Yemek (Eating)

Cover of Yemek by Isabel Lezmi,‎ Lisa Rienermann,‎ Veronika Helvacioglu 

Yemek (Eating)
Isabel Lezmi,‎ Lisa Rienermann,‎ Veronika Helvacioglu
Weldon Owen, 2017

Like most North Americans who have never travelled to Turkey, my knowledge of Istanbul is restricted to that 1950s song “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” by The Four Lads (although the cover by Lee Press-On and the Nails is my favourite). So Yemek is truly my first look at understanding Turkish cuisine. The three food-loving authors (not all native to Turkey, although they all live in Istanbul) have created a lovely guide to the food scene of a thriving city that allows an understanding of a culture very different from what I’m used to.

I love the way the book is arranged; imagine you’ve got a day to wander and eat your way around Istanbul — starting with morning, then through midday, afternoon, evening, and night. The authors offer recipes but also tours through food stalls, primers on important ingredients, and interviews with local friends and food artisans. Throughout all of this, there are great photos of Istanbul street scenes and food, from tea overlooking the Bosporus river to kebab makers, to an array of lokum (Turkish Delight).

I’m sure I’m over-simplifying things, and I’m totally missing out on the variety of regional dishes, but Turkish cuisine seems like a mix of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Eastern European foods. By which I mean there are lots of fresh ingredients, but also lots of things that are recognizable to the western eye and palate.

Home cooks will find recipes for flat breads, salads, soups, and lots of yogurt-based dips and desserts. Lamb, chicken, and fish play a role in the cuisine here, but vegetarians should fare well, both on the streets of Istanbul and when cooking from this book.

One thing I noticed is that, while there are lists and primers of ingredients and specialities throughout, not all recipes are explained well. For instance, a dessert called tel kadayif (Angel’s Hair) calls for 6oz of kadayif (strings of dough) but doesn’t specify which dough. It’s near a section of recipes made with yufka (Turkey’s version of phyllo) but it’s not made clear that this dish is made with yufka or how the strings should be cut.

Usability: recipes appear on a variety of coloured backgrounds, but the instruction section is dark enough that it’s reasonably easy to follow. Ingredients lists are a smaller, lighter font, so advance prep is advised since it is possible to miss something at a glance here. Measurements are in Imperial (US) units only. Ingredients are mostly simple and universally accessible; if your supermarket carries sumac and pomegranate molasses (and most do), you’re set to cook most of the dishes here.

I think this is a great book that celebrates the foodways of Istanbul and would be perfect for anyone travelling to that city who wanted to learn about (or remember) the food there, or for anyone who wanted to expand their culinary horizons to try something new but still accessible and easy to cook at home.

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