The Art of Salça

When I first arrived here in Mersin I threw myself into Village life.  I helped harvest the nane and maydanoz from the bahçe.  I helped make the peynir (which was a story in itself) and I helped my mother in law make the salça.

Making salça (paste) is a bit of a pain in the ass to be honest.  It is messy work – so messy – but the end result is rewarding to say the least.

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Since my mother in law passed away making the salça is the one thing I continue to do each year as a bit of a celebration of her life.  I remember how happy she was that first year with me and my SIL sitting together, covered in flies and literally surrounded by kırmızı biber (red capsicum).  I remember my BIL delivering the 100kg of biber that morning and me going “seriously?”.  It was a very long day (and half of a very long night) cutting and cleaning the kırmızı biber before making the paste.  The next three weeks were spent checking my precious biber that had been mulched to ensure that they dried sufficiently to make the paste and finally salting to ensure perfection.

I have continued with the tradition for the past two years since my MIL’s passing.  This year was a little different however.  This year my SIL’s family decided to ‘help’ me and so, without my knowledge, set about preparing the biber for me.  I was devastated.  They don’t get that of course.  They were merely being helpful but to me they ruined the one piece of my mother in law that was something I treasured.

The Turk gets so frustrated with me each year and can usually be heard yelling “why don’t you just buy it at Migros?”.  Yes it is messy and a little smelly.  Yes my clothes are ruined (in fact I have a salça making outfit) which is stained a very attractive red colour and yes the roof top is also stained from an initial overflow of mulched biber but the end result is totally worth the hassle.

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Here is a shot of my MIL that first year.  She was one happy lady with the end result.

I have been asked for a receipe but I really don’t have a one to provide to you.  Like most of my recipes it relies on knowledge handed down by my MIL (or SIL) to me.  Basically we get a butt-load of bibers (photo 1) which are then cleaned and cut up (keep the seeds in unless they are seriously rotten).  A little old lady will then magically appears with a machine (seriously every year this woman arrives on my doorstep – the biber faerie – as if by magic) and all our bibers (or domates) are put though the machine to mulch them.  We then transfer the liquid up to our roof where it is salted and mixed.  It will stay in the first receptacle (photo 3) which is basically for pieces of wood with covered in plastic.  Once the liquid is partially dried (usually takes about a week) it is swapped into the huge plastic bowls (photo 4) where it stays for 2-3 weeks and is mixed 5 times a day to ensure it doesn’t burn in the sun.  100 kilos of biber make about 15 kilograms of salça which is about 5 containers which, of course, you then give to your numerous family members leaving you with two jars.  These will last me 12 months.

A recent incident with an overturned horse cart filled with domates also enabled me to use my salça skills to make some top notch tomato salça.  Double high fives for me today!  The final salça still to be completed is my hot chillies.  They are still drying (a longer process to ensure that they are as spicy as feck) but should be ready next week (if the weather stays warm – which it will after all it is Mersin).

The memory of my MIL will continue to live on in our meals with her salça – also known by me as Nene Salça.  It didnt matter what she cooked it was always superb – no doubt thanks to her salça.

Quick addition to this post – for those of you wanting to see my salça pants (also known as village pants) this is the only photo I could find.  They are now put away until next year but perhaps a sneaky paparazzi can crack a few shots before my security guards chase them away LMAO!  I did learn that day why I should wear long sleeves AND long pants when cutting up the biber.  I was literally covered in bites so now I’ve got a very attractive top that in no way matches my pants but works just fine.  Thank you to Daughter for showing my how to copy my Instagram photo – I am so computer illiterate.  I put this photo on Instagram because I thought it was hilarious.  The men sit there drinking their cay while the women work their asses off.

biber pants

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Mum’s Doing a Lamb Roast

We recently got Digiturk and I have been watching the Home and Entertainment channel, sometimes in Turkish and sometimes in English.  It was a rare occurence to watch any of these shows back in Australia and now I find myself with an addiction that cannot be quenched and sadly that addiction is – cooking shows.  I know.  I need to find a support group.  Like most addictions I cannot get enough of it and worse still it has resulted in me attempting to replicate whatever I have seen on the screen.  Desperate attempts at ridiculously difficult cakes, fancy pasta dishes and over the top dinners generally results in a messy kitchen, inedible food and a very grumpy Turk.

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Yep all I have really achieved by subjecting myself to this new addiction is the realisation that I really am a crap cook and really, really miss good western cooking.  Here in Mersin it is hard to have this desire for western fare fulfilled.  Don’t get me wrong there are a few good western style restaurants in the city but their dishes are not quite to the standard that you would get in your home town.  For me it is a roast dinner.

Side note – Aussie readers.  Who remembers this commercial of Naomi Watts (before she was famous) “Mum’s doing a Lamb Roast”.

To follow in Naomi’s footsteps and in light of my drooling desire for a good roast last night we feasted on a leg of lamb with all the trimmings.  We had potatoes and oodles of roasted garlic.  I made a mint sauce (which kind of sucked) and finished it off with peas and carrots.  Finally gravy.  Yes I had some gravy sauce squirrelled away for such an occasion.  I heard the moans in the audience – no I cannot make my own gravy although I have tried on many, many occasions (my mother would be so disappointed in me).  Yes I used the juices, I added the flour and the Vegemite (probably an Australian thing) but my gravy always tastes horrible and lumpy and doesn’t thicken so gravy mix I will continue to use until I become Nigella Lawson.

Speaking of Nigella and again as a cooking show virgin I don’t really know how these things go but honestly this chick is sexing up everything that crosses her plate.  The episode I watched yesterday had her sprouting these beauties “This meat is so soft in my mouth”.  The Turk turned to me in surprise and said, “I bet her husband prefers when the meat is hard”.  Not sure who is more inappropriate Nigella or The Turk!

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How to Barbeque like a Turk

I know how to barbeque.  I am a good Aussie girl and was taught the art of barbeque by the Zen Master of Barbeques – my Dad.  His barbeque boot camps were the stuff legends were made of and anything he put on his barbeque would be cooked to perfection every single time without a drop of beer ever being spilt.  Yep I was taught by the Master and have crazy barbequing skills but here, in Turkiye, all my rad skills taught to me by my Dad are thrown out the window.  The reason?  In Turkiye a barbeque just isn’t a barbeque – its Mangal!

Mangal means to barbeque but it also is the name of the itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny apparatus that the Turks use to cook their barbeque on and let me tell you a mangal is, in fact, an event.  To mangal takes time.  Preparation of the food and preparation of the barbeque itself – it is a commitment but the end results are always a party for your tastebuds.

Adana mangal

Like households all over the world a caveman-like primeval instinct will take over a Turkish male and it is for him to prepare fire while the females slice and dice in the kitchen preparing the meats and salads.

Watching Turkish men prepare the mangal is an experience in itself.  First they disappear into the nearest forest hunting firewood returning with, in their expert opinion, what is the best firewood ever collected.  If there is more than one Turkish man then they will need to be fierce debate over the quality of their firewood because, of course, it’s all about the size of the wood isn’t it ladies?  Once half a forest has been accumulated by our men it is time to stack the mangal.

Stacking an art form and has been known to cause WWIII on more than one occasion (in our family at least).  Like that age old question of “what came first the chicken or the egg” with mangal it is all about how you prepare the fire to get the ultimate heat.  The correct mix of charcoal briquettes and firewood set in the correct manner should ensure the perfect mangal which should, in theory, ignite with ease and, after its initial blazing inferno, should burn down to a grey ash – the perfect heat for cooking.

BBQ 1

While all this is going on I can usually be found in the kitchen helping (or hindering) my sister in law who is frantically prepare enough food for an army.  Tavuk (chicken) is usually coated with salcha (biber paste), kimyon (cumin) and kırmızı biber (paprika) while the balik (fish) will be marinated in a little zeytin yağı (olive oil) and limon (lemon).  My favourite, and usually my job when and if I ever put down my glass of wine, is to prepare the mincemeat kebabs.  These are so simple that my sister in law knows I won’t stuff them up.  Ready?  It’s as easy as mixing the kıyma (mincemeat), karabiber (black pepper), toz biber (red chilli powder), kimyon (cumin), onion (soğan) and kırmızı biber (red capsicum/pepper).  I use as much or as little as I like as there is no exact recipe so basically I can’t fail.

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Returning with the meats to the mangal which should by now be the hot coals and ash (remember grey ash is the best ash) the men come into play again where they stand over the food and discuss everything from politika to futbol.  One of us ladies have to appear and warn them that the meat is going to be overdone to which we will receive a hearty tamam or tessekuler and a request for another bira.  I usually laugh about now because it doesn’t matter where you are beer is always a pre-requisite for a barbeque.  A final argument about too much tuz (salt) or perhaps how many times the meat has been turned ensues before finally a mountain of meat is hauled off the mangal and to your table which is now full with numerous salads and ekmek (bread).

BBQ 2 (2)

Don’t forget you also need plates of meze to finish off your barbeque.  A quick and easy one and a favourite of mine is Biber Ezmesi.  Cook your biber (no not Justin but probably justifiable) on the mangal as soon as the initial inferno has died down.  Once cool quickly peel them and cut them finely as well as a couple of domates (tomatoes).  You can cheat and use a blender on low but my sister in law swears that cutting by hand makes all the difference.  Mix them with zeytin yağı, nar şurubu (pomegranate juice), two cloves of sarımsak (garlic) and maydanoz (flat leaf parsley) and you have a wonderful meze or relish to add to your table.

biber-ezmasi

If you are travelling to Turkiye this summer make sure you find a restaurant that serves mangal or, even better, buy your own mangal (they are incredibly cheap) and go to your closest piknik spot and prepare your own.  Most butchers sell the mincemeat already prepared with spices for kebabs and even the chicken coated in salcha.  Grab some lamb ribs and marinate them in olive oil and lemon – amazing – or maybe head to the fish market and haggle with the fish mongers for the best fish the Adriatic has to offer.

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If you are unsure what to buy ask your closest Turk and he will give you his expert mangal advice.

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Songul’s Tepsi Kebab

December has arrived with a bang and I am pulling out my long-johns (I don’t really have long-johns) and turning up the heat here in Mersin.  The skies may be blue right now but there has been a load of snow up in the mountains behind us and enough rain to keep me indoors watching old movies and contemplating cleaning the house.

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Along with the cold weather in Mersin the menu changes to suit.  It’s starting to get too cold for a barbeque so our meat dishes need to be cooked indoors (which kind of ruins my fun).  Our garden is overflowing with Swedish chard so no doubt I will be making borek for lunch over the next few weeks.  We also have leeks, which will mean lots of soup, as well as celeriac which is another weird vegetable that I had never heard of before arriving in Mersin.  These days I serve celeriac mashed with garlic which is delicious.  Finally there is Quince everywhere so I can make my father in law’s favourite dessert and every single pomegranate tree is overflowing with ripe fruit right now so Daughter can usually be found with her cousins pilfering the fruit from the neighbour’s trees and leaving their sticky hands everywhere.  Yummo.

Last night my sister-in-law and her family came over for dinner and so I needed to prepare a dish large enough to feed 7.  Answer?  My sister-in-law’s favourite – the Tepsi Kebab or Tray Kebab.

What you need:

2 finely cut soğan (onion)

4 cloves of crushed sarımsak (garlic)

1 bunch of maydanoz (flat leaf parsley)

Cay spoon pul biber (red pepper flakes)

Cay spoon kimyon (cumin)

Tuz (salt) and karabiber (black pepper) for taste

Tereyağı (butter)

1 tbl Kırmızı biber salça (red pepper paste)

½ kilo kıyma (mince meat)

Like most Turkish recipe’s you need to get your hands dirty so mix all the ingredients really well and I mean really mix them together – your hands should be bright red along with your cheeks due to your efforts.

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Finally I press the mixture onto my kebab dish (or pizza dish or even a large oven dish) and add a couple of teaspoons of butter to keep the dish moist.  I also cut up pieces of chilli, tomato and onion for presentation.

Cooking time varies.  I prefer a low oven (say 150-160) for 30 minutes so it does not dry out.  Once it is cooked my kebab is placed on the table (in the pan) along with lavaş (flat bread) and salads.

Alright it might not look sensational but it tastes delicious!

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Afiyet olsen.

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Wankyu Gida … um?

Quick one folks.

I came across this sign today and … well … we all know my Turkish is abysmal but “Wank in food”?  Is that really what it is trying to say?  Makes you wonder what their special sauce might be.

Anyone care to translate?

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What’s Mine is now Yours

Now I don’t know what the correct etiquette is in this situation but let me tell you a story and perhaps you, my dear and favoured readers, can give me some advice.

Over the past six months I have been photographing my zeytin ağaci (olive tree) in my garden with the intent of showing my olives growth, change of colour, harvest and finally the curing of my olives.

The past few weeks I have been keeping a close eye on the olives as they were looking pretty good and, in fact, I asked The Turk prior to him leaving for Oz as to when I should harvest.  “Give it two weeks,” was his reply.

Done.

So today I went out to my olive tree, my big beautiful olive tree and … my olives have been pilfered!  How is this possible?  How did I not notice that the olives were gone?  I mean I must be pretty oblivious sitting here typing away on the computer and not hearing or seeing what is no doubt going on right under my nose.

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I feel violated.  Robbed of what could potentially be my best blog post.  I had researched the best way to cure olives and also researched some quick solutions for curing (including fast curing in the oven).  I was going to bring you some amazing pieces about my olives but now I have hiçbir şey (nothing at all).

After some nosing around I found out that my sister in law harvested the olives last weekend and has already begun the curing process.  Next year then.

But let’s just look at my olive tree over the months shall we?  April – little tiny buds.  Spring has sprung and the olives are just starting to push through to reach that precious, precious sunshine.  May – I can see it, there will be olives.  They will no doubt be delicious because I am going to cure them and make them my own.  June – yep, keep it coming little olives.  I see you are trying your hardest to be the biggest, juiciest olives ever seen in the Village.  July – I think you WILL be the biggest, juiciest olives ever seen not just in the Village but in all of Turkiye.  Champion olives!  And finally August – you will soon be in my tummy!  Or not!

Don’t fret though gentle readers I still have my biber salçası (pepper sauce) that is currently drying out in the sunshine upstairs.  I will give you a blow by blow account of that soon enough (assuming someone doesn’t swipe my sauce under the cover of night).

So what do you think I should do?  Let it go?  Say something?  I am at an impasse.  I know, I know I will have many opportunities to cure my olives and I appreciate that my sister in law was trying to help but I really wanted to try and do this myself.  Bilmiyorum.

Romancing the Kebab

Saturday night.  You’ve been out clubbing until late and you’re hungry.  What do you want?  A kebab!  You race to the nearest kebab shop (and it doesn’t matter where you are in the world there is always a kebab shop) and you order your kebab “with the works”.

Within minutes you are holding your kebab, smothered in chilli sauce (or God forbid BBQ sauce) and you find your mouth filling with saliva in anticipation.  You’re excited.  You know it is going to be the best kebab you have ever had – and it is.

Fast forward to Turkey.  You have arrived in Istanbul, ready for adventure.  There are historical sites, amazing beaches, gorgeous people – and kebabs.  Yes Turkish kebabs.  The real thing.  You make your way to the first lokanta you come across ready to order your first genuine kebab.  With confidence you place your order.  They speak English!  A bonus.  Your table is laden with a basket of bread, a plate of lemon and pickled chilli and a small salad.  Am I going to have to pay for all this stuff?  Um?

Within minutes a plate is placed before you with a smile.  You look at it.  What is it?  It is not a kebab.  It is not what you were expecting.  You try to get the waiter’s attention but he is too busy with customers.

What just happened here?

Heads up folks.  There are a variety of kebabs available to you in Turkey and each one is unique.

sis kebab

You’ve got the Şiş kebab.  This was what I received the first time I ordered a kebab in Turkey.  Large cubes of meat threaded onto a skewer and grilled over charcoal.  Usually served with grilled domates and biber.  Just a warning for you though, keep your wits about you when ordering.  If you are not sure check because instead of siğir eti (beef) or piliç (chicken) you may just end up with offal as your meat of choice and nobody wants that to happen.

iskander kebab

Then there is the iskander kebab.  It’s got the shredded meat (beef or chicken) but the bread is also shredded.  What?  You might get a side dish of rice and a fresh salad but there will also be yogurt involved and a smothering of butter.  Delicious but again … what?

adana kebab

My absolute favourite is an Adana kebab.  I love this kebab because it is hellishly hot.  Minced meat on a skewer and with some crazy hot spices it is also grilled over the charcoal.  Definitely served with pita bread, salad and I suggest a cold glass of ayran to help you digest or you will be a puddle of sweat by the end of the dish.

But we are still trying to find that elusive kebab.  You know the one that you have after a night out at home.

“Help me Janey,” you cry fearful of your next meal.

“Fear not gentle traveller.  Go forth and get yourself a doner kebab.”

doner

Usually beef, lamb or chicken the doner kebab is slow roasted on a vertical rolling spit.  The Turkish doner kebab was invented in Bursa by a cook named Haci in the 19th century.  The man was quite obviously a genius but not so much of a genius that he put a copyright on his invention.  Nope.  He probably died a pauper.

Your doner kebab will consist of shredded pieces of meat wrapped in flat bread.  You will no doubt also find tomato, onion with sumac and a pickled chilli or two.

Just don’t ask them for BBQ sauce.

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Cig Köfte 1 – Janey 0

I recently found myself sitting across from my sister in law as she made Köfte.  I have watched her make different varieties of the Köfte many times but this variety was unique and I should have known that right from the start.  Why?  The name – ciğ = raw.  Raw Meatball.

cig kofte

According to folk lore the Ciğ Köfte originated in Urfa.  The wife of the great Nimrod went to cook a feast and found there was no firewood (as Nimrod had used it for a funeral pyre) so she mixed the meat with many spices and crushed them until the meal was palatable.  It obviously worked for her and the Ciğ Köfte is served in one form or another in most restoranlar or lokanta from here to the border.

The Ciğ Köfte is similar to the Lebanese dish of Kibbe Nayyeh or perhaps the Chee kufta which is an Armenian dish but if we go with the folk lore the Ciğ Köfte is Turkish all the way.

After watching my sister in law make them I can say that there is not a lot of raw meat in the köfte rather it has couscous, a small amount of raw mince and a heap of spices.  Anyone who saw my Köfte recipe from a couple of months back will see that making the Köfte is really simple and to make it a Ciğ Köfte it is merely a matter of adding a butt load of spice and, of course, the raw meat.  The spices are crazy hot too (including isot, cumin and, of course, my mother in law’s red pepper paste) and The Turk tells me that being crazy hot they “cook” the meat and remove any germ.  I am not really sure about that but as usual I am the first to give it a go.

And if you want to make this a vegetarian dish then simply replace the meat with crushed walnuts.  Simple.

Wrapped in a piece of lettuce, a drizzle of lemon and an ayran (yogurt drink) to combat the spice, they were pretty damn good.  Really tasty but also really spicy.  I suffered afterwards with indigestion and was sweating up a storm lying on the couch clutching my stomach (which is still not quite used to that much spice in a dish) but it was enough for The Turk to declare the Ciğ Köfte the champion!  Finally something that I couldn’t finish!

Post indigestion I finished off the Ciğ Köfte.  Nothing is going to beat me!

If you want to give this recipe a try follow this link.

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Market Day

Driving with The Turk and my brother in law today I felt trapped in the truck between the two men.  There is no air con so I feel myself slowly melt into the seat wishing I was pretty much anywhere else than where I was.

It is Saturday and as such we are making a trip to the market to stock up on fruits and vegetables.  I love getting to the fresh markets in Mersin.  I used to go by dolmus (bus) but found that I was purchasing way too much and had difficulty getting everything home.  If I dared catch a taksi I would never hear the end of it so now I go with my brother in law – a much more sensible idea.

DSC00210After making my way through the vegetables I was sweating bullets and pretty sure I was not going to make it through the fruit.  Akan ran off to purchase water for relief but honestly all I needed at this point was a seat and perhaps some chocolate (which always makes things better). 

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I soldiered on as I could see the colourful fruit in the distance calling me (so to speak).  I have always been a pretty simple girl when it comes to fruit after all an apple a day keeps the doctor away but  now I find I have so many options that I cannot decide what to purchase.  Daughter loves fruit so I can go a little crazy and know that everything will be eaten.

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As a child I lived in a house where my mum believed dinner was a meat and two vegetable meal ie sausages, potatoes and beans (usually burnt) or chops, potatoes and peas (usually burnt) with a roast dinner on a Sunday.  Living here I find it difficult to remove myself from what has been stamped in my mind.  In fact now it is rare that we eat meat and between you and me the weight has dropped off me since I slowed down my meat intake!

Arriving home I looked through my stash which was quite a haul including huge bags of kirmizi biber (capsicum) , patates (potatoes), soğan (onion) and domates (tomatoes) as well as şeftali (nectarine), elma (apples), portakal (oranges), üzüm (grapes), havuç (carrots) and was lucky to find some avokado (avocados) as well (quite a rarity).  Finally I grabbed some marul (lettuce) and salatalık (cucumber) to finish things off knowing that we will enjoy lots of salads for the next few days (after all its way too hot to cook).

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Incidentally I spent a total of 15TL (about AU$7.00) and came away with a huge stash.

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Let’s talk about Kunefe baby

Let’s talk about you and me, let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be, let’s talk about Kunefe!

I was thinking we would talk about Kunefe.  What is Kunefe you ask?  Kunefe is a crazy ass desert served here in Mersin and throughout Turkey made of cooked cheese, syrup and icecream.  “Wwhhaaattttt?” you cry.

kunefe

Yes I know.  Separately these three food items are sensational.  Cheese?  Legendary.  Sugary syrup?  Amazing.  Icecream?  Anytime.

But incorporated into one meal?  Maybe not.

As you will no doubt recall I recently became a rock star, letting my hair down and singing at the top of my over endowed lungs at a karaoke bar in Pozcu, Mersin.  After spending a few hours singing, dancing, drinking and generally embarrassing Daughter to the point that she wanted to disown me Prince William (previously known as Capt. Awesome) decided that we should finish the evening with some dessert.  Dessert?  By 2 am I was starting to lose my groove so the idea of dessert (and its subsequent sugar rush) perked me up considerably and I was ready to go and check out our next destination.

A couple of minutes drive through the back streets of Mersin brought us to an amazing little pastanesi (cake shop) just west of Carsi (near our new amazing dentist).  Even though it was very late the place was packed but when we arrived it was clear that they knew Prince William (aka Capt Awesome) and a table magically appeared.  There were no menus, there were no options.  We sat and dessert was supplied – Kunefe.

Kunefe is well known throughout the provinces of Icel, Gazienterp, Hatay, Kilis and Adana although it is served in many Arabic countries.  Downstairs you could watch them make the dessert and, honestly, it seemed like a lot of work.  The pastry chef was very generous letting me behind the counter (obviously a friend of Prince William’s as well) and explaining to me in limited English the process.  The process is long and drawn out and I will not bother explaining it – to be honest it was all a bit fuzzy.  There was a lot of work involving tel kadayif (stringy filo pastry), a butt load of cheese, huge pans and the largest wood oven I have ever seen!  If you do want to make an attempt of this amazing dessert I suggest you go check out Ozlem’s recipe.  She is, as usual, my go-to person when attempting Turkish food but this one looks a little out of my league.

If you ever find yourself at 2 am needing a pick me up and a kebab just isn’t going to do it for you try and find a pastanesi who serves this amazing dish.  Now that Kunefe has been brought to my attention I find that just about every pastanesi in Mersin serves it.  It might be a little more difficult to track down on the west coast but it is definitely well worth the search.  Your tastebuds will thank you for it.