An Evening in Turkey
A metro ride to Dupont Circle will take you as close to Turkey as you can get without hopping on a plane: eating at the newly opened Ankara is like sitting down in a Turkish family’s living room for dinner.
That makes sense, since the restaurant is owned by the Aslanturk family, and is made possible by joint efforts from family members in Turkey and here in DC. The restaurant’s newly appointed executive chef traveled here just a few months ago from Turkey to bring his traditional recipes and cuisine to American diners.
I had the chance to join the Aslanturks for dinner a few weeks ago, and I’m excited to share some of the delicacies I sampled!
Having just returned from a bier tour of Germany, I figured I had to try the “number one Mediterranean beer in the world,” Efes to start the evening.
Then came the cold meze, spreads and dips featuring delicious fresh vegetables and unique spices. The selection featured (from left to right): Ezme, a blend of tomatoes, onions, green pepper, parsley and hot pepper; Kopoglu, sautéed eggplant topped with a yogurt garlic sauce; Babaganoush, eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers, garlic, roasted red pepper and parsley; and Havuc Tarama, a tangy spread of carrot, yogurt and garlic.
The hot meze followed: Icli Kofte, spicy bulgur kofte stuffed with ground beef, onions and red pepper paste; and Sigara Boregi, crispy filo dough stuffed with feta cheese and herbs.
We were also treated to a serving of Raki, an anise Turkish liqueur. Smooth, sweet and knock-you-on-the-floor strong! It is often served diluted with chilled water, which causes it to turn a milky white color, earning it the colloquial name, aslan sütü, or lion’s milk.
Lamb was the star of the evening – Ali Nazik is a specialty of the Gaziantep region of Turkey, and it features slow cooked lamb served on a bed of smoked pureed eggplant topped with a yogurt sauce. (And you can’t ignore the tasty grilled bread on the side.) The meat was incredibly tender and flavorful, and the creamy yogurt eggplant provided the perfect juxtaposition of textures and flavors.
According to Turkish traditions, we enjoyed hot tea and coffee and flaky baklava to finish our meal. I grew up drinking Iranian tea because of my Iranian godparents, and I’m very familiar with the Iranian practice of reading tea leaves. (In fact, my mother tells me that my godmother predicted my birth by reading her tea leaves!) Turkish tea is very similar to Iranian tea, but Turks read coffee grounds instead of tea leaves.
Turkish baklava is unlike any baklava I’ve ever had – it’s much flakier and puffier than Greek baklava, but it still has the same lovely honey sweetness and pistachio crunch.
Our evening ended with a symbolic gesture rooted in Turkish culture. We were each given a red ribbon with a glass “evil eye” bead, an amulet said to ward off envy. Along with previous visitors, we placed our ribbons on the wishing tree and wished for good fortune!
You don’t need an invitation to this family affair – head over to Ankara to sample their authentic cuisine this weekend! Afiyet Olsun!
13220 19th Street, NW
Washington, DC, 20036