“I had never considered living in Athens. When I was in Istanbul I thought the cuisine in Greece and ours would be the same but as I arrived here, I realized it is much different than I expected. Therefor, I started to research our cuisine in Istanbul to find out the connections between our culture and the food we enjoy.”

The Greek cuisine in Istanbul is not only unique to its own but tells also the story of a culture which has been living in the region for 1500 years. Their food history dates back to even before the Byzantine Empire.  Their roots are still visible today in Istanbul through the strong Mezze culture. In the past, many from the Greek minority worked as cooks in the Lokantas and Meyhanes (traditional restaurants and Istanbul taverns) who have contributed for the popularity of the Meze culture of today. Sula Bozis, a Greek from Istanbul shares her thoughts and knowledge about their food culture and the history of food in Istanbul with Topik:

“It’s hard to say that Istanbul appreciates the contribution of the Greek cuisine. Much has changed after the migration and population exchange between Turkey and Greece and then there is also the events of 6th-7th September. Turkey does not like their children and there are many bad memories from east to west.”

Especially, the “meze” based on seafood are essential components of the Greek food culture in Istanbul…

“A greek dining table in Turkey without Tarama, Lakerda, Ciroz is unimaginable. Of course, “dolmas” as well. The Istanbul cuisine is based on seasons therefore these seafood based dishes could not be found in the summer in the 1960’s, as many did not have a freezer. However, in the winter we always enjoyed these dishes.”

Today, these dishes are eaten in Istanbul widely in many of the restaurants or meyhanes  and also very popular as streetfood.  Topik presents a recipe by Sula Bozis. Enjoy the amazing and extraordinary taste of stuffed cooked mussels.

Stuffed Cooked Mussels
50 washed and cleaned mussels
4 medium onions
2 bunches of spring onions
A bunch of fresh dill
50 g dried blackcurrants
50 g pine nuts
7 tbs pudding rice
180 g olive oil
1 lemon
1 tbs ground cinnamon
1 tbs caster sugar
1 tbs salt
1 tbs fine ground black pepper
1 tbs ground pimento

Wash the mussels again and check that all are still healthy. Those that are open throw away. Fill a large pan with salted water and bring to the boil on a high heat, add all the mussels to cook in the boiling water. The mussels will cook in a few mins. Once they have opened remove from the pan and drain. Those that have not opened again throw away.

In a pan heat half of the olive oil and add the finely chopped onion and spring onions till they soften and turn yellow. Add the pine nuts and mix well on a low heat till they turn golden brown then add the washed and drained rice, mix and add all the rest of the dry ingredients including the dill chopped finely. Cook on a low heat as if making a risotto though the mixture will not become glutinous as in a risotto. Stirring all the time heat the mixture and add 7 Tbs of water a little at a time . Cook for 8 to 10 mins , the rice mixture needs to be al dente. Take off the heat and allow to cool. – this is the mixture with which we are going to stuff the mussels with.

Take the mussels, open them carefully in order to keep them intact so that one half has the cooked mussel flesh in it and one half is empty but still joined to the other shell. Put the rice mixture in the empty shell half and then closed them together so that it contains the rice mixture and the cooked mussels meat. Do this with all the mussels so we have them all put back together with the rice mixture. In a pan jam the mussels tightly together with the mouth of the mussels facing upwards. They need to be tightly packed in so they cant fall over or spill their contents. Pour the rest of the olive oil over them and add water up to half way up the mussels. The liquid should not cover them. Heat on a medium heat to finish cooking the rice about 8 to 10 mins. Take off the heat and cool . They are served cold with lemon slices and juice and fresh herbs such as flat leaf parsley and/or dill.

* Thanks to Sula Bozis for sharing her thoughts and recipe with me.

* Photo by Sebnem Ugural