Take-away

Do you remember getting take-away when you were a kid.  I do.  We would go to the fish and chip shop up at Narraweena.  We would get fish and chips (duh), hamburgers and potato scallops.  It was always amazing.  Because it was take-away.  Food is always better when you don’t have to cook it.  Then home delivery became an option and my culinary world exploded.  Chinese food!  Wow.  I really am a kid from the 1970’s aren’t I?

Here in Mersin take-away and home delivery is certainly an option.  They have Dominos that delivers as well as Hungry Jacks (which is a disgusting thought).  Many of the little restaurants here in the Village also home deliver and on occasion The Turk has had people knock on the door at odd hours delivering huge bags of food but I have not felt the need to partake – until now.

A couple of nights back The Turk decided it was too hot to cook (it is definitely warming up here in Mersin – I expect I will be complaining about the heat to you sometime soon) so he made a couple of calls and arrange for home delivery.  I was excited.  What would it be?  Obviously Turkish food, no option there but Turkish food could mean practically anything.

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Two hours (!) later and Daughter and I were getting a little edgy.  The Turk is well aware that if I do not eat at my allotted hour I become quite the bitch, well add Daughter into the mix and we were both chomping at the bit for dinner.  Finally a young boy arrived carrying an abundance of food that could have fed a whole army.  He firstly handed over two bags which contained Kiymali pide, Peynir pide, salads, freshly baked bread, rice and Ayran.  Then he disappeared back down the stairs returning with the largest clay plate of Kağit Kebabi I have ever seen.  This huge plate with a circumference of 60 cm was filled with lamb, mushrooms, eggplant and handfuls of spice.  Holy moly this was a feast.  Total cost 25TL (about AU$13).

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Was it worth the 2 hour wait?  Oh.  My.  God.  Yes.  This was a taste sensory overload.  Possibly the best thing I have ever put in my mouth (don’t be dirty).

Girl on Fire – making sarma

I think you guys already know that I am a terrible chef.  In fact chef is a word that really should not be used when describing the food that is plated up by me at any time but over the past few days I have had the opportunity to learn a few other recipes that I hope I can make by myself over the coming weeks.

With my sister in law right next door the sound of my name “J-j-ja-a-a-n-n-e-e-e” calls me to drop what I am doing and come next door.  It is a win-win situation as I learn something and I eat something.  I prefer just to eat but learning something is good too.

Songul was preparing hundreds, literally hundreds, of sarma (stuffed grape leaves) for a school excursion and needed help with the preparation.  Honestly I was not really sure that I would be doing anything useful but I have now learned that if you do something over and over . . . and over again, you get pretty good at it.

The first part of my lesson was stealing vine leaves.  Yes I was sent on a stealth mission to pilfer vine leaves from the neighbour’s vines.  Up and down the street I went with My Hurley Dog and Songul’s 4 year old to grab vine leaves under cover of taking the dog for a walk (stealing vine leaves is a big sin here as everyone loves their sarma).  After collecting 3 bags full we returned home and started separating the leaves and collecting them into groups.

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Making the dolma is actually surprisingly easy.

Ingredients –

Vine leaves, 2 bags of rice, diced onion, grated tomato (which included part of my hand unfortunately), Nene’s chilli paste (not hot), parsley, sumac, cumin, salt, pepper, dried mint and lemon salt (mincemeat optional)

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Lemon salt is an excellent invention I had never heard of before.  I actually brought some at the market quite by accident, put it in my salt grinder and nearly vomited.  As salt it is filthy but Songul puts it in water for 5 minutes and it becomes a strong lemon juice equivalent without wasting a precious lemon.  Aahhh so that’s what you do with it, shame I threw mine out after the first disaster.

First things first.  Boil some water and drop the vine leaves in it for mere seconds.  This will soften them.

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Mix all ingredients (sans vine leaves) in a bowl and you are ready to roll (literally) and once I got started I was cracking at the rolling.  Really simple.  Vine leave, small handful of mixture, roll ‘em up.  Get in time with the Turkish music that’s blasting in your ear and you really have the motion.

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Now remember that we had to make hundreds of these things so I spent the next 3 hours on the floor rolling vine leaves.  As a fine art I could whip out two a minute.  Every 10 dolmas I would wrap in string and place in the pot.  Once the pot was full it was filled with water (maybe 1 cm above the top sarma) and boiled for 30 minutes.  We ended up filling 4 pots for the school excursion the next day.  I was told that the sarma was excellent (of course) but that mine were particularly sensational (I know they were just being kind).

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I often wonder why I never did a cooking course or why my mother never taught me to cook (although she too was no chef – I didn’t really know green beans were green before I moved out of home as they were always brown *sigh*).

Spring Action

I’ve been incredibly busy the last few days, starting with giving the house a good scrub from top to toe.  It is always so dusty here in the Village, primarily caused by the surrounding farmland but couple this with the building work next door and we are constantly covered in a thin (or thick) layer of dust.  The Turk pulled the refrigerator out and behind it was a family of dust bunnies.  They were quite happy living behind the refrigerator but sadly they had to go as they were multiplying rapidly.  I am pretty sure I never ever cleaned behind my refrigerator in North Sydney but that was more likely because I am incredibly lazy and just assumed my cleaner (or perhaps The Turk) did it for me.  I cannot believe how much dust, fluff and general grubbery builds up here.  I am forever mopping the floor and forever exfoliating the grub from my skin. The house is looking schmick at the moment though, all shiny and dust free (for today anyway).

School finishes here in 3 weeks and Daughter and I am leaving for Sydney the next morning.  I love a countdown but this one is particularly exciting for me as I am going home to see my friends and family.  I am also incredibly excited about eating food.  Australian food.  Pub lunches.  Indian banquets.  Italian.  Thai.  Mexican.  Oh.  My.  God.  You name it, Imma gonna eat it!  Don’t get me wrong I love Turkish food too but here it is just food.  Every day.  God give me some pepper sauce.  I am drooling in anticipation of a good curry.  And then there is bacon.  I miss bacon.  I know, I know we’ve been over this already but I do.  I really, really do miss bacon.  A lot.

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I’ve also been helping The Turk in the garden.  Our spring garden is blooming.  Again no pesticides, we are being as organic as we can be.  Unfortunately we had a late rain last week and we lost some of our vegetables but our green beans are coming in nicely as are our summer lettuce and our corn.  The first strawberries have appeared and our tomatoes are flowering.  The Turk has had to ‘sex them up’ which for those of you who don’t know The Turk or I this is my explanation for him out in the garden violating the flowers with his finger to release their pollen.  He is adamant that this will ensure the flower will become a tomato.  Yes he has been doing this for years with both his tomatoes and his chilli plants.  He swears that it works every single time.  It does.

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Turkey has been in the press this past week.  The devastating loss of life in Soma and the subsequent protests and riots by the public is awful to witness.  The sadness I feel for the loss of life is overwhelmed by my anger eyeballing the behaviour of the politicians and their reactions.  I am sure that wherever it is that you are currently in the world whether it is Turkey or elsewhere you would no doubt have seen the footage of Yusef Yerkel kicking a grieving member of public last week in Soma.  Did you hear that he is now on sick leave as he injured his leg?  That poor man.  Injured while on the job.  Oh how I feel for him.  How lucky that he gets to sit at home and recuperate.  OMFG!  I am sorry but he should have been arrested for assault and fired immediately.  Did you also know that only a week before the Soma accident the political party CHP requested that the mine be investigated for work-related injuries and its safety record but the current ruling party AKP vetoed the request?  Yikes!  My heart goes out to the families of those who lost someone at Soma and my sincerest hope is that their deaths bring about reform within the Turkish mining industry which has an extremely poor record.

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I know I hopped onto my soap box again.  I know I promised I wouldn’t do it but sometimes its a little difficult for me to shut my mouth when an injustice is done.

Enough from me for now.  The Turk has just brought us freshly cooked corn straight from our garden.  A little butter, a little salt and pepper and this snack is fit for a queen – and her princess.

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Icli Kofte

Recently we walked down to visit the remaining Auntie Muriel at her home down by the deniz.  A pleasant walk on a beautiful spring day and all of us including My Hurley Dog enjoyed ourselves immensely.  A spot decision was also made to take My Hurley Dog to the beach so he could have a run and a splash (after all it is very much warm enough here).

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Arriving at Auntie Muriel’s I immediately realised we came on a good day.  Her son was returning to Germany the next morning and so she and her daughter were making Icli Kofte for his farewell party.

Icli Kofte (also known by Daughter and I as Nene Kofte) is Daughter’s absolute favourite meal.  They are bloody hard to make.  The few times The Turk and I tried they were dismal failures but everyone in the village seem to know how to make them and damn it they make it look so easy! 

Anyone who has been to a Middle Eastern or Lebanese Restaurant (or has been to the Middle East or Lebanon) would have tried the similarly made Kibbe but I know that Icli Kofte are just that little bit better (Daughter says its because it is made with love).

There is an awful lot to the recipe so if you want to give these a go I would suggest you try the recipe from Ozlem’s Turkish Table.  I have tried a few of her recipes and they always successful (well most of the time) and spot on for taste.

Referring to her recipe we do not put in walnuts at all.  We do use all the spices mentioned but we also add cumin and biber salcasi (pepper paste) to give the bulgur dough a tinge or glow. 

The dough needs to be perfect.  If it is not perfect it will be damn near impossible to make the little parcel and fill with the meat mixture.  To be honest I cannot do it.  It is bloody hard.  I sat there watching Auntie Muriel making these at such a speed all the while chatting and laughing, not a care in the world.  I tell you the last time The Turk and I tried to make them it nearly caused WWIII in our household (and it left a hell of a mess to clean up).  Oh also we add the pepper paste to the dough as well – obviously we like it spicy here in the village.

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After a couple of leisurely hours drinking cay and listening to Turkish chatter Auntie Muriel sent us on our way with a plate of her Icli Kofte for dinner.  I carried my precious cargo of kofte home and immediately started making the sauce which we add to pretty much everything.  I have mentioned the sauce before – pepper paste (yes again), garlic and oil, honestly it works with pretty much everything.

Ozlem bakes her Icli Kofte but here we either deep fry them, a favourite with the çocuklar (kids) or boil them (my favourite and obviously a lot healthier). 

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Served with a salad, for me this is a meal but to many this is merely an appetizer, either way I will finish with Afiyet Olsun or enjoy your meal.

Regaip Kandili

Yesterday 1 May 2014 is an important day to Muslim Turks as it is Regaip Kandili (the night of Muhammad’s conception).  A Kandili (candle) is a Mosque Festival called such as the mosques will be illuminated (no doubt originally by candles although today probably not).  Last night Muslims prayed for forgiveness and hope. 

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There are in fact five holy evenings over the course of the Turkish Muslim calendar year and these five dates will change dependent upon the revolution of the moon for example Regaip Kandili will be celebrated on 23 April 2015.  The five holy evenings are:

Mevlid Kandili – the birth of Prophet Mohammad (12 January 2014)                     Regaip Kandili – the night of Muhammad’s conception (today 1 May 2014)               Miraç Kandili – Prophet Mohammad’s rising to the sky (25 May 2014)               Berat Kandili – forgiveness of the sins (12 June 2014)                                             Kadir Gecesi – the first appearance of the Koran to Prophet Mohammad (23 July 2014)

The Turk and his family are not particularly religious (although they always seem to be sacrificing animals) and they did not attend at the mosque last night however those practicing Muslims that attended worshipped and sang Mevlit which is a poem written for the birth of Prophet Mohammad. 

The Turk warned me that there would be many visitors to our home last night as part of the tradition of Regaip Kandili and it is normal practice to give Kandil Simidi or Lokma Tatlisi to visitors so yesterday Daughter (with me as her sous chef) decided to attempt making the Lokma Tatlisi for the expected visitors. 

Lokma Tatlisi is a Turkish fried sweet dough that is covered in a simple syrup (basically it is a doughnut with a syrup rather than sugar or cinnamon). 

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Daughter made a simple dough, 1 cup of warm water, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of yeast.  Mixed together with a well-oiled wooden spoon (oiling the spoon is integral to the success of the Lokma).  She then left the dough for the length of the movie Mean Girls (firstly, how many times do I have to watch this movie?  Secondly, “That’s so fetch”.  Finally, it’s been 10 years since this movie was released?  What the hell happened to Lindsay Lohan?   Look at what drugs can do kiddies.) before getting back into it.

On our return Daughter prepared the syrup.  At this point I realised that we did not have enough sugar so Daughter sent her sous chef from house to house to get enough for the 3 cups required.  Most of the sugar is cubed so I was concerned that the syrup was not going to be successful.  Daughter added the sugar, 1 1/3 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Mixed until boiling and then left to simmer for about 20 minutes.

Preheating the vegetable oil (sous chef was getting nervous at this point) she spooned the dough in by the tablespoon, 2 minutes each side until they were a golden brown colour.  Drizzle syrup over these strange lumps of dough and eat.

Our Lokma were not pretty, they were not little balls covered in syrup.  They were weird looking pieces of dough, in fact they looked like fish pieces, one looked like a chicken’s foot, others chicken nuggets or honey chicken but I swear covered in the syrup they were still pretty tasty.  Daughter made enough for all of the family plus expected visitors and she proudly delivered them to each house last night.

I was pretty impressed with Daughter’s cooking although I was less than impressed with the mess that was left.  Syrup from one end of the kitchen to the other, and on the stairwell outside.  Thank you very much you little grub!

Seasonal Fruits

Spring has, of course, sprung which means all the farms and gardens around the village are abundant with new, fresh and usually unknown to me fruits.

When The Turk arrived he planted trees around the garden but they are still very young and so far only our nectarine (which is a sad looking young sapling) has borne fruit.

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I have however been thieving fruit from the neighbour’s trees to taste and to introduce to you today.

The first fruit that I have never seen (or tasted) before is called as Yeni Dünya (New World) but you may know the fruit as a loquat.  There are so many trees groaning under the weight of these little beauties that I am clearly doing their owners a favour when I steal them.   I am told that you should never buy them from the market and if you cannot eat them straight from the tree don’t bother as you are wasting your time.  They do not keep well, even in the refrigerator, and can bruise very easily.  They are succulent, tangy and sweet.  Delicious.

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Another seasonal fruit in Mersin at the moment is an Erik, a super crunchy little fruit that you need to eat it now – before it ripens.  They are quite tart or sour in taste but they are very moreish.  The Turk has them with salt which I believe can soften the taste a little.  Can anyone tell me if eating unripened fruit is problematic to the digestive system?  I remember from science class (all those millennia ago) that unripened fruit is very acidic but honestly I just cannot stop eating them.  As they ripen the Erik fruit loses its zing.

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There are so many fruits currently burdening the trees and gardens around the village (mulberries, apricots, nectarines) that I now take a basket with me when I go on pilfering so that I can pick at the branches as I go by – and I am not the only one who does it as I helped an elderly lady fill a plastic bag with Kayisi  (unripened apricots) this morning.  When she had had her fill she patted my face and said “sus” which basically means keep quiet or hush.  We are now partners in crime.

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Coucous Kofte

My next couple of posts may or may not be about food.  My sister in law has been home the last few days so I’ve been going backwards and forwards between houses drinking copious amounts of çay while watching and attempting to learn how to make a few different Turkish dishes.

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In Mersin most of the meals are simple and grain based so I’ve been cooking a lot of couscous, boreks, pirinç (rice) and the like as well as finishing off the last of the Swedish chard.  Daughter loves my sister in law’s kofte (I call them balls) made from couscous and because they are so simple I thought I would take a crack at it myself and you know what?  It really was that easy.

To start I made the couscous.  I used 3 cay cups of bulgur and 1 cup of warm water and then put it aside.  I would say that was the equivalent to 1 metric cup of coucous.

My sister in law’s recipe calls for a couple of large bunches (2) of maydanoz (parsley) and one large bunch of nane (mint).  I chopped them up quite finely and then put them aside.  I also boiled two potatoes and left them to cool.

I think the important part of the dish is the sauce.  A good serving of vegetable oil along with two soğan (onion) kimyon (cumin) for taste, and my mother in law’s chilli paste which we made last spring.  Once all are in the pot I left them to simmer for a good 15 minutes.  I added sarimsak (garlic) into my recipe (I add garlic into everything).  My sister in law was horrified but I don’t think it took away any of the flavour in fact I think it probably made it richer.

Once that sauce has simmered I add the maydanoz and nane and mix it well while it was still on the stove.  The aroma was sensational (I think it was adding the garlic).  I was feeling pretty good at this point, nothing was going to stop this from being a success.

Now it was down to mixing all the ingredients together.  It was hot and messy work and it took some time to ensure that everything did mix sufficiently well.  Once mixed I rolled them into balls and threw them on a plate. 

I had kept a small amount of the sauce aside and added some chilli powder and put it on top to finish the dish.  With a Turkish salad dinner was served. 

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To finish off this post I just want to say that my father in law (famous or infamous for hating my cooking) ate a huge plate and gave me the two thumbs up.  Progress!

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Turkish High Tea

The first thing you need to know about Turkey is that Turkish people love their cay (tea).  Man or woman they have their own distinct way of enjoying a cay and whether you drink it or not you are going to learn to love it.

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The men can usually be found in a cay evi or tea house where they play cards, argue about futbol or politics and hide from their wives all the while drinking copious amounts of cay.  The women are usually too busy to spend their day in a cay evi as they have their chores around the home but once those chores are finished they can often be found getting together for a good gossip, cay and something delicious to nibble on.

On Monday I was informed that the neighbouring ladies wished to come to my house for gün.

Gün means day but it also has another meaning that you may not be so familar with. It is also the word for a home visit, where women visit one particular friend and eat pastries and drink cay. It is a very traditional custom here in the Village and it seemed it was going to be my turn next.

I kid you not when I tell you I almost shat myself at the idea.  Putting aside the fact that I don’t speak anywhere near enough Turkish to hold a social gathering I also make really crap cay.  The Turk arranged for my sister in law Songul to come and help host the get together (thankfully) so all I had to do was show up (and provide my home).

Thursday afternoon was chosen and sure enough at 1 pm my doorbell was ringing off the hook.  The Turk sensibly excused himself as soon as the first neighbour arrived and before I knew it there were 12 Turkish ladies from new mothers to a great, great grandmother arriving for cay and a good gossip.

As each lady arrived she handed over a plate of sweets or cakes and these were added to the biscuits I had purchased from the patisserie that morning along.  My kitchen was overflowing with food!

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Of course I had no idea what was going on most of the time and was so thankful that Songul was there to host the event.  I spent most of my time handing out kahve and cay, ensuring that everyone had enough to eat, giving tours of my home (as most of them had not been before and giving them something to gossip about next time they get together) and chasing My Hurley Dog away from the teyze (aunt) who was allergic to dogs.  I listened as they talked about their husbands, babies, neighbours, me, The Turk and just about anything else they could possibly gossip about.

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By 4:30 pm it was time for the ladies to be on their way as they needed to go and start dinner for their husbands, children, family, neighbour, friends, visitors, etc.  A final round of cay was drunk along with pieces of Turkish Delight before the ladies started for the door.  Lots of kisses and invites for visits before I could throw myself on the couch and process the afternoon.  It seems I now have to go and visit each of them and thank them for coming and have cay with them.  This Turkish socialising is exhausting.

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Nighttime snack in Adana

The Turk and I went to Adana recently to watch a band.  I cannot remember the name of the band, it was a pretty OK band, but for the point of this story the band is irrelevant.  As we left The Turk suggested a quick meal before we trek back to Mersin.  I nodded and pictured an Adana Kebab with all the trimmings.  Yummo.  It’s probably the Turkish equivalent to stopping by Harry’s after a big night out in Sydney.

We walked for a couple of minutes before stopping at a likely looking little Esnaf Lokanta.  It was packed.  Ever table in the lokanta was full.  There were people sitting in the gutter eating from plastic containers and people in the park across the street enjoying a little outdoor picnic.  Yes this place definitely looks good plus I was starving so when The Turk pointed out a couple leaving in the corner I raced for a seat.  I was happily perusing the menu when The Turk started to get extremely excited.  He waved over a waiter ordered me a Kebab and then ordered something I had never heard of before – Şirdan

Our meals were placed before us and after one glance of The Turk’s dish I literally wanted to upchuck!  I didn’t have a camera with me so I had to google to get a suitable one (thank you tour gordon).  Get a gander at this.  Şirdan is either sheep or cow stomach stuffed with meat and rice.  Cooked up in a large pot and then served with cumin and pepper it is a delicacy here in Adana.  Had The Turk looked up from his dish of repulsion he would have seen I had turned a wicked shade of green – I had had too many red wines to watch him chow down on this particular meal.  I decided to wait outside breathing in the fresh air rather than the pungent smell of cooked intestine. 

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Where is Macca’s when you need it?

Mix in a little Indian

Back in Sydney The Turk was a bit of a chef.  His pizza was legendary.  His BBQ’s were famous from Palm Beach to Penrith and his Turkish food was spectacular.  Since arriving in his homeland I hate to say it but he has become slack in his culinary efforts and has basically left it to me to do the cooking and remember I have said it before – I can’t cook!

When we packed up our lives to move here I slipped a couple of extras items into the moving boxes.  2 jars of Pataks Butter Chicken paste, 2 jars of Tandori paste and 2 boxes of pappadums.  I knew I would not be getting any Indian food in Turkey.  We went through those curry pastes pretty quickly and sadly found ourselves returning to Turkish cuisine.  Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?  I love Turkish food but here it is just food.  There are foods from home, foods that are uniquely Sydney that I craved.  Pub lunches – I craved these.  Bacon – well of course I craved bacon.  Sunday night pizza.  BBQ’s on a hot summer night.  Manly Italian with the girls.  Indian banquets with Carls and Tracy.  Damn but I drooled over those curry pastes.

While rummaging through the pantry the other night I found a jar of Pataks paste that hadn’t been opened!  A forgotten jar of Butter Chicken curry paste!  I nearly pee’d my pants I was so excited and, yes, we had Butter Chicken that night for dinner (with yogurt instead of cream).  I made a Garlic Naan (of sorts) using Pide bread, Indian onion salad (no coriander) and cucumber raita.  No pappadums sadly and of course it is a curry paste not real curry but after not having had Indian since September at my favourite Indian Restaurant in Epping my kitchen smelled divine, my tastebuds were excited and I was in foodie heaven.

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I have to say I offered my curry extravaganza to all my Turkish relo’s but none would partake.  They looked, sniffed and screwed up their noses left, right and centre.  Excellent – more for me!

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