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The aubergine story
2002 / FEBRUARY

The aubergine is described both as the shah of vegetables and the meat of the poor, since due to its flavour and versatility it is the vegetable prized above all others in Turkish cuisine. Particularly in the summer months its privileged status is unrivalled, both in regional cooking and in the haute cuisine of the cities. Nearly two hundred different dishes, including pickles and even jam, are made from aubergines. In the past when the aubergine season arrived the constant frying and broiling of aubergines was held responsible for many of the fires which spread through Istanbul's neighbourhoods of wooden houses like a whirlwind in dry weather, and edicts were issued forbidding aubergines to be brought into Istanbul for sale.

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The aubergine story
2002 / FEBRUARY

India is generally thought to be the original homeland of the aubergine, which is an annual herbaceous plant in temperate climes and a perennial in tropical regions. There are scores of cultivated varieties, the most common grown in Turkey being the kemer patlican which is curved and slender in shape, 20 cm long, dark purple in colour and has few seeds; the Halkapinar patlican, which tapers to a point, is not as glossy, and has soft flesh; the bostan patlican, which is globular, either dark purple or mottled, and firm-fleshed; and the kirmasti patlican, which is 12-17 cm in length and dark purple.

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The aubergine story
2002 / FEBRUARY
Less common varieties are the Manisa or Aydin patlican which is 35-50 cm in length, the arsin patlican, which is a gigantic 70-80 cm, and the white aubergine recently introduced from America and grown under glass. Aubergines are widely grown and consumed in Turkey, annual consumption being around 16 kilos per capita, second only to tomatoes. Large numbers of aubergine recipes are to be found in old cookery books, and the vegetable also figures in numerous proverbs and sayings, such as 'A bitter aubergine does not get frostbitten' and 'Everybody's life is precious, but is mine an aubergine?' Riddles about aubergines include 'Short and plump with velvet pants,' 'In a red cloak with green earrings, whoever does not recognise me is a donkey,' and 'Wearing an apron in front, a cap on its head, a purple robe and a green kaftan.'
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The aubergine story
2002 / FEBRUARY

Medical history is also full of references to aubergines, which were used to treat poor appetite, indigestion, clogged arteries, haemorrhoids, eye diseases and melancholy.

Turkey's Aegean, Mediterranean and southeast Anatolian cuisines are where aubergine dishes reign supreme, and in the province of Gaziantep in southeast Anatolia aubergine dishes almost form a cuisine of their own, outdoing even the ubiquitous tomato in levels of consumption. So that this favourite vegetable is available at every time of year, aubergines are dried for winter use, and strings of aubergines like purple necklaces can be seen hung on house walls throughout the province. Before drying they are either cut in half and hollowed out for stuffing, or cut into cubes for other dishes.

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The aubergine story
2002 / FEBRUARY
The cut-out flesh and green sepals are also dried and used to make two dishes peculiar to Gaziantep known as börk asi and micirik asi. At weddings an aubergine dish known as dograma or patlican pastirmasi is the crowning touch of the banquet, and balcan kebabi and the famous ali nazik are two other special occasion dishes featuring aubergines. Ali nazik is the symbol of Gaziantep cuisine, and described as a miracle in a ballad by the folk minstrel Rakkuş Baci: 'Ali nazik is a miracle that glides without swallowing / The palate is entranced and the lips are licked by the tongue.'
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The aubergine story
2002 / FEBRUARY

The dish known as sikilmihsi (a corruption of seyh'l-muhsi, meaning the wise man of stuffed food) which is recorded in an 18th-century cookery book, and all the many other distinctive aubergine dishes are the pride of Gaziantep cuisine.

* Ömer Faruk Serifoglu is a freelance writer.

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