Since we can’t go to Turkey, we bring Turkey to you

Since we can’t go to Turkey, we bring Turkey to you
The inside of the boat is typically filled with ground lamb mixed with fried onion and garlic, green pepper bits, tomato bits, cumin, paprika and Turkish pepper. (Photo: Bircan Brunch Café)

With a fine food community like this, we may not mind so much about not going to their homeland for that delicious holiday.

I started out thinking I’d be writing about Mayfair and next-to-it Fordsburg, about the Turkish places I knew and am revisiting, especially. Then I realised my Turkish breakfast place that was in Braamfontein has moved to Greenside. Oh and while there, I thought I’d visit a newish place that opened just before Covid, in the Emmarentia part of Greenside, to check out their pide bread, something of a favourite of mine. I’ve even made it, rather desperately, at times. 

Pide is a boat-shaped piece of olive-oily flatbread dough. The inside of the boat is typically filled with ground lamb mixed with fried onion and garlic, green pepper bits, tomato bits, cumin, paprika and Turkish pepper, sometimes an egg on the surface. The pastry is brushed with olive oil again before cooking, so it has a special shine and texture after baking. It’s really pronounced peeday and it’s addictive.

I used to buy pide at SweetMart, an extraordinary Turkish place consisting of two giant warehouses stuffed mostly with Turkish and some Chinese sweets. It was and still is out the south end of Mayfair, toward Crown Mines. I was last there pre-Covid and things have changed. It’s much emptier of the Turkish food items. Many of the sweets and biscuits remain and there are still mothers or fathers filling supermarket trolleys with piles of them, accompanied by rather tubby kids. 

The pide is no more there. The big bags of dried mint I’d use to combine with coffee and cream for a drink I first had at an Indian friend’s place are also no more. The most sad is that all the Turkish spices like sumac and the many Turkish peppers aren’t there any longer. The big boxes of rice pudding that I marvelled at and so many kinds of Turkish delight, also gone. Well, I do find one kind and notice its boxes are labelled as keepsakes from various parts of Turkey, like Istanbul of course but also Çannakale, Edirne and Trabzon. Since we can’t go there, perhaps? I also find Marmarabirlik olives.

In Mayfair’s Church Street is the esteemed Turkish Butchery that is also the Turkish Kebab House. The restaurant part was on an unprepossessingly narrow, covered verandah once but has since spread into a large room alongside.

However, though Jane Griffiths, of the Jane’s Delicious Garden books and organic garden advice, first introduced me to this place, she also introduced me to another slightly less fancy restaurant called Istanbul, six streets east, so in the Fordsburg part of this area. Jane’s partner once lived in Turkey and has enthused her about the country and the food quite thoroughly over time.

Central Road is not very wide, despite the name and all my memories of eating here on the square include witnessing the crazy traffic mess, snarling and gnarling, shouts and hooting. Today it’s half-quiet. Possibly, I consider, because of Covid conditions.

Nick Acar seems to beam with delight in his own brunch. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Past the Exclusive Islamic Wear shop with its mannequins, the little boy ones each with a squashed celluloid nose, and then past what seems like a barrier of large hookahs and Mr Delivery signs, is the way to get to the restaurant’s outdoor tables, always well spread out. The square is very much fuller in the evenings and full of Turkish families on Sundays. This is a weekday lunchtime. 

Iskender is not a kebab as we’d expect. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

At many Turkish restaurants the Iskendar Kebap has been reserved for Sundays but lately I’ve been delighted to find it on most menus throughout the week. It’s not a kebab as we’d expect. It’s had thin layers of beef, in this case, wound around a döner that’s clamped down and revolves as a vertical spit, the edges cooking more crispily than the inner petal-tender meat. When it’s removed from the döner, the delicate slices of meat are doused in burnt butter on little sops of pitta bread, like manna, and then in hot tomato sauce. It is eaten with yoghurt and a charred chilli. The dish and name come from Bursa, one of the oldest Silk Road cities. It is unlikely it was named after Iskender or Alexander the Great but after “Master” Iskender Efendi who composed it and had it made in the late 1800s, in the Ottoman Empire days, he being a Turkish Ottoman nobleman with a food bent.

Side dishes appear, all freshly prepared each time, a whole tableful of treats. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

But before it arrives, as is the case at most Turkish meals, the side dishes appear, all freshly prepared each time, a whole tableful of treats. There’s homemade hummus, a dish of baba ganoush or ababagnuc, a tomatoey shakshuka, oil and pickle salad like a chakalaka of Turkey, a plate of minted yoghurt, and a salad plate of freshly cut and prepared red cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onion, with lemons. And more yoghurt. A big and impressively airy hybrid of a poppadum and a pitta arrives too.

At the Istanbul, on the main course plates, arrive a welter of chips, possibly ever-requested and now ever-provided. On the other main course plate is the Adana Sarma Kebap, regarded last year by TasteAtlas as the second tastiest dish in the world, chips even integrated into the presentation design. Usually it’s without chips, Turkish-spicy mince mixture strips, threaded or placed on steel over a fiery mangal cooker and given the butter and hot tomato sauce treatment. 

The Adana Sarma Kebap, chips are even integrated into the presentation. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

The Istanbul has a branch near Sunninghill and that’s near the enormous and gorgeous Turkish mosque and school, the Nazimiye, built 13 years ago by prominent Turkish businessman Ali Katircioglu. The mosque gave rise to another quite grand restaurant on the premises and, of course, many Turkish people live thereabouts now. Many Turks also still happily live around here in the Mayfair area near their own Turkish mosque, the Mecidiye. 

I hear that a third Istanbul Kebab is opening at Melrose Arch, where the huge Moyo restaurant was. Without a local mosque for local Turks, it seems to me that this is for non-Turks, who, if they just experienced it, would eat a lot more Turkish food.

I’m back at the Turkish Butchery to find Adama and other mixtures threaded in ribbons onto gleaming swords in the glass cabinets. Instead I find the electricity off so no glamorous swords and not much to see. I usually buy the super-creamy daily-made yoghurt with its cream-crust and do so again, plus a circlet of Turkish beef sausage, sujuk or sucuk, that seems always to spice up breakfast plates. Here too one may buy the döner meat, frozen, for people to take home. 

Once while chatting to the butcher, a woman drifted in prettily with two picturesque baskets of sweet pastries. To my surprise, he took them and told me that they were the pastries for that day of the week. I forget which day it was in my surprise at finding a butcher selling pastries. However, I now know the same versatile butcher also sells the sumac and spices that Sweetmart no longer purvey, as well as Turkish tea and coffee, dolma, tahini and Turkish fruit molasses, little rice puddings and other homemade savoury snacks.

I first had a wonderfully long-long Galata breakfast with a friend on Grove Square in Braamfontein. We didn’t stint and it’s easy not to when Turkish meals are so lavish and very affordable. That Galata has moved to Greenside, since Covid affected Braamfontein, a student area. It was originally opened by a homesick businessman Savas Daskan and the logo and decor feature the medieval Galata tower that can be seen from pretty much everywhere in Istanbul.

In the new location we still receive our menemen, the scrambled egg, onion and tomato dish, a fresh Turkish bread roll as well as the little pie gözleme filled with feta and spinach. Of course that’s not all. These are surrounded by plates of olives, more cheese, tomato and cucumber slices, bowls of Turkish jam, like plum, of cream, and honey. Turkish tea is included.

Bircan Kiliç, the lady of the cool Bircan Brunch Café. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

In the coolest little back-of-a-block link, one-way lane in the Emmarentia section of Greenside, is my latest Turkish discovery. It’s a tiny pide-making (and much else) Brunch Cafe run by a masterful baker, Levent, and his enchanting pink-scarfed wife, Bircan Kiliç. Outside are two small tables and four red-swathed chairs, inside a soft, red banquette, a carpet on the wall and a frieze of food pictures. 

The pide only leave the oven at 11, I’m told, so I happily drink unsweetened Turkish coffee that is accompanied by little sweetmeats and a delicious “sherbet”, also not madly sweet, of hibiscus, cinnamon and cumin. 

A man opposite is tucking into a cast-iron panful of breakfasty things with a line of eggs atop and the pide still has some time to appear, so Bircan and I talk and I feel I should have a small plate of the menemen, without all the trimmings. A fresh sesame-crusted, grape-molasses-included simit does accompany it however, something like a bagel, not boiled but baked into delightful chewiness. I take Nick Acar’s picture since he seems like the epitome of a happy Bircan’s Bruncher. In fact he seems to beam with delight. The breakfast is one he has had tailored by his hosts to his own quite eggy requirements. 

Levent tells me there are quite a few Turkish families in this part of Jozi even though the local mosque is not Turkish. He says he never worries about that because “God is still God”. 

Oh-so-excitedly I take two pide home with me, ready stuffed, in a crinkly packet, and Bircan presses two tiny apple and cinnamon pastries into my possession, she extolling the health benefits of apples and cinnamon.

Bircan extols the health benefits of apples and cinnamon, here in tiny pastries made by Levent. (Photo: Supplied)

I know we can’t travel to Turkey now so we just have to buy that Turkish Delight that lets us pretend we’ve been. And while we’re “there”, we visit Bircan Brunch Café and the other fantastic-experience Turkish places around Jozi. Yes, pide are shaped like boats, coincidentally. DM/TGIFood


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Marie-Lais Emond, thank you – you reminded me in such a mouth watering way of our sailing and island hopping adventure in south east Turkey 10 years ago. Pide – ah! Durum/tantuni. Simit and coffee. I am off to find the recipes!

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