Eight years ago I was wandering the streets of a fascinating, exotic and beautiful waterfront city. Chestnut trees were dropping their spiky fruit, traffic was absolute madness, the call to prayer echoed from minarets and the sunset bathed architectural masterpieces in a honey glow. Istanbul. One minute you’re in Europe, and the next you can be in Asia. Can’t wait to go back someday.
Over the Easter weekend I was lucky to attend an amazing three-hour degustation dinner at Balmain’s prestigious Efendy, supplied and hosted by Somer and Asli Sivrioglu, to celebrate Ottoman and new Istanbul cuisine. The progression of food was sensational and featured a diverse collection of traditional wedding dishes, family recipes and royal cuisine. Tonight we were all made to feel like part of the family.
The first of the cold meze dishes to arrive is the fava – a family recipe of broad bean, onion and dill pate topped with artichoke. It’s soft, flavoursome and nourishing.
In old Turkish means “gentleman” Used to describe people with a traditional upbringing adopting modern views.
Platters of hamsi are next to arrive – rich and oily Black Sea sardines draped over tomato confit. Straight after we are presented with midye dolma – stuffed Tasmanian black mussels. The risotto-like stuffing is lightly spiced, contains currants and pinenuts and finishes nicely with a squeeze of lemon. Served cold, these are divine and I can see why they are so easily sold as street food back in the homeland.
I’m a bit of a sucker for punishment. When I was in Turkey I tried the national drink – raki. The distilled anise-flavoured drink comes chilled and to drink it you drop in some ice then add water. It didn’t agree with me then, and it didn’t agree with me this time. Upset stomach aside, I had plenty more food to get through!
The dish that created the most interest was the kok yumurtasi – widely served in iskembeci – late-night restaurants in Istanbul purely devoted to offal dishes. Tonights offal came in the form of testicles. Lamb testicles. Lightly pan-fried and served on a bed of garlicy almond tarator and a crunchy pastry disc. The flavour and texture is like a mild chicken liver and goes down well with most of our group. Quite delicious!
The kadayifli karides – Hervey Bay king prawns elaborately cocooned in threads of kadayif pastry, fried and served on a tasty mound of muhammara (blended roasted red capsicum, garlic and walnuts). The prawns are cooked to perfection and I can’t help but compare the muhammara to something I grew up eating – ajvar.
A delicious trio of lamb dishes was beautifully displayed on one platter. The absolute stand-out for me here is the traditional wedding soup of yoghurt, rice, chickpeas and braised lamb neck. The combination of tart yoghurt melded perfectly with the shredded lamb meat and rich collagen flavour. I could have eaten this all night.
The mini iskender of Dorper lamb backstrap is nicely flavoured with tomato and sits on top of jus-soaked croutons, capsicum, paprika and garlic yoghurt. Tender, sweet and salty. A tasty mouthful.
Tandir style Bultarra saltbush lamb shoulder is the third morsel and comes served on eggplant skin filled with its pureed flesh. The meat is lovely and tender and couples well with the simple smokey flavours of the creamy eggplant.
Colourful bowls of ahirdagi salata are distributed over our large table to accompany the delicious ana yemek (main meal). A salad of finely-diced tomato, cucumber, red onion, walnuts and pomegranate arils lightly dressed in lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. Fresh, crunchy and no doubt, healthy!
We must be just about done, right? Not until a sweet ending, that is. The tatli tabagi (dessert platter) is gracefully placed infront of us and looks as impressive as the rest of the precedings. Your eyes are automatically drawn to the kesku – a traditional royal pudding of almond, pistachio and pomegranate jewels. Here it’s topped with a wisp of sugary floss and is a real delight to spoon into. The 42-layer walnut baklava is made onsite and is crunchy and super sweet as expected. Sadly I wasn’t that taken by the glutinous texture of the kazandibi, a burnt mastic and cinnamon pudding.
The final element to the feast came dusted in powdery sugar – Turkish delight. What a perfect ending to a wonderful meal. A very big thank you goes out to Somer and Asli for accommodating us all, thanks to the efficient and informative staff for putting up with us and thanks to Simon for organising things and inviting me along. Apologies to any of the food bloggers I didn’t meet properly, but I’m sure we’ll cross paths again!
Final special thanks again to Somer and Asli for the generous sample bag of Turkish delights: pomegranate molasses, apple tea, isot (sundried capsicum) and Turkish Delight. Perfect timing with the pomegranate molasses … I just ran out of it at home!
An impromptu dinner at another restaurant in Balmain had us return to Efendy for dessert. The dondurma (14) is a stretchy Marash ice cream topped with Turkish floss, Antep pistachios and swirl of sour cherry jus. The inzir ceviz (14) is a warm fig and walnut cake drizzled with grape molasses, butterscotch sauce and scoop of Marash ice-cream. Loved them!