Twitter is a great place to plan new adventures. I first realised it when I came across a tweet raving about Notting Hill’s Lisboa Patisserie; I have then gone on to challenge my baking skills on World Baking Day, and participate in the contest that would help me get to Food Blogger Connect 5. Today I have one more addition to the list of discoveries, as it was thanks to awesome blogger and tweeter Leyla that I found out about the Turkish Fest at South Bank.
Stuck in my living room on a Saturday, writing college coursework on an afternoon that called for picnics and sunbathing in the park, I immediately thought the news was weekend-changing material. And so it was that, the next day, my partner and I set off for Bernie Spain Garden at lunchtime, still happily unaware of the rain showers that would threaten to ruin our day. Thank goodness the trees in the park had such thick foliage, we didn’t catch a drop!
All was very colourful, lively, pleasantly rowdy. There was music, including a hilarious cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive”, with Turkish vocals (!). There were dancers, a few stalls selling costume jewellery, gadgets and secondhand stuff, and later in the afternoon, a demonstration against Turkish president Erdogan took place as well.
But who am I kidding? Of course we were there for the food, to which the vast majority of the stalls was dedicated. And our eyes opened wide with marvel as soon as we spotted a group of women preparing gozleme.
Every time we go to Brick Lane Market on Sundays, we leave home with the firm resolution to try something different than gozleme – and fail. Our resolve starts wavering while we wander through the labyrinth of samey, greasy Chinese stalls in the Sunday Upmarket space; finally, it’s always at the Middle East Fusion stall at Boiler House that we end up, caving in to the hunger for yet another delicious gozleme. I can’t describe its dough with any of the familiar notions of “bread”, “wrap”, “shortcrust” or “puff pastry”: none of them does justice to the soft dough that encases the potato or spinach filling. And although butter’s the arch-enemy of my Healthy Eater Conscience, I manage not to wince every time the cooks brush a generous helping of it on the surface. I’ll happily bear it, for the love of gozleme.
With such an array of delicious food on offer, however, we couldn’t just stick to the usual once again. Instead we went for lahmacun, also known as Turkish Pizza. Now that I tried it, I wonder why lahmacun needs a westernised name that compares it to something so different: the taste, recipe and texture of the two dishes couldn’t resemble each other less. Pizza doesn’t need any more counterfeits, and neither does lahmacun.
Cooked over a grill, our lahmacun came rolled like a wrap. The taste of spicy minced lamb was pleasantly unusual, and matched the thin, crispy crust really well. I had always wondered what the foreign “L” word on the windows of Turkish takeaways was all about, and I’m now really glad I know, although it took two years to find out.
Lamb kofte (or: the patties you can see in the bottom right corner of the picture, behind that lovely sign) were our next experiment. Having to eat them cold came as a slight surprise: I was hoping they’d be served hot, but little did it matter, as the taste was excellent. The second surprise was the texture: while I had expected something like Middle-Eastern kibbeh, I found they are quite firm, with a soft core of lamb meat. My partner thought the taste was too bland, but I don’t share his view: it only took a little sprinkle of lemon juice to make my taste buds really happy.
Last came dessert. A stall dedicated to baklavas was set up at the entrance of the park, and as the cheeky baklava fiends that we are, we had been eyeing it up right from the beginning. It was with extreme delight that we bagged five baklavas to take away, eagerly awaiting the moment we’d finally have them at home. Until that moment arrived, and…ouch. They weren’t nearly as good as we were expecting.
I like my baklavas sweet and firm, with a definite nutty taste. These were soggy, and tasted of nothing but oil. No hints of honey or pistachio, no crunchy filo pastry. It felt a bit like swallowing olive oil by the spoonful; nevertheless, I felt happier to have tried the baklavas, than to not have bought them and forever craved them. Much as with all other things in life, the only sure way to screw up with food is to not try it at all.
Although I’m sad that this Turkish food feast is over, in a city such as London there’s no reason why I can’t go out for more. I’m not familiar with any Turkish restaurants or cafes here, but I’m sure you have some ideas, so drop me a line and send me your recommendations: do you know any places worth trying?