As we sat on a terrace on the Asian side of Istanbul, overlooking the ancient city’s domes, our waiter covered the table with Turkish hors d’oeuvres, or meze: marinated vegetables, flatbread topped with ground lamb and peppers, fried eggplant. Few of the ingredients were exotic, but the juxtapositions were.
The elements of meze, from Mediterranean seafood to grains from the central steppes, reflect Turkey’s varied geography. Seasonings lace every dish, as befits a city that was once the terminus of the Spice Road.
Meze are available in just about every Turkish-style restaurant in the city; try the touristy Taksim neighborhood if you want an English-speaking waiter, but head for the hills across the Bosphorus if a stunning view is more important.
On our hillside terrace, we struggled to sample the waiter’s bounty. Gradually, a tinny, tape-recorded voice floated up from the valley: a mechanized muezzin, calling the faithful to prayer. A second cry soon joined it, echoing off the hills. We paused.
Like the meze ingredients, the musical notes were familiar. But, also like meze, the unusual combinations reminded us how far we’d traveled from home.