We spoke to Vildan, our new Turkish cook, about her upbringing in a small fisher village, how she used to tease her granny and the welcoming Turkish culture:
Vildan pictured below
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Adana, Turkey, and grew up in Mersin. Mersin is a small town in Southern Turkey, a fisher village. Now Turkey's largest seaport is there, and Mersin is known as the "Pearl of the Mediterranean". I was a very naughty girl growing up, playing on the street, running after the horse carriages. We had a great time.
We grew up around a range of different cultures, backgrounds, and religious beliefs, we had Muslims, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Alevi, Turks, Arabs, Kurds, who all brought their own culture to this small village.
What's your earliest memory of food?
We had simple food. As we did not have much money, we usually had rice and bulgur because they were the cheapest. That’s what we grew up on, grains and pulses. It is funny because they are very expensive now.
My granny used to make Sarmisakli Kofte (Bulgur kofte with garlic-tomato sauce), she'd roll it into little balls, and we would just go taste them before they were cooked. She used to get upset -it was a good time, and we have great memories teasing my granny.
Vildan's mother and father pictured below
How about cooking?
I was always in the kitchen with my mother (above) and my grannies who would come and stay with us. We didn't have TVs then, we had conversation. While they were cooking, I was listening to their stories, chatting to them, and just observing. I used to help them with the preparations and the many little kitchen jobs that always seemed to need doing. Everything they cooked tasted just like heaven.
What did you learn from your grannies?
There's a dish called Meyhane Pilau, pub-style pilaf. In the olden days, only men used to go to the pub, only they were allowed. They would go to meyhane (pub) for a drink. Most of time, the pub owner cooked this simple, filling, and delicious Meyhane Pillav for customers, or they would come home and cook. This was like a tradition in Turkey, just like here in Britain people get chips after drinking.
Why are you teaching your recipes?
When people talk about Turkish food, they only talk about kebabs. I want to show people it's more than that. Traditional Turkish foods rely less on seasonings and more on tasty fresh ingredients rolled, kneaded, shaped, and cooked to perfection with care, dedication, and passion.
My mummy always used to say, “Greet your guests and friends always with a warm smile, make them welcome and feel they are a part of our extended family.” Sharing the food we love triggers memories and allows us to share our family stories and culture. Entertaining is a big part of Turkish culture, and food is part of what brings everyone together. I'm excited to share my vegetarian and vegan recipes!
Celebrating Vildan's mother's 80th pictured below
What is traditional Turkish food?
Turkish cuisine is generally not spicy (though this varies throughout the seven regions). Seasonings and sauces, although frequently used, are simple and light and do not overpower the food's natural taste. Generally, food is spicier and richer the further south and east you travel, whilst in the west, olive oil, seafood, and vegetable dishes are more prevalent.
The most popular seasonings are dill, mint, parsley, cinnamon, garlic, cumin, and sumac (lemon-flavored red berries of the sumac tree). Yogurt is often used to complement both meat and vegetable dishes.
How does Turkish food vary throughout the regions?
The food culture differs from region to region; Eastern Anatolia, Southeastern Anatolia, Central Anatolian the Black Sea, Marmara, Aegean, and the Mediterranean have their own particular food culture.
Turks have a big diversity of vegetables and this reflects in the dishes. One very important detail about Turkish dishes is whether they have meat in them or not. If a dish is cooked without any kind of meat then it is called zeytin yağlı — meaning cooked with olive oil. These days everything is cooked in olive oil.
Soup has a special place in the Turkish diet and is drunk at any time of day.
Once I had my own kitchen my passion for cooking really grew. In particular, I love cooking “zeytinyagli yemegi” – simple vegetarian dishes cooked in olive oil. Dolma (stuffed vegetables such as peppers), aubergine dips, lentil koftes, salads, dips, mezes, and mains using vegetables, pulses.