Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival Delivers!

Cağ Kebapı from Erzurum

Cağ Kebapı from Erzurum

Luckily we arrived early for my talk on “Istanbul and Turkish Food during the Ottoman Empire” because the 2013 Anatolian Culture and Food Festival at the Orange County Fairground in Costa Mesa, California this weekend provided some extraordinary food to be eaten.  It was somewhat overwhelming, not only because of the food but because it was as rich a cultural enriching as an experience could be without taking a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.   The fairgrounds featured in-depth displays of various cities, music, dancing, handicrafts, cooking demos, lectures, and more.  And what made it truly spectacular was the fact that not only was the best of local Turkish-American cooking on display, many restaurants in Orange County, but the presence of chefs from Turkey who had flown in specially to make their fabulous foods.  I kept nudging my companion and exclaiming “you can’t get this outside of Erzurum [or Gaziantep].”

What were the best foods? That’s way too hard to answer and furthermore is an unfair question.  However let me tell you about one.  The cağ kebabı is a specialty only made in Erzurum, the name of both a city and province in eastern Turkey.  It is known as a horizontal döner, a döner being what the Arabs call a shawarma and the Greeks a gyro.  The meat is marinated for a long time, at least 24 hours, with a few onions, pepper, and salt and placed on the long skewer called a cağ.  Once it is spit-grilled the long skewer of meat is removed and a long thin special knife is used to slice of thin pieces that get wrap in fresh lavash bread.  I’ll tell you about the extraordinary katmer börek from Gaziantep, another eastern Turkish city, next week.

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