When you sit in Café Mediterranean and order from its menu of authentic Turkish dishes, you are taking part in culinary traditions dating at least to 7300 BCE, according to Fahri Ozdil, owner operator of this venerable Mideast eatery.
“Yes, I come from the east part of Turkey, and this part of the country is rich with the agriculture and the herbs and spices of Turkey,” he said.
Some 10,000 years ago, today’s Turkey was known as Anatolia. The dishes, seasonings and flavors of today’s menu at Café Mediterranean were already taking shape back then, with depth of flavor being a signature of the cuisine, according to the Turkish Cultural Foundation.
That east part of Turkey is on the Asian side of the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles Straits, where most of the country’s landmass is located. Ozdil said that appreciation for his native Turkish cuisine is borne of his experience growing up in that region and with the food that is native to it.
“The food there, it is wonderful and the flavors, they are made with the Turkish red pepper and the herbs and spices that are Turkish like no place else,” he said. “We have here (at Café Mediterranean) the same thing exactly; all our recipes, they are authentic just like in Turkey.”
Turkish cuisine is not easy to reduce to a discernible basic element or single feature, such as with the Italians and their pasta, or the French and their sauces. However, there are familiar patterns that spread across the spectrum of dishes and preparations, none of which is accidental. Start with a nurturing environment, known for an abundance and diversity of produce. Rich flora and fauna, differentiated by regions, resulted in a cuisine of many, many flavors, not unlike Joseph’s coat of many, many colors. For instance, there are some 600 recipes for eggplant to be found in Turkish cooking. Imagine that!?
In addition, Turkey, and therefore its cuisine, features the extra benefit of being at the crossroads of cultures emanating from the Far East and the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, the peoples of today’s Turkey, and by association, its cuisine, benefit from the complex history of migration patterns from the steppes of Central Asia to Europe and North Africa. Food experts have identified influences from the Chinese in the east to the Greeks, Viennese, Italians, Moroccans, French and Spaniards from the west. So, variety on a grand scale.
Again, as mentioned in this column previously, Ozdil wished to emphasize a new addition to the offerings available: “We have the kibbeh now, in Turkey, we call it icli kofte. We are making as a special that is not yet on our menu, but the chef, we have been trying it and the people, they are loving it. Just like when they visit the Middle East, but we make it in the Turkish style, with the Turkish herbs and spices. It is the best kind of way to make kibbeh.”
Kibbeh, for novices the likes of me, frequently are shaped like miniature footballs. But Ozdil’s kitchen must be into soccer, since the shape is round. Whatever the shape, the ingredients are common while the amounts create the subtleties of flavor.
At Café Mediterranean, the herb-spice profile is typically Turkish. Essential to this ethnic favorite is the bulgur wheat at the top of the recipe. The cracked bulgur is soaked in water to soften it, which makes it both workable and more easily digestible. Excess moisture is squeezed out, and wheat then is mixed with ground lamb, coarse-chopped onion, walnuts, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon salt and pepper. In preparation, the wheat and some of the other ingredients are processed to a paste, from which the balls are formed and stuffed with a saute of ground lamb and other items on the above list. The balls are closed around the ingredients, then dropped into a deep fryer to crisp before serving.
“The taste, people are loving it, and we want people to know we have them now, and especially our Jewish diners. Very good; very good taste and the flavors are wonderful,” he said.
The other dish Ozdil wanted to showcase is the swordfish kebab. The fish is grilled on a skewer after being marinated, with pieces of red bell pepper mated between chunks of fish. The flavor of the swordfish chunks is excellent, according to Ozdil, and the texture is perfectly suited to the dish.
At Café Mediterranean, you will find a full menu that includes small plates, soups and salads, sautés and bakes, and more.
See you at Café Mediterranean!
3520 Erie Ave.,
Cincinnati, Ohio, 45208