Turkey’s Best Tarhana

11 Sep 2015

White. Blocks of homemade soap, bulging bags overflowing with glossy beans, plump cauliflowers, pine nuts that smell of resin and the sea. Red. Tall jars filled with pepper paste, succulent turnips, pomegranates with tightly packed seeds. Orange. Dense-fleshed pumpkins, orange preserves as bright as kaleidoscopes. Yellow. Lavender honey, golden olive oil, the freshness of lemons. But most of all green: a vegetal symphony of the Mediterranean spring, harvested with care and dedication. Sharp sorrel (kuzukulagi) alongside rough thistle leaves (sevketi bostan), dandelions, fava beans and humble wild chard (deli pazi).

 

A birthplace of trade

Everywhere you look, colors. The Foça Earth Market begins to open up its petals in the cool of the morning, as the flagstone-paved square gradually fills up. With careful movements, produce is arranged in the stalls. The last touches are put to the displays as someone sips a tea. Customers begin to arrive, for now unhurried. A few steps away, beyond the low stone houses with their pastel-colored doors, lies the glittering Aegean, tame within the wide cove that protects the port. 

 

“When we started there were no more than two or three stalls, set up in an little outlying square. But over time the Foça Earth Market has grown. And changed.” Gül Girişmen piles up jars of lemon and quince jam as she describes the evolution of the market.  After moving to Foça to escape Istanbul’s restless rhythms, it was Gül who ignited the spark that in 2012 led to the creation of the market.

 

“The idea is simple,” she continues. “To give small-scale producers the chance to sell directly, without middlemen.” The market has become a unique opportunity to restore the relationship of familiarity and trust between those who produce and those who want to consume “locally and seasonally,” as the market’s motto goes. And now, having reached its second birthday, it is aspiring to become an aggregator of new economic, cultural and educational dynamics, with a project to preserve and cultivate native seeds launched together with elementary schools and the local prison.

 

Perhaps it is no surprise that the Earth Market has taken root in Foça, one of the birthplaces of Mediterranean trade. According to Herodotus, in ancient times the inhabitants of this Greek colony were the first to cross the sea in search of business, travelling as far as Marseilles and even to distant Spain.

 

Though perhaps less epic, the journeys made by Earth Market participants are still adventurous. Every Sunday, for example, producer Gulseren Sen travels from the village of Helvaci to the market’s stone square, a trip of 20 kilometers, first on foot and then by bus, leaving in the early hours of the morning and returning at sunset, improbably weighed down by products and armed only with her contagious energy.

 

One name, 1,000 versions

Among the little treasures that Gulseren brings to Foça, there is one of which she is particularly proud: her tarhana. Hard to describe to those who have never seen it, tarhana is a distillation of the generous abundance of summer, dried and put away for the colder months. Gulseren’s version is a mix of wheat flour, sheep’s milk and yogurt, tomatoes, onions, peppermint and parsley, reduced to a paste which is mixed for days, before being dried in the sun and then crumbled into irregular, reddish granules.

 

Tarhana is a quick but delicious dish,” explains Gulseren. “Just dissolve it in water or chicken stock and add it to salca [a thick sauce of peppers and tomatoes]. Stir it over low heat, and it’s ready in a flash,” she says, smiling. Tarhana is in fact a hymn to diversity; in Turkey, not only does its preparation and consumption change from region to region and even village to village, but every family prepares it in their own unique way, following recipes passed down through the generations.

 

Gulseren, however, is convinced that there is no better tarhana in the world than hers. “Come to the Foça market, get some of my tarhana and eat it at breakfast ‘Aegean style,’ with olives and pickles,” she says, raising her voice until it echoes off the stone paving. “You can go all over Turkey and you’ll never find another one like it.”

 

This article was originally published in the Slow Food Almanac.

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