Tales of Our Own Turkish Delights

It has been little more than a week since Sara and I returned from our time in Turkey on the Oldways Culinaria to Gaziantep and Istanbul, and my mind and stomach are still reeling (in the most positive ways!) from the unbelievable food and culture we were able to witness and consume. Since my weight loss and lifestyle change, I have developed a strong appreciation for the health and taste benefits of the “old ways," but it wasn’t until I traveled with Oldways and Oleana to Turkey, that I was able to see this firsthand. The flavors, history, culture, and lifestyle, and the fact that all these things are intertwined with the cuisine is truly remarkable and worthy of emulation. Ayfer Unsal, a food journalist and cookbook author who has been a friend to Oldways for over twenty years, organized a potluck in Gaziantep with over 29 dishes cooked by home cooks from the local community. Of course I felt full, but it was unbelievable to me that I never felt the lethargic, sick, about to explode feeling, and I actually lost weight after a full week focused on food.

While researching for the trip, I found a quote in Turquoise, Greg and Lucy Malouf’s book, that has stuck with me and illuminates the significant role that cuisine plays in Turkish culture. They refer to Turkish cooking as an “interweaving” of many different strands that “create a gorgeous and vibrant culinary tapestry.” I now know the metaphor to art is spot on.  All the fresh vegetables and ingredients - eggplant, peppers, lemons, chickpeas, lentils, tomatoes, cucumbers, nuts, olives, bulgur, cheese, grape leaves, yogurt - and the passion and pride that the Turkish people feel about their creations, truly elicits the same response as a beautiful work of art. The fresh ingredients and strong flavors that have been part of the Turkish culinary roadmap for decades demonstrate an old way of eating that we can bring home with us and share with others.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the courage, inspiration, and determination of one of our culinaria participants, Zoe Ilona Baughman. Ilona focused her thesis on cuisine and the Ottoman Empire and earned her Masters in Gastronomy at Boston University, and it was clear from when I first met Ilona at the welcome dinner at Oleana that she was extremely passionate about the food and culture of the region. Scheduling her chemo sessions around the trip, Ilona willed herself to be able to join us. She passed away five days after returning to Boston from Istanbul, but the memory of her perseverance, positive attitude and joyful appetite will never leave all of us.

--Abby

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