Friday, March 14, 2014

Cafe Uno turns Turkish and how!

-Shivani Mohan

The Turkish Food Festival at the All Day Dining restaurant, Cafe Uno, at Shangri-La’s - Eros Hotel, New Delhi presents Chef Gazi Ciftci from Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul, an enchanting retreat in the capital of empires to delight the gastronomes of Delhi with his tantalizing Turkish creations. 

The festival that started on March 7  is on till March 16, 2014 during dinner from 1900 hrs -2300 hrs. So you have 3 more nights to savour this exotic fare in the form of a lavish buffet dinner.

Chef Gazi Ciftci from Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul

Chef Gazi Ciftci who went to Culinary school at the young age of 12, has a deep understanding of traditional Turkish food. He agrees that it is a lot similar to Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisines that Indians are more familiar with. As part of the ancient Ottoman empire, the neighbouring states had similar cuisines. But he emphasises that Turkish food is also not  just about doner kebabs and shawarma. Those are what one would call street food or snacky food. But he specialises in serving Turkish food the traditional way which is an elaborate course-wise meal.

Turkish Mezze

Turkish cuisine is largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine, which can be described as a fusion and refinement of Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines.

Turkish cuisine has in turn influenced those and other neighbouring cuisines, including those of Western Europe. The Ottomans fused various culinary traditions of their realm with influences from Middle Eastern cuisines, along with traditional Turkic elements from Central Asia (such as yogurt), creating a vast array of specialities—many with strong regional associations. Turkish cuisine varies across the country. 

I ask Chef Gazi if there are any well defined regions as far as Turkish food goes? He says there are almost 81 small cities in Turkey and each city has a distinct style or flavour even though the ingredients may be same. However he categorised broadly that the west prefers very light, bland food while the east of Turkey prefers hot and spicy kebabs.

The cooking of Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir, and rest of the Aegean region inherits many elements of Ottoman court cuisine, with a lighter use of spices, a preference for rice over bulgur, koftes and a wider availability of vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, cucumber and leafy vegetables in the form of stuffed dolmas and fish. 

The cuisine of the Black Sea Region uses fish extensively, especially the Black Sea anchovy (hamsi), has been influenced by Balkan and Slavic cuisine, and includes maize dishes. The cuisine of the southeast—Urfa, Gaziantep and Adana—is famous for its kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts such as baklava, kadayıf and künefe (kanafeh). The western parts of Turkey, where olive trees grow abundantly, olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking.

The buffet spread at Cafe Uno looks alluring and very attractive with bright blue tiled motifs all around. There are beautiful blue pottery plates adorning the walls and blue eye symbols that are meant to ward off evil spirits. I am reminded of Isfahan of years ago.

The Turkish salads are refreshing and use a lot of fresh vegetables we are familiar with. There is a lot of hung curd with assorted flavourings and ingredients such as fresh herbs and carrot. The cracked wheat salad is full of flavour and delicacy.
Turkish Yogurt Soup

For soup there is a very home-style yoghurt soup which is thickened with rice and some herbs. It gives me an after taste of Indian kadhi without the turmeric. There are Turkish style skewers that you can get grilled on order with a selection of prawn, chicken, lamb and tenderloin.
Lamb with Eggplant-Yin &Yang
Fish in clear sauce
In the main course, there is a delicate blanched fish in a thin, clear sauce, a robust chicken preparation with peppers. There is a lamb dish served on a bed of eggplant puree that reminds me of Mousakka but has some of it's own unique interludes. The roast tender loin looks well cooked. The good part is that if you are not a very adventurous eater, there is a sumptuous Indian and continental selection on the side so that you can take solace in familiar tastes if at all your Turkish discovery does not go as you expected, although there are very rare chances of that.

Sutlac-Turkish Rice Pudding


Turkish Pide

But the desserts are simply breathtaking. The Baklava has layers of mystery and wholesomeness. I suggest you go easy on the main course just to nibble langorously at one whole piece of this divine Baklava. The Sutlac or Turkish Rice Pudding is like our kheer, only it comes with a Creme Brulee like caramelised topping. A perfect East meets West dessert that defines Turkish cuisine. There is even a Pumpkin dessert, very low on sugar and tender (perfect for diabetics, but I am intrigued by how beautifully they have used pumpkin in a dessert)!
Yellow Pumpkin Dessert

The dainty Turkish tea-coffee counter
I am feeling sinful and sleepy. I have to drive back home. Aaah! There's help at hand. Steaming hot freshly made Turkish tea and coffee is available. The tea-coffee service is dainty and exquisite with alluring aromas wafting one part of the coffee shop. I want to sample both and decide what I want. Both are traditionally taken black, without any milk or sugar. The tea is delicate and mild while the coffee is as strong as they come and could wake up a hungover person in one sip. Needless to say I settle for the tea!

Dinner Buffet  is priced at Rs 2100+taxes per person. Children can enjoy the meal at Rs 1200+ taxes.

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