Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Treats from Turkey

Living in a highly globalized country full of imports from around the globe (I'm talking about the USA), one would think that any desired commodity can be found - if not in stores, then at least online.  While that is partially true, the reality is that while we have access to almost everything, the quality of these commodities are questionable at times.  With Turkish products this is especially true.  We can find Turkish ingredients and treats at the local Mediterranean or International Markets, yet we have been burned many times by overpriced, expired goods that just do not taste right.  Other times, ingredients may seem to be Turkish, but there is some additional flavor added to compliment tastes preferred in Arabic or Persian culture. 

So before traveling to Turkey we brainstormed some of the things we would want to bring back with us, and then while in Turkey that list continued to grow as our taste buds were reminded of the glorious pistachios, fragrant teas, and tantalizing Turkish delights that we had been missing.  So we stuffed our luggage as full as possible with these small Turkish treats to enjoy once back at home.

Locally roasted pistachios from Maras - gifted to H. by his sister 

The perfect Turkish Delight or Lokum

We've already made our way through one box of the pistachio Turkish delights and we're working our way through the second.
  These are not your typical Turkish delights, instead of the white powder, they are covered with powdered raw pistachio.  The flavor is rich with just the right amount of sweetness. 

A collection of Koska sweets to give as gifts (or maybe just eat ourselves if we get greedy)
 We've also been enjoying glass after glass of the Turkish herbal tea - like elma (apple) tea and kuşburnu tea, a combination of rosehips and hibiscus that is tart like cranberry juice.  It's the perfect way to keep warm and snuggly without the caffeine of black tea on these cold winter nights.  We love it so much that we found a website where we can order more boxes when we run out. (http://akmarket.com/  This website is also great for ordering all sorts of Turkish food - like cheese, socuk and sweets, even baked goods!)

In order to keep up the alaturka cuisine in the kitchen, I stocked up on some of the most useful spices for Turkish cooking.  Susam (sesame seeds) and Çörek Otu (Cumin seeds) can both be found in the US, but for a pretty penny.  These seeds are essential for a lot of Turkish pastries, such as börek and Turkish scones, and if I get up the gumption, I may try to make simit, Turkish bagels loaded with sesame.  

Collection of Turkish spices
Köfte Baharı is a useful addition to ground beef to make a quick and tasty hamburger or köfte on the grill.  I have fallen in love with the taste of Kuş üzümü (dried currants) in rice pilaf and I'm looking forward to trying out this simple twist sometime soon.  Pul biber (red pepper) is essential for Turkish cuisine and nane (dried mint) was so essential that the package was already in use before I could take this photo.  While I'm sure spices directly from the bazaar would have been the best quality, we opted for the packaged variety for easy transport and ease during customs. 

Now, for some of the fun stuff.  Before our trip there were several things I knew I was going to bring back just because I love them so much.  I was eager to get a Turkish tea glass set, because tea just tastes better in those tulip shaped glasses. Turkish tea glasses can also be found in the US at stores like World Market (where they are sold as shot glasses ????) and international grocery stores.

My new Turkish tea glasses (NOT shot glasses, World Market) 

 After the last trip when I was gifted a beautiful Turkish scarf with oya, handmade flower lace, I planned to buy these scarves to bring back as gifts.  So one Saturday we ventured out in the rain to the local bazaar to find the one lady who sold these beautiful treasures made by a local women's artisan groupIn Turkey, oya scarves are most commonly worn as head scarves.  In Maras, you can see the young and the old wearing these beautiful scarves, yet it is becoming less common that the young generation will wear such a traditional scarf.  I like to wear them around my neck in a variety of different styles.  I love the lightness of the fabric and how soft it feels.  I often find myself admiring the small lace flowers and wondering how they could possibly be made by hand - a true Turkish treasure.

Two examples of oya lace
While the selection is much better in Turkey, these scarves can be accessed in the US also.  Just a visit to Etsy (a handmade and vintage online community of stores) and search for "oya" will return hundreds of examples.  Many are created with Western appeal in mind, and others state that they are straight from a bridal chest and never worn (which I find quite sad).  Yes, the oya scarves and the bridal chest have an important role in Turkish wedding traditions, so perhaps it's best I save this topic for a different blog post.

Here are a few of the oya scarves that I picked up.

I chose a few of the darker ones as these will be gifts for older relatives of mine, but there were many different options in all the colors of the rainbow.  I might have to stuff my suitcase with more on the next trip.

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