Saturday, October 20, 2012

four birthday cakes and great sushi in Istanbul; everything's possible

If you don't expect it, you won't be blown away buy it. If you're not going looking for it, you really can't predict how you'll react to it. Really really good ethnic foods can and do sometimes travel outside of their comfort zone, and if we then declare the food in question here is Japanese, then this makes a wee discovery like this all the more remarkable.
 
The very best sushi I've ever had was in a place called Midori at the back end of an obscure shopping mall in Shibuya, where absolutely everything eaten was total heaven. Their sea urchin I can still remember today. The massive queue for a table was testament alone, and the fact it was in a location easily forgotten meant the treck there my the masses of fans made perfect sense after only those first couple of morsels. I do get a kick out of being the only non local in places like that, and to stand out from the crowd simply because its a local sensation makes it all the better.
 
Fast forward a few years and I'm in Istanbul, a city of no limits, no fears and no decent drivers on the roads! The well worn one foot in Europe, one in Asia tag couldn't be more clear as the city is a heady mix of absolutely everything international that you could imagine. And the passion...oh boy, now there goes a city leaking the stuff all over the place. They love their families, their fanatism for their football is like few other places on earth (and that is Glasgow included) tea is drunk like it's about to be wiped from the face of the earth (the very best is likened to the colour of rabbit's blood, but that's another story), and they drive their cars like they are all in indestructable bulletproof missiles. Oh yes, and they love their food. The very social aspect of it in particular. It is all very animated, social, loud and utterly energetic.

I'm actually writing this in Bangkok on my way back to Hong Kong, but my departure meal last night before I headed to the airport was a proper full on double header of tripe. A soup which was slightly milky and loaded with strips of tripe and some other bits of indsides, albeit a bit bland until it was then loaded with a ton of minced garlic and a sharp chilli sauce clearly meant to bring tears to the eyes. Follow that up with a brilliantly unexpected  tripe sandwich. You know the ones where you're not even half way through it when you want to order another two just incase they sell out. Think strips of stomach lining rolled up into logs about the size of a good fillet of beef and spit roasted over open coals until its charred and sticky. Sliced, chopped and re-fried on a griddle with chilli, peppers, onions and loads of local herbs. Stuff all that fatty crunchy spicy wonderment into a bread roll both crispy on the outside and chewy within and we're sorted for some time to come. Unbelievably good, and I'd go back to Turkey for this alone.
 
Anyway, the Japanese food. If you ever happen to be in Istanbul and in search of really really good sushi, I'd seriously reccommend tracking down Itsumi at İşkuleleri Kule 2 Giriş Katı No:43 4.Levent. In my humble opinion, this was the best all round Japanese food that I've eaten since Tokyo.
 
With Itsumi they seem to really know what they are doing, they keep the product true and un-fussed while concentrating on ensuring true flavours, textures and temperatures are at the forefront of everything they do.
 
The Miso soup was delightful. Nothing more than was needed, although personally I like a little red miso paste and maybe a bit more tofu in mine. The Unagi and Horse Mackerel were superb, texture wise was as good as it gets, and the subtlety of seasoning very good indeed. The sauce with the Unagi was just right for me.
 
Tepmerature of all pieces on the sashimi plate were perfect. The Otoro (I think it was Otoro due to the incredible fat content and as such being served so much colder, and it was incredible) the Scallop and the Uni in particular were very good, and the temperature of their rice was perfect, seasoning very very good and the quantity of wasabi on their Nigiri was superb. The Toro alone was one of the best single things I’d eaten all week until I discovered the tripe roll!
 
The birthday cake too was absolutely perfect, and as it was one of four I was incredibly lucky to have, I could afford to be choosy... If Istanbul is a bit of a hike for something Japanese, a comfortable miso soup might still hit the spot wherever you are.
 
Miso soup for a quiet moment of reflection
 
Enough for 4

4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons dashi granules
1/2 cup red miso paste
1 tablespoon dried seaweed (for miso soup), soaked in water
1/2 cup cubed tofu
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
 
Pour the water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the instant dashi and whisk to dissolve. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the tofu. Drain the seaweed and add the seaweed to the pot. Simmer for 2 minutes.
 
In the meatime, Spoon the miso paste into a bowl. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the hot dashi broth into a bowl and whisk with chopsticks or a whisk to mix and melt the miso paste so that it becomes a smooth mixture.
 
Turn the heat off, add the miso paste to the pot and stir well. Top with green onions and serve immediately.