ISTANBUL: Award-winning Turkish chef and writer Ömür Akkor, also known as “Ömür Chef,” is acclaimed for the 28 books he created by blending his deep research on cuisine and food culture with his 26-year career as a chef. His 29th book, “Early Islamic Culinary Art and Culture,” which was recently released, is also highly acclaimed. The book takes on Islamic culinary culture and customs.
On the occasion of the new release, we spoke with Akkor about his latest book.
Culinary traditions in Ramadan
“One month before Ramadan, women start preparations in the kitchen, three or four households come together and roll dry dough. They dry this phyllo dough, sometimes they put cheese in it, cook it in a pan, sometimes make baklava, sometimes knead it and make meatballs. Stewed fruits are prepared and consumed at sahur (the last predawn meal before the start of the daily fast). They make ravioli dough and noodles. Shopping for ingredients is completed one month in advance. For example, they wrap the roasts in newspaper and hang them from the ceiling of the cellar of the house.
“There was a famine in the Islamic geography, leaving only water and bread; if bread and olives were eaten together, it was a feast. In those early days of Islam, not every house had a kitchen, but everyone would gather in a house nearby that had a kitchen and the food was cooked there. For example, there are many types of dates in that geography, they were eaten as baklava, they were roasted with cheese and butter, and they were boiled with milk. Wheat and barley are roasted together, turned into flour, and eaten alone or mixed with molasses and honey,” he explained.
Feelings about writing the book
“It’s a great feeling because it is a work that has not been done before. I am someone who reads life through food. I need to explain the culinary traditions of the Prophet Muhammad’s period because I am a Muslim chef. I have 28 books written on Anatolia, but it would be wrong if I did not write such a book as a chef serving in the kitchen, living with a Muslim identity. I wanted to record an Ömür Akkor glance at this important period,” the celebrated chef said.
Ramadan in the Ottoman period
“They lived more consciously. It was essential to receive guests at home every night, and too many utensils were put on the table.”
Awareness and success
“I was a lucky and curious child and grew up in a large family. I was born in Kilis (Turkey’s gastronomy capital), my grandfather had grape and olive vineyards … My grandmother (father’s mother), Zennup Hanım, was from Aleppo and she used to do everything in a specific manner as a tradition. For example, at home, rice was first moistened and spread out in the sun, then pounded in a mortar and passed through a silk sieve … My deceased grandmother (mother’s mother) was also from Kayseri-Adana. She would also roll ravioli with a rolling pin and make a pastry with feta cheese filling (su böreği).
We grew up with very good food and a lot of traditions. For example, my grandmother used to make yogurt soup. We used to call out, ‘Grandma, are you making yogurt soup?’ There would be no sound, then she would say, ‘You do not get a response when I’m making yogurt soup.’ Again, when she was stuffing vegetables, she would not take a break until she put the last grain of rice inside. Because once you start, you can’t get up until you’re done. These were her rituals.
I also take lessons for 16 hours a week. I am taking courses on geography, history, philology and history. I’m even taking a tree identification class.”
Akkor’s kitchen at his restaurant
“We cook the dishes in our kitchen with Zennup Hanım’s traditions. Her rituals continue in our kitchen, and the fruitfulness of our kitchen comes from the commemoration of Zennup Hanım. For example, I put a copper pot and wooden spoon on the table. I aim to connect people with that conversation with a past. This is the reason why people love Zennup1844, not only for our dishes from the kitchen!”
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