identity is half secular Islam, half modern liberalism – it’s no surprise that the festivities are heartfelt, long and quite a lot of good fun.
However there is also a very foodie side to Ramazan: it is the only time of the year when you can queue for sicak Pide (a round, sesame-seed topped bread) tearing off into it with gusto as the heat burns your hands. Or when you can walk through Balik Pazari (the historical fish market near Galatasaray/Beyoglu district) and go to Sakarya and buy Gullac ( a dessert made with thin layers of gullac sheets made with cornflour, starch and water and drizzled with milk, sugar and crushed nuts and pomegranate seeds.) And dates, of course. Lots of dates.
Now although I am not a practising Muslim by any stretch of the imagination (I love bacon. I love ham. I love pork belly. God, I just love pork.) , once a year during Ramazan, perhaps as a tribute to my birthplace , I tend to fast for a day usually the first day of Ramazan. And that very same evening I invite a very small group of my friends for a Ramazan dinner.
Ramazan tables are meant to be plentiful and full of variety. Although my family never really gave Ramazan dinners, since moving to London 18 years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to be back to Turkey to attend quite a few and to understand exactly what works and what doesn’t.
What I’m lucky in having are friends who are willing to try. I tend to make a lot of odd dishes which might try the palate at first of those who are not accustomed to the spicing or the texture but they are always game , giving it their best shot. The fact that most plates leave the table empty is a testament I think not only to my abilities but their willingness to try to to consume.
So here’s my Ramazan table in very low quality pictures ( I need a camera, I know. ):
This obviously is a picture of the table set out – you can see the various dishes before anyone descended on them.
First up is the magical pide – although the Turkish supermarkets in London seriously SUCK with their quality of pide – TFC (turkish food centre) can sometimes create a specimen which is edible. This is one such specimen.
Raki is obviously the national drink of Turkey. Made with grapes and aniseed, and clocking in at 40 % alc. , it’s strong and hearty stuff, prone to catching those drinking it without respect unawares and making them very, very sorry.
This is Kasar Pane. Kasar is a turkish cheese which is similar to cheedar though perhaps more flavoursome. You can also buy yeni kasar (meaning new kasar) which is less full on flavors and it is this version which is used in this recipe. Cut into discs, rolled in a mixture of breadcrumbs and turkish spices, the cheese is then shallow fried till crunchy outside.
A truly destructive beauty.
Sucuk is a type of sausage made from beef – the beef is cured by being made to hang in bags made out of the intestines of the animal. It’s heavily spiced with garlic and few other bits and is absolutely delicious once shallow fried – no oil needed as it’s quite a greasy cured meat in itself.
Cerkez Tavugu (Circassian Chicken) is one of those amazing dishes which is ever so easy to prepare and yet tastes so divine. Basically you poach the chicken and then use the chicken stock breadcrumbs,walnut, garlic and some other optional bits to create a paste – lay the chicken, cover with paste, mix and then top with paprika.
Really that simple, really, mind blowingly delicious.
One of the stalwarts of a Turkish table is fried aubergines & Turkish peppers (salad peppers which are long and thin as opposed to the common variety in the uk) topped with a tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes and tons and tons and tons of garlic.
Again, very simple but usually gets demolished within the first half an hour or so.
On this fateful dinner, I also attempted Gullac AND SUCCEEDED! An amazing feat by any standards ,the only problem was that I’d made so much , I had to keep giving them away to my grandmother and other friends over the next week. Lesson learnt: less quantity next time.
And there you have it. My ramazan table – suffice it to say the raki flowed and we found ourselves still at the table sometime around 04.00 a.m. – which is the sign of a good food/drink table in Turkey. It’s the absolute rule of dinner: the eating and the drinking must always be an excuse to enjoy exquisite company.
Now next year, I intend to try making baklava which should certainly be interesting. I just saw that they are selling rolled up layers which you can open to make the dish. Hard work, but I’m willing to try making any dish once. Especially the tasty ones.