The Backpack Foodie Hits Turkey
I recently had the chance to meet Daniel Roy, a disillusioned video game maker from Canada who is currently traveling around the world, trying to find the nexus where slow food meets slow travel. He is blogging about his culinary experiences over at his blog, called The Backpack Foodie.
Daniel and I had a breakfast of kaymak (clotted cream) and honey the other day at the famous shop of Pando in the market of Istanbul's Besiktas neighborhood, where we talked about his travels and his impressions of Turkish food culture. Here are his answers to some questions:
1. Why did you decide to launch Backpack Foodie?
I created The Backpack Foodie at the onset of my one-year trip around the world. I love food whether I'm at home or on the road, and I always felt food was one of the most vivid and important experiences I had wherever I traveled. The real reason I created this blog was to write about people, and culture, in a way that was neither patronizing nor filled with traveling clichés. Food was the perfect excuse.
2. What is the blog's approach to food culture?
Food for me is the clearest, most vivid expression of a culture. Food is the result of a people's geography, their history, and their cultural and religious experiences. Sharing a meal is one of the most intimate experiences there is: you sit around a table and engage in one of the most crucial practices required for your survival. And eating someone else's food is an act of great vulnerability: you are placing in your mouth ingredients that you don't know, and trusting your host with providing a pleasant experience which won't make you ill. So food is very intimate.
My writing and pictures reflect that. I want to talk about the real food: not the spectacular reinventions of top chefs, but the color of people's lives. I want to know about the cup of tea they drink before going to work, or the lunch they grab as they relax at midday.
3. Where do you think food culture fits into the larger picture of how a society operates?
Food is a culture's DNA. To taste someone else's food is to understand the flavor of their lives. By visiting markets, eating in popular restaurants, or sitting down at a person's home, you experience the one great equalizing fact on Earth: that we are all humans who not only need to eat, but enjoy the experience.
4. What have been your impressions of Turkey's food culture?
I knew Turkey was a great food culture, but I had no idea to which degree food permeated daily life. I have joined the ranks of those who harp on about how great Turkish food is!
For instance, I love meyhanes.I love how mezes and raki are not just a meal experience, but a social experience where dishes are shared and alcohol unties tongues. That is, to me, profoundly civilized and cheerful.
I also love Istanbul's great seafood culture. For me, the balik ekmek, and the stuffed mussels, are signs of just how genuine this culture is: you don't see seafood served in such an unpretentious way unless it's truly an aspect of the local food scene. And it doesn't get any less pretentious than mussels on the sidewalk!
5. How does Turkey's food culture compare to some of the other places you've been to?
My one-year trip has taken me through Southeast Asia and India, to Turkey and the Middle East. So one special vantage point I enjoy is watching how food (and culture) is a continuum, rather than distinct parts.
In this respect, I love Turkish food for the way it stands at the junction of so many great food cultures: India to the east, with Asian influences beyond; the Arabic and/or Muslim influences in the meat, the bread, the dairy. Yet everything is uniquely Turk, and prepared with great care. The Turks are right to be proud of their food!
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