Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dinner Abroad.

Traveller’s responses to the food they come across in far off lands are always interesting – and often they reveal as much about the writer as about the food and dishes being described. Many, or perhaps most, European travellers of the nineteenth century seemed to find it impossible to compare favourably the food which was graciously provided by their generous foreign hosts, with that of their homeland. Worse, most seemed incapable of actually enjoying the experience – the only value of the meals appearing to be in their story value after they returned home. Funny people, foreigners, what?

How about the attitude of the writer who attended this magnificently fragrant Moroccan feast, which he (I am assuming it was a 'he') described in the New York Times in 1880:

A Feast in Morocco.
We seated ourselves, and were served at once. Twenty-eight dishes, without counting the sweets! Twenty-eight immense dishes, every one of which would have been enough for twenty people, of all forms, odors, and flavours; monstrous pieces of mutton on the split [sic], chickens (with pomatum), game (with cold cream,) fish (with cosmetics,) livers, puddings, vegetables, eggs, salads, all with the same dreadful combinations, suggestive of the barber’s shop; sweetmeats, every mouthful of which was enough to purge a man of any crime he had ever committed; and with all this, large glasses of water, into which we squeezed lemons that we had brought in our pockets, then a cup of tea, sweetened to syrup; and finally, an irruption of servants, who deluged the tables, the walls, and ourselves with rose-water. - Morocco de Amicis.

Not all travellers were quite so crass however. Compare this Moroccan feast story with the more considered, kind, and informative report of Mr. Charles White, Esq, who visited Constantinople (Istanbul) in the 1840’s, and wrote of his stay there in Three Years in Constantinople; or, Domestic Manners of the Turks in 1844. He says:

‘Turkish culinary productions are numerous and diversified’, and that ‘the culinary art in Turkey varies, as it does elsewhere, according to the fortune and taste of its patrons.’ He describes the ingredients and the cooking and serving methods of the kabâbs, pilafs, dolmas, and other dishes he comes across, with obvious care and interest. Here are his words on dolmas:

Dolmas are of fifty kinds. They consist of minced or forced meat, rice, vegetables, or other well-seasoned substances, stuffed into young pumpkins or melons, or enveloped with lettuce, vine, or cabbage leaves. The most popular are those made of young green pumpkins. Their frequent use for this purpose has caused them to be called dolma, where the true meaning of this word signifies any substance cut into minute particles, as well as earth employed to fill up excavations. Thus the palace of Dolma Baghtshy, as justly remarked by the learned Dr.Reumont, derives its name from a portion of the valley being filled up with earth for garden ground.

He also describes a typical meal in a well-to-do family:

The following specimen of a bill of fare may be taken as a criterion of the dinners given, and the order in which they are served, to six or eight guests, in families of superior station. The dishes therein specified are also met with in the houses of the most wealthy, whose repasts merely differ in the quantity contained in each dish, with some additions tedious to enumerate.

Bill of Fare of Turkish Dinner for eight or ten persons.
Chehrya tchorbassy (town soup), mutton, vermicelli, eggs, and vinegar.
Ormau kabâby (lamb roasted whole).
Poof-beurighy (cheese puffs)
Nohoot yanissy (fricassee) of fowl and young peas.
Yernik halvassy, a sweet mixture made of semolina, butter, and fresh honey.
Yaprak or lany dolmassy (dolmas), rolled in cabbage leaves, or stuffed into other vegetable substances.
Elmassya (the diamond), calves foot jelly sweetened.
Katayif (the velvety) a sort of pancake made of flour, eggs, and butter, having cream or sweet vermicelli inside.
Assyda, a paste of semolina, garnished with bahmias, and stewed in rich sauce.
Gulatch (the rose dish), a kind of cream, thickened with fine starch and scented with rose water.
Zerdeh pilaf (the golden pilaf)
Khosh-âb (the agreeable water).

As the recipe for the day, I give you a genuine nineteenth century Turkish recipe for ‘dolmas’ made with vegetable marrow. It is from the absolutely delightful Turkish Cookery Book, compiled by Turabi Effendi in 1862.


Piyāzli-Kabak.
Peel very thin seven or eight small-sized vegetable marrows, and take out the insides; then stuff them with some nice cheese, grated and mixed with one or two tablespoonfuls of chopped parsley, and half a tablespoonful of mint chopped; then beat up three or four eggs, in which dip the vegetable marrows, and fry them a nice brown in hot fresh butter; then take them out and place them in a stewpan, cover them with broth, set the pan on a charcoal fire and let it boil gently, until the liquor is nearly absorbed; then dish up and serve.


Quotation for the Day.
There are a lot of people who must have the dinner table laid in the usual fashion or they will not enjoy the dinner.
Christopher Morley.

1 comment:

The InTolerant Chef said...

My sister lives in Turkey and this is still the type of dish that is typical for a family meal.