Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Pilgrim’s Guide to Sacred London

You may be surprised to discover that I’ve co-authored a guidebook, particularly if you are one of those (splendid) readers demanding a new Yashim story instead. Well, have you seen his cookbook? Yashim Cooks Istanbul – ‘evocative, captivating and a treat to read – a book that breaks new ground in the field of cookery writing’ – reached the final three for best First Book at the Guild of Food Writers’ Awards last week (deservedly won by Pete Lawrence’s The Allotment Cookbook). So if you miss Yashim you can still reach him by taste…

As for A Pilgrim’s Guide to Sacred London, I suppose I sort of owed it, London-born, London bred; for now that I live in the deep country, and visit the capital when I can, I see its shape and genesis differently and with a country eye: searching for the little valley of the Fleet where it wound between the low hills on which the City of London stands – Cornhill and Ludgate Hill; or pursuing the track (Maiden Lane) that led round the convent garden from St Martin-in-the-Fields; or contemplating Thorney Island, all reeds and marsh, where once Watling Street forded the Thames and now the great Abbey at Westminster stands, the holiest in the land. Even the City churches – all forty seven of them in the book – provide exactly the kind of interest that you get from exploring country parish churches, each one different, all by Sir Christopher Wren, each one a sanctuary. Oddly, if you spend a day knocking about the churches of London, the noise of traffic and the press of crowds and the weight of Mammon begin to fall away. That is the spirit in which this book was written, and compiled.

It is available worldwide from Argonaut Books by clicking here.

The best justification for the book is probably to be found in this delightful review by Robert Leigh Pemberton, which appeared in last Saturday’s Telegraph. So here it is, in its entirety.

Crisis averted: what to do on the plane!

Since the US and UK banned laptops and tablets from the airplane cabins on flights originating in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, I’ve read some really daft articles addressing the desperate question: what can I do on the plane?

Here’s one, from Bloomberg: Hacks to Survive a Twenty Hour Flight – without a laptop or tablet!

One answer might be: read a book. Revolutionary? Perhaps all first class travel could look like this?

Here’s my list for travellers coming out of Turkey:

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

The latest novel by the wonderful Elif Shafak, who first burst onto the scene with her punchy, funny and tragic novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. Elif writes about women negotiating their power and their position in a man’s world, and she does it with sly humour, tenderness, and a wonderful feel for historical time and place. The action kicks off when a beggar snatches the handbag of a wealthy Turkish housewife on her way to a smart Istanbul dinner party. Out drops an old photo… and with it, a life and love that Peri has tried to forget.

Istanbul: Poetry of Place, edited by Ates Orga

Packed with poetry and a little prose, all set in the former capital of the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires, Istanbul: Poetry of Place brings you the voices of the city’s inhabitants, from sultans to modern-day feminists.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Complex, fragmentary, unreliable and poetic, this thoroughly postmodern novel abounds with puns, ironies, double-takes and imponderable conflicts of love, faith and social justice, reflecting not only aspects of the human condition but also of 20th-century Turkey’s preoccupations with secularism, religious freedom and revolution. In the city of Kars, a young journalist, Ka, comes to investigate a spate of suicides relating to the wearing of headscarves – and opens up a kaleidoscopic world of claims, counter-claims and conflicting priorities.

Turkey: a Short History by Norman Stone

A fanfare for modern Turkey and a vivid, provocative, often funny, always insightful account of how it came about. Stone pulls together his accomplishments as a philoturk, a philologist, controversialist and narrative historian to sweep his readers along a short crash course in Turkish origins, their history and current challenges. If you don’t really know why a portrait of Ataturk hangs in almost every shop in Turkey, read this book.

Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire by Philip Mansel

The definitive history of the city from 1453, by one of our finest historians, also explains how a multi-ethnic, polyglot empire was controlled by a single dynasty for more than 600 years. Mansel mines a vast range of sources to bring the fashions, pomp and politics of this ancient world capital to life.

Birds without Wings by Louis de Bernières

I keep picking this up – and putting it down again, because I can’t quite face the onrushing tragedy. Needless to say, it’s the story of a doomed love affair between Philotei and Ibrahim, as relations between Greece and Turkey collapse in the First World War; prelude to the massive population exchange of 1923, which ended Greek settlement of Asia Minor. Gallipoli is in it; so is Ataturk; so are some characters from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. De Bernières insists this is the better book and I believe him.

Eothen by AW Kinglake

The title, which means “from the east” is, as the author points out, the hardest thing in the book, a sly travel account purporting to be written by a Victorian hooray which makes for spectacularly funny reading. Jonathan Raban has described the narrator as having the “sensibility of someone who is a close blood-relative of Flashman”: witness his thoroughly waspish account of a meeting with Lady Hester Stanhope. Typical, too, is his insouciance towards the plague in Cairo, which claims his heroic doctor while the narrator survives unmoved.

A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich

The three volumes of his magisterial history, boiled down into one, may seem too condensed at times, but Norwich deftly and entertainingly outlines the often outrageous story of an empire that lasted 1,123 years and 18 days. It is as good on Byzantine art and church matters as on the peccadilloes of the emperors – and their triumphs.

Rebel Land by Christopher de Bellaigue

Caught up in a journalistic furore after his mention of the Armenian massacres that occurred in the dying days of the Ottoman empire, de Bellaigue decided to find out for himself what may have happened. He settled on – and in – the town of Varto, which once had a huge Armenian population. Without delivering any final answers, de Bellaigue’s beautifully written account of his experiences with locals, secret policemen and even exiles still sheds light on this intractable issue, if only to illuminate the complexity of the situation both then and now.

The Sultan’s Seal by Jenny White

The first of the Kamil Pasha detective stories, set in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, kicks off with a body on the beach. Kamil Pasha, the Anglophile Ottoman detective, must draw together the threads of this murder and of an older, unsolved crime, sifting through the murky waters of late Ottoman politics and society. Sequels are The Abyssinian Proof and The Winter Thief.

Yashim: Don’t forget that all five Yashim novels are available as a set from Amazon.com and from Amazon.co.uk – and in dozens of languages, too. Meanwhile The Janissary Tree and The Snake Stone are published in Turkey by Pegasus as Yeniceri Agaci  and Yılanlı Sütun

Some favourite reads from 2016

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These are some of the fantastic books that I’ve enjoyed this year. All ten were published in Britain, but they have taken me through time and space as only good books can – to Calcutta and the Sudetenland, Swinging London and revolutionary Petrograd – and even to Palmyra, when it was a pristine ruin. With Queen Victoria I’m on home turf – see below. We go to Turkey, too, because it matters to us all – Turkey and Russia, Turkey and Europe, Turkey and the Middle East – raising some big questions for 2017.

Continue reading

selling out

When a book sells out, and it’s your book, which means they liked it, you may well want to punch the air, or kiss a policeman, or whatever. I think you are allowed. Just don’t kiss the air and punch a policeman, that’s all.

But then, when an ENTIRE COUNTRY sells out of your book, you may realise that while it’s great in its way, in another way it’s problematical.

America has sold out of Yashim Cooks Istanbul. Only last week we had a huge load, palletfuls of Yashim Cooks Istanbul, boxed and sitting cosily in the distributor’s warehouse in Chambersburg, PA. Then everyone ran out at once and went to buy a copy. Almost every American – well, they mostly didn’t run anywhere further than their mouse pad, where they feverishly clicked on the link – http://amzn.to/2gbTAz3, if you don’t believe me – and swept all available copies out of the online warehouse. Who instantly reordered, thus sweeping all available copies out of the Chambersburg warehouse and into the mailboxes of a few quick-thinking Yashim afficionados and leaving a note saying that the book was temporarily out of stock. Continue reading

Thanksgiving turkey Ottoman style

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-15-13-51Just in time for Thanksgiving, here’s a gentle Ottoman twist on the festive dinner – Yashim’s spiced stuffing, made with rice. Funnily enough, Ottomans seldom emigrated to the United States (an exception was a Syrian, Hadji Ali, aka Hi Jolly, who set up a camel corps for the Confederates during the Civil War), otherwise this stuffing would have delighted them. 

The recipe is below. You will of course find lots more recipes in YASHIM COOKS ISTANBUL, out now.

Signed first editions of Yashim’s new book are available at http://bit.ly/2c7fkIU postage free. Also on sale on Amazon or a good bookstore!

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Yashim Cooks Istanbul Storms US Charts!

You may imagine how thrilled I was to wake up to a fabulous piece about Yashim’s cook book on America’s number one radio show, Morning Edition. They gave it the great title: “Popular Detective Series Gets Its Own Cookbook” which is succinct, accurate and somehow funny. Very professional.

We did the interview about a month back, with Mary Louise Kelly of NPR, in my sister’s kitchen in London. Garlic, pumpkin AND fuzzy microphone.

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The interview isn’t without its own drama, either – do listen to the 4 minute broadcast (and check out a few recipes) via this link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/11/15/501588281/assassins-steak-tartare-popular-detective-series-gets-its-own-cookbook

Anyway, it’s a really generous launch present and immediately sent the book skimming up the Amazon rankings into the top 300: heady stuff for a 19th century Ottoman sleuth. Best of all, though, is the feedback from people who have started cooking from the book.

Signed copies are still available via this link: http://bit.ly/2c7fkIU and we’ll be using an express route to ship to the States, too.

Publication Day

I remember the day I found myself crouched over a saucepan by the back window, camera in hand, prodding a rocket leaf with a chopstick. Behind me, a chorus of angry children demanded their lunch while it was still hot. I fiddled with exposures. I zoomed back and forth with the focus. I turned the pan. In the end, I climbed on a chair, balanced the leg of the tripod on the sideboard, and took the classic Instagram shot of the food, from above. It looked like a tidal wave of chicken pieces coming through a porthole. And then, to everyone’s relief, we ate. It wasn’t absolutely hot, but it was perfectly delicious.

Chicken pieces coming through a porthole

Chicken pieces coming through a porthole

The recipe was coriander chicken with lemon and sumac: it’s already something of a favourite, and you can find it on page 48 of Yashim Cooks istanbul, the culmination of all that zooming and recipe-collecting, all that tasting and testing, which really began when Ambassador Palewski came sniffing up the stairs to Yashim’s apartment, in an adventure called The Janissary Tree.

Today, in the UK and Commonwealth at least, is Publication Day. In the US and Canada, it’ll be November 15th – after elections, and before Thanksgiving.

And so, to my weepy Oscar speech.

Tuba's magnificent photos

Tuba’s magnificent photos

Many of the photos in the book were taken by me, or are taken from old maps, panoramas, and costume illustrations. Others, such as the splendid picture above, are by Tuba Satana. Her generosity and knowledge are boundless. She is an Istanbullite, a foodie, a photographer, a blogger and a guide. She is also a dear friend and you can see more of her work at http://istanbulfood.com/ and on Instagram at http://instagram.com/istanbulfood.

If you think the design of the page above is crisp, clear and stylish, you will love the book. Hats off to Clive Crook, who produced the master design, and to Isaac Goodwin, who implemented it. He is at http://www.isaacgoodwin.com. He is also responsible for the scattering of ‘little men’, or Ottoman figures, through the book.

We love the Little Men (and Women)

We love the Little Men (and Women)

When you use the book, whether to rustle up the coriander chicken, ruby pilaf or palace fig pudding, from dozens of recipes, the wonderful Sheilah Kaufman will have picked out the errors and the contradictions. She is a cook book editor, a lecturer and foodie based on the East Coast, with special expertise in Turkish cooking. Her patience and good spirits have helped make Yashim Cooks Istanbul. Further examples of her work can be seen at http://www.cookbookconstructioncrew.com/.

Thinking about Widow Matalya's chicken soup?

Thinking about Widow Matalya’s chicken soup?

The testers have been you, Yashim’s readers, who so generously responded to my appeal on this blog. You saved recipes, and improved them. In particular, I owe a great debt to Amina Beres, Ann Barnes, Ann Bloxwich, Ann Chandonnet, Ann Elizabeth Robinson, Anthea Simmons, Beth Bandy, Beverly Firme, Bill Bosies, Britta de Graaff, Burcak Gurun Muraben, Carey Combe, Carmen Mahood, Carol Titley, Catherine Johnson, Chloe Potts, Claire Byrne, Clare Hogg (of the blog Saucy Dressings), Connie Hay, Daemon A. ‘Bunny’ Condie, David Lee Tripp, Diana Moores, Dianne Hennessy King, Donna Cummings, Dr Werner and Sonja Keck of Heidelberg, Eva Krygier, Evren Işınak Bruce, Francine Berkowitz, Rev. Fr. Gary Simpson, Genia Ruland, Geoff Perriman, Giles Milton, Giuseppe Mancini, Greg Burrows, Hira Najam in Pakistan, Indrek Koff, Irena Rywacka, Ivette Buere Cantu, Ivor Gethin, Jan Suermondt, Jean Stearns, Jeanette Kearney, Jill Patience, Jillian Wilkinson, Judith O’Hagan, Juliet Emerson, Kate Hubbard, Leary Hasson, Lennart Allen, Linda Gunderson, Lynda Dagdeviren, Maria Figueroa Küpçü, Mark Culme-Seymour, Marsha Frazier, Marta Bialon, Matthew Adams, Meg Officer, Melanie Ulrich, Olivia Temple, Pat Ruttum, Penny Harvey, Piret Frey, Rick Page, Robin Morris, The Rev. Roger Russell, Ron Garrison, Rosemary Petersen, Russell Needham, Ruth Peers, Sally Catton, Sid Cumberland, Simon Allen, Sophie Ransom, Stella Ruland, Stuart MacBride, Sue Aysan, Susan Dolinko, Suzi Clarkson, Tomas Eriksson of Malmo, and Veronica and Alfio Brivio.

And that, I think, breaks the five minute rule on Oscar speeches.

If you’d like a copy of Yashim Cooks Istanbul, signed and postage free, you can order one at http://bit.ly/2c7fkIU. In the UK, it’s on sale at a good bookshop near you, or of course on Amazon at http://amzn.to/2enxMhq. Do leave a good review there, if you can!

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Autumn falls – and Ottomans cook!

Walking today in the woods, the first fallen leaves rustling underfoot, made me long for a fire – and a taste of this slightly smoky dip taken, of course, from Yashim’s new cook bookimg_4631Aubergine (or eggplant) puree

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A classic Ottoman meze, absolutely worth doing whenever you fire up a charcoal grill. Unlike the real thing, ‘poor man’s meat’ is very forgiving on the grill, so you can start the aubergines off as soon as the coals get hot. The flame gives the finished puree an irresistible smoky taste. Don’t forget the humble home fire, either. If you are burning wood in your fireplace, or maybe a woodburner, use it: an aubergine takes only a few minutes to cook.

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Ingredients:

aubergines (eggplant) 2

garlic 2 cloves, crushed and chopped

olive oil 2 tbsps

juice of 1 lemon

plain yoghurt 225g/8oz

salt 

pepper

lemon wedges

Method:

If you can rotate the aubergines over charcoal, so much the better: char the skins and pop the aubergines into a plastic bag when the flesh is pulpy. Otherwise, burn the skins on the gas or prick the aubergines with a fork, wrap them in foil and cook for at least half an hour in the hottest oven. 

Hold the aubergine by the stalk and peel away the skin. Scrape the flesh away with a spoon. Drop the flesh into a colander, and squeeze it gently to get rid of some of the water.

Put the aubergines on a board and chop them to a pulp, while they continue to drain. Sweep them into a bowl, and mix in the garlic, the oil and the lemon juice. When they are well mixed, add the yoghurt, a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper and beat again. Check for seasoning.

Serve the puree with a drizzle of olive oil and wedges of lemon, to eat on crusty bread.

Some simple pide

Some simple pide

Everything connects, of course, and given centuries of war and exchange between Russia and the Ottoman Empire it should come as no surprise that the Russians, substituting sauteed onion and tomato for the yoghurt, wisely adopted this as their ‘poor man’s caviar’. Versions of both are very popular across the Caucasus.

This is just one of dozens of the recipes from Yashim Cooks Istanbul, out in the UK on Thursday October 27th and in the USA on November 15th. Signed copies are available, postage free anywhere in the world. Just click on this link: http://bit.ly/2c7fkIU

Gliding down the Bosphorus

I’m often asked to name my favourite place in Istanbul.

A bollard on the quay

A bollard on the quay

 

It isn’t a place, at all: it’s a passage, or a vantage point, or an adventure, with deep dark waters under the keel, and spray at the prow, and a briny bench – and a glass of tea.

It’s a trip on the Bosphorus.

My favourite vantage point

My favourite vantage point

About  fourteen miles long, and sometimes no more than half a mile wide, this twisting strait divides Asia from Europe, and links the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The name means the same as Oxford: where the cattle cross, from the legend of Io, transformed into a cow until she crossed the strait and regained her human form.

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feeding the birds at Eminonu

There are all sorts of Bosphorus trips on offer, but I think it best explored on the ferries which morning and evening crowd around the ferry station at Eminonu. The slow vapur have high prows for punching through the seas which run in from the Sea of Marmara, and low thwarts for easy embarkation.

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ferry at a stage

Their bright green hawsers are casually coiled on the planking.

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on board at night

One day they’ll no doubt be replaced by fibreglass catamarans and a sensory world will disappear, composed of wet planks, splintered pilings, the bubble of thick paint on rust, and the old ferryboat smell which is the same the world over, a tincture of diesel oil, damp wood and the sour reek of air trapped in the cabins.

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Rumeli Hisar

Meanwhile, buy a glass of tea at the counter and settle down on one of the outside benches that run along the bows; put your feet up on the rail, and watch the shores of the Bosphorus unscroll, like some Victorian panorama, their vistas of villas, palaces, restaurants and domes.

The galley of a Bosphorus ferry: I love the chopping boards!

The galley of a Bosphorus ferry: I love the chopping boards!

The last photo, above, shows where they make tea: a place I like so much I put it in Yashim’s new cookbook,  Yashim Cooks Istanbul. !

From Yashim Cooks Istanbul

From Yashim Cooks Istanbul

Yashim Steps Out

I’m told that tickets for my first Yashim Cooks Istanbul gig have sold out, which has to be good news. Although I remember being told the same thing by the nice people at Faber at the launch party for The Janissary Tree, and wondering if publishers lived on the same planet as the rest of us.

Picture the scene: I assemble a hundred or so of my closest friends and relations, along with the great and the good of Fleet Street, Grub Street and the BBC, hire splendid Georgian rooms in Fitzroy Square, lay on everlasting fizz, engage professional belly dancers, no less – and half an hour into the jamboree the publishers come up smiling and rubbing their hands to tell me ‘We’ve sold out of books! Congratulations!’

Sold out! Jolly well done!

Sold out! Jolly well done!

Anyway, no more tickets for November 12th at the Bridport Literary Festival: but we have other things planned for later, elsewhere.

If anyone wants to pre-order Yashim Cooks Istanbul, you can get signed copies here, free of postage. Also you can pre-order them on Amazon in the UK for £19.99, although they won’t be signed. I expect Amazon.com in the US will offer something similar very soon. Yashim Cooks Istanbul makes a really good present, with a whiff of Ottoman spice.

Many of you have asked when Yashim will emerge from his retirement and engage in a new adventure. Well, he has one rather short adventure chronicled in a collection of stories entitled SUNSHINE NOIR, all mystery stories by crime writers who eschew the frigid wastes of Scandinavia in favour of southerly heat and sweat (not but that it usually snows in Istanbul, but we will let that pass). My story is called Chronos and Kairos, about an occasion when Yashim borrowed a watch. Some of you may remember young Compston, of the British Embassy in Istanbul, bleating about his father’s Hunter in An Evil Eye: it’s that watch. Different occasion.

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Print editions are on their way, apparently, but if you use Kindle then it’s available there already.