We sit at a long dining table that conveys history, culture, faith, and experiences. In Turkey, food is not merely for filling the stomach. Turks say, dining tables, are not just accessories in homes, but they act as “an intermediary for humanity, hospitality, and generosity.”
Turkish cuisine is wrapped in passion, skill, and traditions. We are dining at the Turkish ambassador’s home in Gigiri, Nairobi.
The ambassador’s wife, Arzu Miroğlu, has picked an authentic Turkish menu, preparing the food with the help of her friends. The dishes have an overwhelming mix of flavours and styles, from seasoned rice wrapped in vine leaves to a simple pumpkin dessert that would be a perfect treat in a Kenyan home.
We start with the stuffed vine leaves garnished with sour cherries. There are five finger-length rolls on my plate. I cut through the vine rolls. Sweet and sour flavours shock my palate. The taste is beyond belief: olive oil, rice, different herbs, cinnamon, black currants, and nuts.
Next, they serve zucchini boats, which is a zucchini shell that can be stuffed with ground meat, homemade tomato sauce, and topped with cheese, followed by zucchini fritters with yogurt.
In Turkish cuisine, Mrs Miroğlu says, nothing goes to waste. They hollow out the inside flesh of the zucchini and use it to make the fritters while the shell is used to make the zucchini boat.
Then comes the Turkish manti with yogurt. Mantı is a type of dumpling, which is a popular dish all around the world.
The Turkish dumpling is tiny with meat in it. It is delicious although making the dumplings is not an easy process. They are made from dough, rolled and cut into small, square pieces, left in the fridge to settle, then boiled like pasta. When folding the dumpling, the dough should not be tight. You leave space for water to go in and cook the meat.
In Turkey, to test a new bride’s mastery of folding dumplings, 40 dumplings should fit in one spoon!
The Sultan’s delight is served next. It consists of lamb stew served over velvety eggplant puree. It is a high-society cuisine but in the mouth, it is a homely, comfort food.
As we wait for the sherbet juice, the ambassador’s wife gifts us a tiny pin-like thing that protects us from the evil eye. That a jealous person’s bad energy would bounce back if you pin it on your dress.
Sherbet, which is a juice made from hibiscus, sugar, cinnamon, water, and cloves, is served in crystal vintage glasses. Before modern drinks, sherbet which is made from extracts of various flowers had been drunk as a beverage for centuries. On a hot afternoon, sherbet is refreshing.
Dessert is a slice of pumpkin with a walnut topping. Every Kenyan on the table is hesitant to taste the pumpkin because not many love pumpkins. But this popular dessert is different. Some Turks describe pumpkin desserts as “Food of Heaven”. It is very tasty, baked and candied with sugar syrup, garnished with lemon juice and walnut.
Finally, the most interesting meal of the day, the Turkish coffee, is brought to the table. It is served in an exquisite porcelain cup and comes with an accompaniment; a candy known as Turkish delight. Because Turkish coffee is very strong, you sip the coffee and bite the soft squishy candy, which has chopped pistachios and is coated with sugar.
After finishing the coffee, tradition dictates that you turn the cup upside down the saucer to allow it to form a shape that is interpreted by a fortuneteller. On turning it up, the patterns are to give you news about future travel, or love.