Sunday, 21 February 2016
Raki and Fish
Raki and fish... Sounds almost as good as octopus and ouzo, doesn't it?
'All my life, in whatever city I visit, I've always found myself in search of fish markets,' writes Tan Morgul in the Beirut chapter of this luscious book. Tan, a journalist from Istanbul, is the writer and Stratis Vogiatzis, from the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean, is the photographer. Together, over several months in the winter of 2013, they travelled to 11 cities around the Mediterranean sampling variations on the simple and exquisite combination of raki and fish, and they put together this book that is a feast for the eyes. It resonates with 'the sound of the waves and the smell of the sea'.
It's not just a cookbook, and not just a travel book, but an opinionated and lively exploration of the Mediterranean passion for seafood, capturing a snapshot of the geography, the mythology, the poetry, the stories of each place. It opens in Istanbul, where 'fish is caught not with net or rod, but with raki' according to Ara Guler - and last night I travelled with them through Beirut and Alexandria...
We learn the Turkish saying: 'If my own father came out of the sea, I'd eat him!' We learn about the fish themselves along the way, from monkish to sardines, as well as how they are eaten locally. We learn about serving roasted grouper with tahini sauce, and about marinating bonito (small tuna, called palamitha here on Tilos) in garlic, olive oil, onion, lemon juice and soy sauce.
We learn about salads with slices of cured fish roe, dressed in thyme, onion, lemon, salt and olive oil - all things we can source locally here - and I'd love to try making a dish with dandelion greens sauteed with calamari in lemon and olive oil - perfect for winter on Tilos when all those things are fresh and in season. We learn about fish felafel, tabbouleh with tuna, hummus with fish confit - Beirut is big on pairing fish with grains and legumes.
I was also fascinated to read that the word raki has its origins in the word 'araq', which means 'sweat' - the drops that collect as it emerges from the still. Arabs originated the tradition of distilling drinks in Lebanon.
The photographs are not only of food but of kitchens, of fishing boats under stormy skies in inky waves, of steam and ripe tomatoes and spices, of the wet paving stones of old markets, of expressions captured on faces.
Tan laments the damage inflicted on our seas by pollution, and the damage inflicted on the Mediterranean shores by bland development. Some of the places were experiencing economic crisis, political and social upheaval, even revolution, but as Tan writes, 'in these tense times... we went in search of a warm conversation'. This book is a wonderful celebration of Mediterranean culture and I can't wait to continue the journey through Tunis, Tangier, Lisbon, Barcelona, Marseille, Genoa, Dubrovnik, Athens.
The book can be ordered from Amazon.com but if you have problems please feel free to get in touch. You can find a small selection of Stratis' beautiful photographs along with an introduction to the book by Tan here:
Thanks to the guys for sending me a copy.