Eating the Ottoman Empire

I’ve been accused of trying to have it both ways by making Yashim, my Ottoman sleuth, a terrific cook. After all, on current strength, if he ever lost his knack as an investigator he could probably get a job as a TV chef. He’s smart, he’s organic – it’s the 1840s, after all – and he cooks the kind of eastern Mediterranean food that makes Moro, say, so successful. 
What’s more, barring the occasional interruption, his repertoire of Ottoman recipes can be followed the reader. 
And he’s not the only cooking detective on the block, either. 
That said, Yashim’s cooking is very far from cynical. 
Firstly, its a character trait: he’s a eunuch, so cooking is something sensual. Secondly, it’s a practical device: a detective needs thinking-time, and something to do while he’s thinking, so cookery is perfect. 
Thirdly, most importantly, I’m writing about a distinct time and place, for a food-literate audience. In each book I’m trying to evoke the wider culture of the Levantine world, as it developed under Ottoman rule. Of course, I relish the twisting intrigue of the plot, but the cooking is ideal for evoking Istanbul’s gentler side, its multi-ethnic character, its devotion to the arts of peace and pleasure. Ottoman civilization had its rawer points, politically, but at a social level it was always a place in which good food and fellowship could flourish over a glass of raki and a table of delicious mezze, a world of marriage feasts and holidays and everyday good dishes, inspired by – and inspiring – a palace cuisine which ranks with the great cookery of China and France.
None of us, I guess, will ever solve a murder in the harem, but we can all discover how to make lamb’s liver the way the Albanians do, or imam bayildi, or a gypsy salad. 
Food parcels from another world….
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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Eating the Ottoman Empire

  1. Jason – walked past your house today (saw your van), great location, and followed for away by your young lurcher- lovely dog- anyway I hadn’t heard of your books but I certainly have now and I will purchase myself a copy at the next chance!!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. thebellinicard

    That’s what the van’s for – or maybe the lurcher! Glad you had a great walk.

  3. An admirer from Boston 9US)

    Jason — Just wondering why the negative view of Greeks in your stories. George, the fruit seller, is the only one who speaks in an uneducated manner. Jews and Armenians are presented in the finest way possible. Given the deep ache that Greeks feel about “their city,” is it just your tremendous love of the Ottomans/Turks that ignore what it was they built on (it took them 100 years before they discovered the vast cisterns constructed under the City) or something deeper? St. Sophia and hundreds of ther Chrisstian churches are desecrated, and you spell “Orthodox” with a small “o” in your latest book. Just disappointed and curious. Thank you.

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