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|Finding the Familiar (Produce-wise) in Turkey|
|Written by Ann Shepphird|
There's something very soothing about finding fruits and vegetables that grow in your own backyard when you're halfway around the world. This happened to me recently on a trip to Istanbul and Izmir, Turkey. As we were walking around the Old Town of Istanbul -- viewing the centuries of history still alive at the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Underground Cistern and the Museum of Topkapi Palace -- there, suddenly, were a number of vendors serving freshly sliced watermelon. And not just any watermelons but huge green watermelons that looked very similar to the watermelon that was the first thing I grew in my garden and in a way launched this site (story here). The watermelon I grew was an Ali Baba heirloom watermelon, which originated nearby in Iraq, but these were very similar looking -- especially in size. I later learned that Turkey is the second biggest producer (after China) of watermelon. As you can see, the ones they were serving look absolutely wonderful.
Also available (in abundance) were artichokes (which have a very short season), oranges (which they fresh squeezed at stands in Ephesus), almonds, asparagus, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes. To the right is just one display at the Kemeralti Bazaar in Izmir. Later, as we drove from Izmir to Ephesus, the rows and rows of almond trees reminded me quite a bit of driving down through Central California on a summer day.
One of the new trends we discovered in Istanbul is the bringing back of historic Turkish and Ottoman cuisine using fresh seasonal produce. We found this at both the Tugra Restaurant at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski (a former Ottoman palace) and at Nar Lokanta restaurant, which also runs a culinary institute and has a gorgeous vertical botanical garden running through it. I'm hoping to have a recipe to share soon and then we can all enjoy historic Ottoman cuisine using the fresh seasonal produce from our own backyards.