Eating out A range of soups, salads, kebabs and desserts at Estia, Aloft brings the traditional cuisine of the Ottoman empire to Coimbatore
The Ottoman empire ruled Turkey for over six centuries and for them, food went beyond mere sustenance. It dictated their political lives. Their military’s emblem was a soup cauldron and they wore spoons on their headgear. Revolt against the sultan was symbolised by the military chief ‘overturning the soup cauldron’, from where we get the modern-day expression.
At Aloft’s Istanbul Feast — Turkish Kebab Festival — executive chef T. Balaji ensures you overturn no soup cauldrons in displeasure. Anyhow, he gives you the option right at the outset, serving hot creamy chicken soup with chickpeas and spinach.
In between spoonfuls, he explains he trained for nine years under Turkish and Lebanese chefs in Dubai and wanted to serve Coimbatore the delicacies he picked up there. The result is an elaborate spread of soups, salads, kebabs and desserts, their stumble-upon Turkish names decoded in plain English.
Our soup is followed by tangy pickled vegetables and fattoush , cucumber, tomato, spring onion, capsicum and mint garnished with sumac , a wood spice, and tossed with toasted pita bread. For starters, there’s also manakish — a pizza-like snack with a crunchy thin crust topped with cheese and spice mixture called za’atar, made from thyme, sesame seeds and sumac . “We source our unusual ingredients from a local dealer who brings them from Bombay,” says Balaji.
Up next is the main course of fish, lamb and chicken kebabs, served on white pita bread with seasoned onions. The Turkish are die-hard meat eaters with a strong kebab tradition. Since India has its own kebab history, not much on Aloft’s kebab offerings is alien. “The difference lies, however, in the marinade — lemon juice, olive oil and garlic with muhammara , a red pepper and walnut paste,” explains Balaji.
Also familiar is lamb donar which is prepared like shawarma from the slivered meat of roasted lamb legs. Especially memorable is the samak kebab — basa fish chunks done to perfection. It’s a little like chewing on clouds.
For vegetarian readers who’ve given up hope by now, Balaji’s imagination shall redeem you. He’s turned dolmaisi (stuffed peppers) vegetarian, by replacing the traditional minced meat stuffing with rice, parsley and tomato sauce. “The Turkish are also big on tomato-based meat stews. But here, we’ve used okra instead of the usual lamb,” says Balaji. There are also ‘assorted vegetables and cottage cheese sheek-kebab’ made the Turkish way. To appease the South Indian rice-craving, there’s vermicelli rice on offer.
Desserts are where the courses turn full-blown Turkish. First up is the legendary baklava . No amount of kebabs should leave you too full for this puff pastry, stuffed with nuts and sweetened with syrup. It only gets better with the basbousa — baked semolina cake. And to top it all, there’s to-die-for mouhalabieh . Originally a Lebanese rice and milk pudding, flavoured with rose and orange, its sublime texture has now garnered global fans. For a Turkish festival that largely covers somewhat recognisable ground thanks to our Indian roots, the desserts truly take you back to the time of a food-obsessed Ottoman empire.
The fest is on at Estia, Aloft, Singanallur till July 29 for lunch and dinner. The non-vegetarian menu costs Rs. 700 and the vegetarian menu costs Rs. 550 (taxes extra).
For details, call : 0422 6656000.