Turkish Consul General Umut Acar, a diplomat responsible for a 13-state region, talked recently about some food that reminded him of home.
Acar has lived in Chicago for four years. His appetite hasn’t suffered a bit. As long as places like Cafe Istanbul, which just opened in the Wicker Park neighborhood, keep opening.
EXTRA COURSE: A trio of desserts you’d typically find in Turkish restaurants
Café Istanbul attracts plenty of his fellow countrymen, due mainly to its atmosphere and outstanding food.
“I find the taste here, especially the kebab, the gyro/doner, closest to the taste that I’m used to in Turkey. That’s what I like most. They really know what they’re doing here. Very friendly staff,” said Acar.
“These are small dishes called mezze – appetizers,” he said, during the first wave of dishes.
During an eggplant dish that has been stewed with tomatoes, onion and olive oil, Acar notes that “Turkey is one of the top olive oil producers.”
Then there’s lachmacun, a flatbread with ground beef, served with parsley, onions and fresh lemon.
“It is not Turkish pizza. It’s lahmacun,” he said. “You can wrap it and you can fold it. That is the way, the simplest way we eat. You can also add some lemon.”
Acar notes the influences on the table.
“This is Middle Eastern, this is Mediterranean, this is Asian – probably Greeks and Balkan countries have that. When you think about Istanbul, one side is on the Asian continent, one side is European; Turkey, when you talk about Turkey, you’re talking about a European country, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian, the Caucasus,” he said.
Another wave comes. This time, hamsi, or fried anchovies.
“It is from Turkey’s Black Sea region, my home region, I was born in Black Sea town and I grew up with this,” he said, before another dish hit the table,” he said.
“This is called Su Boregi.”
Sort of a lasagna made from phyllo dough, fresh dill and feta. To drink: thinned yogurt and some refreshing turnip juice.
How do you say delicious? Lezzetli.
The final wave is chickpea-studded rice, covered mostly by beef, lamb and chicken. Tender lamb chops; juicy adana kebabs, formed over long skewers; chicken shish kebab and of course, doner — what a Chicagoan might call a gyro — sliced from the vertical spit.
“This is cag kebab, one of the most famous kebabs in Turkey. You’re familiar with gyro, doner, with how it’s cooked on the rotisserie…think about that on the horizontal skewer or rotisserie; this is the way it’s cooked,” said Acar.
And it’s all extremely lezzetli.
And we’ll say sherefa – not “to your health” but “to your honor.”
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