Jacki and I met Jeremy in April when we went to the Coachella Music & Arts Festival. We immediately bonded over our mutual love for food and have stayed in touch ever since. Jeremy is currently living the dream on a Mediterranean Eurotrip and had a life changing food experience in Turkey he wanted to share with you all. Enjoy!
I damn near died last week, and the culprit was a savory, sweet, crunchy, gooey and scolding hot desert by the name of Künefe.
This shredded and fried dough stuffed with cheese, bathed in syrup then topped with cream and sprinkled with pistachio, was the mastermind of the attempt on my life, but evidence suggests he did not act alone. As a matter of fact, I’m sure that in the days leading up to this climactic attempt, Künefe’s food minions came after me, and came after me hard. In order to understand what went down that day, we should start from the beginning…
Before arriving in Istanbul, I knew that the food was going to be a killer, but I did not have the faintest idea just how much of a factor cheese would be. From the get go, my friend and host, Asli, who was born and raised in these parts, constantly mentioned my need to try a number of foods, Künefe being one of the best. I had little sense of exactly what this item consisted of, but there were constant hints thrown my way throughout the week. It began with my very first breakfast, a record of which can be found below:
Almost every meal during my stay consisted of copious amounts of cheese. Later that day while in various markets and bazaars, cheese and other tasty treats would continue to tempt me, and more often than not I’d succumb to their advances. Have you ever seen this much cheese in your life, let alone in one place?
Since it was only my first day in town, and I was feeling cheesed out from that morning’s meal, I managed to avoid sampling the above at the Egyptian Bazaar. When it came to the Baklava a few stalls down, my will power didn’t quite hold.
My host and her friend helped a little, but I was forced to take on the bulk of the damage with these sweet assassins above. Rushing to the Baklava I neglected to mention the stalls upon stalls of Turkish delight beforehand (the fancy kind with nuts and all). I didn’t only sample “a little” but a little of this stuff goes a long way.
Throughout this stroll, Asli kept hyping my eventual intro to Künefe. I still had no idea what I’d be in for in just a few short days, after loads of cheese, filo and other dangerous foodstuffs would make me an easy target for Künefe’s crosshairs. All of these early hits on my willpower made my eyes significantly bigger than my stomach. So much so that on the ferry back that night, I succumbed to this powder mixed with milk and topped with the cinnamon joy that is Sahlep.
As the next few days passed, there were less signs of Künefe’s handiwork. This had to have been intentional, an attack and retreat strategy if you will. It was on the fourth day, after an impromptu Kebab second lunch that Asli insisted that I try some deserts. After all, it was my second to last day in town, and there were far too many Turkish delicacies left and so little time. We arrived at the scene of the attempted crime, Saray Muhallebicisi, in the hustling and bustling Taksim area of Istanbul.
I was taunted from the front display by my old friend (or so I thought) Baklava. Upon sitting, Künefe again waited in the wings as the appetizer Tavuk Göğsü, a difficult to explain dessert that is made with CHICKEN BREAST…?!? Which has been boiled and shredded oh so finely or even pounded into a powder, then mixed with milk, sugar, cracked rice and cinnamon or some other sweet flavoring. Despite being good and full from that Turkish delight, Künefe arrived shortly thereafter.
I was so entranced at first that I spent a good minute photographing it. Even with the slight delay, the first bite nearly burned me as the hot syrup dripped onto the table and my face. I had to collect myself before diving back in, at which point I got my first taste of the sweet savory cheesy bready goodness. It tasted like baked brie, a personal favorite of mine, but amplified times a GAZILLION. Despite splitting the deadly dish, a few bites in I quickly began to feel the effects. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, as the cream and sugar and bread and cheese descended upon me to a point where I felt I was covered in all of its contents and was being carted off to the oven by an eager chef. A short exhausted walk, an eternal ferry ride and an excruciating stop at the cheese store later I could only manage soup and salad for dinner.
The next day, significantly less was eaten. I had at least won this battle in the war against cheesy Turkish desert goodness. That night (my last in Istanbul) I found myself passing by the scene of the crime, slightly drunk and triumphant, yet I did not give in to Künefe again (though I did give in to some delicious Doner).
I have to thank my host for keeping Künefe at bay for as long as she did, because if we had met only a few days earlier, I fear that repeat eatings would have sealed my fate. One day Künefe will rear it’s ugly (yet beautiful) head once again, and I can only hope I’ll be up for the challenge.