At elementary school, our year-end performances would often be based on these popular shows. Rehearsed by our music and drama teachers, we performed our own versions of “Annie,” “The Sound of Music,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Oliver.”
Few from my generation can witness someone asking for a second helping without the verse of “Oliver, Oliver, never before did a boy ask for more” going through their head. Many of us can still recite some of the delicious delights the poor workhouse boys dream of in “Food, glorious food” (Hot sausage and mustard! While we’re in the mood -- Cold jelly and custard! Pease pudding and saveloy!).
But it is not these songs from Lionel Bart’s wonderful musical adaptation of Dickens that come to mind when I walk around İstanbul and see the amazing range of food for sale from roadside stalls, kiosks, wheelbarrows, handcarts, trays and even small boats. When I hear the winter drink boza seller calling up and down the neighborhood, when I see the sweetcorn seller by the ferry calling out “corn, fresh corn,” when I hear the cries of “hot roasted chestnuts,” I remember young Oliver’s excitement about hearing the street cries of old London.
A mixture of advancing supermarkets with cheap deals, changing attitudes to packaging and processing, European rules on food preparation and local authority licensing procedures have almost completely eradicated the mobile seller from the streets of London. But in Victorian London young Oliver was enthralled by hearing the calls go past his window: “Who will buy my sweet red roses, two blooms for a penny?” “Ripe strawberries, ripe!”
So excited is he not just by the scene but by the fact that he at last has a soft bed to sleep in and people who care for him that he just can’t help bursting into song; most touching is the verse:
“Who will buy this wonderful feeling?
I’m so high I swear I could fly!
Me oh my, I don’t want to lose it.
So what am I to do, to keep the sky so blue?
There must be someone who will buy!”
If London and New York are famous for their theaters, then İstanbul -- and all of Turkey, for that matter -- must be famous for its street food. The many stalls offer delectable wares, from a simple pastry or a small packet of seeds and nuts to nibble on, all the way to a full meal of rice and beans on a paper plate or meat balls and fried tomato and potatoes in a large sandwich are all set up on a permanent basis. Others spring into action when needed, just like flowers that open suddenly after a downpour. A few days ago I emerged from a concert to find one enterprising gentleman selling bottles of water from a makeshift stall comprising a supermarket trolley, another man selling sandwiches on a tray balanced on trestle legs, while yet another had a similar stand sporting summer fruits.
If, like Oliver, when faced with such a delightful assault on all your senses your reaction is to wish you could capture the moment and take it back home with you to try and recreate later, then the new edition of İstanbul Culinary Institute Director Hande Bozdoğan’s book about Turkish street food will be a must buy.
Lavishly photographed in full color throughout, “Street Foods of Turkey” was first published under a different title in 2004. But it has stood the test of time and has been reissued in a new edition with a very attractive format under the Marshall Cavendish cuisine series.
Here are recipes not only for İstanbul street favorites such as spinach pastry, Albanian liver and fried anchovies but also dishes to be made at home from fruit and vegetables purchased on the street. This latter category includes pumpkin soup, quince tart, fig jam and corn bread.
Bozdoğan’s introduction to the new edition captures the paradoxical sense of rapid change in some areas of Turkey while other traditions remain untouched. While acknowledging that the vibrant trade in street food remains alive and well, she notes that “the increased impact of globalization and the concomitant changes in consumption patterns have ushered in many changes, some for the better, and others leaving us with a palpable sense of nostalgia.”
But is it just nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake? Few in the UK would wish a return to Victorian England. True, we may think the idea of lavender sellers and milkmaids on the street to be romantic, but Dickens’ story of an orphaned boy who starts out in the workhouse and progresses only to a gang of street thieves makes it clear that life was anything but pleasant for the vast majority of the poor.
There is something relational about food. Sharing a meal around a table is a universal delight -- one of the reasons Jamie Oliver’s television programs captured the imagination of a new generation is the inclusion of a final scene where the focus switches from food preparation to the animated interaction between a group of friends enjoying the meal he has prepared.
But with the street-sellers of İstanbul it seems the relational aspect starts not at the meal table but at the very point of purchasing the food. Itinerant vendors bring groceries to a Turk’s door. I was surprised last week in Tekirdağ to have the doorbell rang by a milk and yogurt seller -- a practice that has almost entirely died out in İstanbul.
Bozdoğan also points out that a relationship develops between the street-seller and his regular customers, which “distinguishes the purchase of street foods from the anonymity of the supermarket experience.” In her book she attempts to demonstrate that these guys are “not ‘human vending machines,’ but real people with real lives, problems and aspirations.”
Those seeking a book packed with recipes will be disappointed. The nearly 190 pages contain only 50 recipes. Instead this is a visual celebration of the values that make Turkey such an unforgettable experience for the traveler.
Nearly two years of field trips mean that Bozdoğan can present a lively and interesting description of all manner of foods available around the country. The history and modern Turkish cultural significance of such international basic items as quince, cucumbers and potatoes are covered in detail. The spotlight also turns to items unique to Turkey such as the soda fountain, Macun gum paste and Mırra Turkish coffee.
Ahmet Tozar’s spectacular photographs celebrate both the colorful food and the colorful people of this land. There is a depth and warmth of understanding to them that complements Bozdoğan’s writing style.
As supermarkets and regulations threaten Turkey’s outdoor food vendors, we fear that we will soon lose this wonderful feeling. Oliver just wanted someone to “tie it up with a ribbon and put it in a box for me.” Substitute book for box, and Bozdoğan and Tozar have achieved this ambition with style.
“Street Foods of Turkey,” by Hande Bozdoğan, published by Marshall Cavendish, 15 pounds in paperback ISBN: 978-981432862-3