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Yashim Cooks Istanbul

Yashim Cooks Istanbul

By Jason Goodwin

Published 2016

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When I started to write The Janissary Tree, the first of Yashim’s five adventures set in Ottoman Istanbul, I had no idea that Yashim would turn out to be a cook. He was the sultan’s investigator, he had a poignant disability, and the Janissaries – the crack Ottoman infantry – were about to make trouble. Those, I thought, were all the ingredients I needed for a thriller.

But the cooking came through. I first reached the city on foot, hiking for months from the Baltic coast, and I still can’t think of Istanbul without dreaming of food. Each day on the walk brought us some new foretaste of Istanbul: stronger coffee, a minaret, orthodox domes, bright printed cottons, or the eastern rhythm of gypsy music. But only when we reached The City did we discover what it was to eat well. After months of plain fare, we ate fish in a restaurant suspended under the old Galata bridge, watching the ferries come and go. We ate mutton and aubergine wrapped in a paper parcel in the Grand Bazaar. Bread of exceptional freshness appeared at every table. Cauldrons bubbled, full of sweet or spicy vegetable stews, with morsels of tender lamb spitted and roasted over the charcoal braziers whose scent drifted through the air. On the shores of the Golden Horn we ate mackerel sandwiches, the fish just taken from the Bosphorus, filleted and grilled on the boats. After months of soviet-style scarcity and monotony, Istanbul was like a gingerbread house.