As many readers will be aware, the village wing first came and lived in Turkey in 1969, and lately she has been pondering the changes in the country over the 40+ years she has known it. Not political or economic change, but changes in everyday life and, in particular, in food.
In fact this train of thought was prompted on a recent visit to the Sunday fruit and vegetable market. Looking around the stalls it was amazing how much produce is available today that wasn’t grown forty years ago. Then, as now, Turkey grew sufficient food to feed its population, but the range was smaller and, very significant when compared to today, things were only available when they were in season.
On a year round basis you could buy potatoes, onions, garlic and tomatoes. Parsley and dill were also available but lettuce was a once per year special event and the only salad offered on restaurant menus was the traditional ‘shepherd’s salad (çoban salata) comprising finely chopped onion, tomato and parsley with cucumber and hot green peppers added when in season.
The annual appearance of lettuce, and it was always crisp cos lettuce (marul) was marked with a very special manner of serving. The better restaurants in Istanbul, where the village wing lived and worked in those days, served the lettuce leaves, whole, standing in a large glass vase-like container half filled with lemon juice. This, in turn, was placed within a very wide shallow bowl filled with ice. You took a chilled lettuce leaf, sprinkled a little salt on it and ate it whole. And it was only available for around a month from mid-April to mid-May.
Whilst rocket and cress were no doubt grown and eaten in the villages, along with a whole range of wild greens, they never appeared in the greengrocers’ in Istanbul
There was no broccoli, Brussels sprouts, avocados or mushrooms. The latter could occasionally be found in village markets, picked in the wild, but mushrooms weren’t cultivated – think of how many dishes on the average restaurant menu include mushrooms these days, not to mention how often you use them in your own cooking.
Bananas and kiwi fruit were not yet grown in the country and fruit wasn’t stored as it is now. So you looked forward to the appearance of the first citrus late in the year, the first apricots and melons as summer heated up – and resigned yourself to waiting a year to eat them again once a fruit’s season was over. Now we buy oranges for juice all year round and can get apples, pears and quince at any time thanks to the provision of cold stores.
We hear foreign residents who have been here for a while complaining about the ‘sameness’ of menus in restaurants selling Turkish food – how would they have coped forty years ago?