Eating Modestly: Working Man’s Restaurants

With a history going back hundreds of years, turkey’s working man’s restaurants are starting to attract more and more tourists as well as locals.

Consisting of stews and other pot dishes cooked fresh daily at establishments that are the opposite of ostentatious, working man’s restaurant menus with their seasonal ingredients are the authentic folk food. Thanks to this seasonality, working man’s and folk dishes exhibit a vast gastronomical richness. Frequented mainly at lunchtime by working people and shopkeepers in the neighborhoods where they are located, these venues offer freshness as well as attractive prices. Indeed working man’s restaurants have no choice but to be fresh and economical if they want to retain their regular clientele. Consequently, reasonably-priced vegetables in season are the staples of their menu, which naturally squares very well with today’s emphasis on healthy eating.

A look at 19th and early 20th century sources in Turkey reveals a very advanced cuisine and high level of gastronomical pleasure in these lands. It is heartwarming to see that this culinary tradition lives on today in the old working man’s restaurants that make and serve Istanbul’s folk food. The perception of food as an integral whole comprised of social, aesthetic and health values has undergone a quantum leap since the decade of the nineties. What is important now is that the presentation of working man’s and folk dishes, which combine taste with healthiness, be brought up to international standards of quality so that traditional Turkish cuisine can enjoy the global awareness and demand it deserves.

BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

Ingredıents:
5 lamb shanks,
50 g shallots,
200 g potatoes, peeled, 100 g carrots, peeled, 3 g salt, juice of one lemon.

Preparation:
Wash the lamb shanks and place in a pot. Cover with boiling water and cook for about an hour and a half over medium heat. When the meat is tender, add the carrots, When the carrots start to cook, add the potatoes and shallots. Add the lemon juice and the heat. Serve hot.

GREEN MELON SOUP

Ingredıents:
2 unripe melons (‘kelek’), 1 onion, 100 g chickpeas, 100 g wheat, 100 g ‘süzme’ (strained) yoghurt, 20 g butter, 3 g salt, juice of one lemon.

Preparation:
Soak the wheat and chickpeas overnight. Chop the melons. Saute the onion in a pot with the olive oil. Add the melon and saute for another minute or two. Cover with water and boil. As the soup boils, add the chickpeas, wheat and salt and continue cooking. In a separate bowl, mix the yoghurt with the flour, lemon juice and half a cup of water. Add this mixture slowly to the cooking soup, stirring well. Bring back to a boil, then remove from the heat. Serve hot.

‘SPLIT BELLY’ BAKED EGGPLANT

Ingredıents:
5 long, thin eggplants,
200 g ground beef,
1 medium onion, finely chopped, 1 tomato, peeled and finely chopped, 2 mild Charleston peppers, finely chopped, 50 g olive oil,
10 g pepper paste, 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped, 3 g salt.

Preparation:
Place the onion and garlic in a pot with the olive oil and saute. Add the ground beef and continue sauteing. Add the tomatoes and Charleston pepper and saute three more minutes; then add the pepper paste, salt and water and boil for 10 more minutes. Peel the eggplant in strips and fry in red-hot oil. Arrange the fried eggplants on a baking sheet. Using a spoon, press down the centers and fill with the ground beef mixture. Cover each eggplant with a slice each of tomato and pepper and bake for 15 minutes in a 170° C. oven.

GREEN TOMATO SOUP

Ingredıents:
1 kg green tomatoes, 1 onion, 100 g chickpeas, 100 g wheat, 100 g ‘süzme’ (strained) yoghurt, 20 g flour, 200 g butter, 3 g salt, juice of one lemon.

Preparation:
Soak the wheat and chickpeas overnight. Chop the green tomatoes. Saute the onion in a pot with the olive oil. Add the tomatoes and saute for another minute or two. Cover with water and boil. As the soup boils, add the chickpeas, wheat and salt and continue cooking. In a separate bowl, mix the yoghurt with the flour, lemon juice and half a cup of water. Add this mixture slowly to the cooking soup, stirring well. Bring back to a boil, then remove from the heat. Serve hot.