of food, with its gorgeous visuals and increasingly obsessive
mainstream following, deserved more than containment in an
academic journal with a limited readership. What if I made a
movie about it? What did I know about documentaries, aside
from watching them often? Much to my surprise my colleagues
in my writing group urged me to push forward. Were they
thinking about more Turkish food to consume under the guise
of research feedback?
But writing a paper does not cost money, making a movie does.
To my astonishment, I found four granting agencies who would
give me sufficient funds to make a movie. Were they crazy? Or
was I that good at selling my ideas? After my initial happiness
and gloating, panic set in. I knew nothing about script writing,
storytelling, cinematography or editing.
With no other choice, I assembled a capable and experienced
film team. We shot our way throughout Istanbul, talking to
famous chefs, activists, food writers, and home cooks who
invited us to their dinner tables. In the process, I learned that
geography is crucial to shaping the contents of our table and our
food preferences. Ethnicity does not dictate the content of our
tables; rather history, climate, and location are all central to how
we come to think of ourselves through our food. Accordingly,
I came to think that it is not because of my genetics, but rather
my history in a specific geography, that I prefer and long for
certain dishes and ingredients in my kitchen.
As my residence in Alaska extends with no expiration date,
I can’t help but think that my table will look different in ten
years. Moose burgers might accompany baklava, salmon will
probably take over lamb dishes, and these combinations will
feel just as authentic when this geography and climate seep into
my bones. Salmon börek I am not there yet but welcome a
happy marriage of Turkish, Alaskan and American dishes on
my table. Cliché or not, what tastes good and brings us around
the table together will represent my cuisine and me just fine. No
doubt it will reflect the geographies I occupied.
Ayten Sultan’s Su Böreği recipe is a classic in our family.
Even though you can buy this börek at every street corner in
Turkey and save yourself many hours in the kitchen, my mom
makes it lovingly and eagerly when my brother Engin and I
visit with our families every summer. Back in the USA, Engin
and I attempted to replicate her recipe and we must say we did
Momma proud. She made video calls (seven!) throughout the
afternoon to help us along.
This recipe usually makes one large börek in my mom’s copper
pan with deep sides. Since we didn’t have such a beauty in our
kitchens, we split the recipe into two and made two smaller
pans. We tried one in the cast iron pan and the other in a
nonstick pan. The cast iron one was uneven, with crisp middle
but soft sides and with some parts inside left too moist, so we
recommend a nonstick one if you do not have a copper pan.
Mom said to use baklava flour but we are not aware of such
a thing in the United States, as baklavas here are made out of
prepared phyllo dough. The sacrilege! ■