Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Chicken Pudding

Every culture has its own taboos and rules about what is edible and inedible. There are also rules about what may or may not be combined: “thou shall not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” in the Jewish tradition, Italians have a taboo about combining cheese and fish and most Europeans (with the huge exception of Spaniards) do not mix fish and meat. The great majority of the citizens of the EU also can’t abide meat that is sweet more than savory. The idea of dessert based on meat is fundamentally repugnant. Of course this was not always the case. In the UK mincemeat has traditionally been made with meat—though nowadays the only animal product it contains tends to be suet. Medieval Europe used to be obsessed with blancmange, a pudding typically made with chicken, almonds and sugar. Today, if you want to taste anything vaguely similar you’ll need to travel to Turkey.

In Istanbul, I had arranged to meet Mary Isin in front of Haci Bakir, the city’s most famous confectioner. Mary has written a book on Turkish sweets and like every good Brit (she has lived in Turkey for ages but still…) she adores a good custard. Haci Bekir is renowned for it’s Turkish delight but there’s nowhere to sit down, and no custard, so Mary dragged me across the street to Hafiz Mustafa Şekerlemeleri (Hamidiye Caddesi 84-86), a café that dates back to the 19th century. After a brief conversation with the owner her face lit up with a triumphant smile and she dragged me upstairs to the pastry maker’s café, a low-raftered affair—so low that the beams are covered with foam to prevent the customers from inevitable concussions. What she had been after arrived in a few moments. Tavuk Göğsü is about the closest thing to medieval blancmange. It is a milk-based pudding, thickened with rice starch and chicken. Yes chicken and plenty of sugar. As you bite into it, it has a texture that is oddly both chewy and smooth with little shreds of chicken breast in it. When the pudding is made, the bottom is caramelized to give it that contrasting bitter dimension. It’s very good, really. And if you don’t like it there’s always baklava on the menu.

1 comment:

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