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Sephardic Jewish Cuisine of Istanbul and The Ladino Project concert

Meyhane Series #8: Celebrating the cuisine and music of Sephardic Jews of Istanbul with The Ladino Project in concert

Our 8th event in our Meyhane Series was celebrating the cuisine and music of Sephardic Jews of Istanbul with The Ladino Project in concert. I would like to thank my long time high school friend Doret Habib who came from Istanbul to help me with the authentic Sephardic recipes we will be serving today. I also would like to thank Roza Bencuya with help in planning the menu for the evening. We will be serving many authentic dishes and we will take a few minutes to explain the history and tradition behind some of the dishes. We have written the names in Ladino language.

Below is an excerpt from Aylin Oney Tan’s article about Sephardic cuisine of Turkey…...

A little about Sephardic Jewish cuisine in Turkey in the words of Aylin Oney Tan.

Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking 2009

In the summer of 1492, the ports of Spain were the sites of the start of two journeys in opposite directions. Columbus was setting out on the expedition that would end with the discovery of the New World, while the ports of Seville and Cadiz were packed with people who were forced to begin anew in order to remain who they were. These were the Muslims and Jews of Spain who were expelled by the edict of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. While the impact of the former on the world's culinary history is well known, the interaction between the culture and cooking traditions of these forced migrants and their adopted countries remains rather unexplored.

Arriving at a familiar taste environment unlike Columbus, the Jews of Spain were not going somewhere that was completely alien, but to an environment where they could feel at home. The food culture and even the food names in this new land were quite familiar. The examples are numerous. First, there were the ingredients. In A Drizzle of Honey, a book on the origins of the Sephardic cuisine tell us that 'based on the frequency of references specifically associating them with Iberian Jews, eggplant, greens like chard, and chickpeas, combine equally well with meat, fish, and fowl, seem to have been defining characteristics of medieval Sephardic vegetable cuisine. The eggplant continues to be the king of vegetables in Sephardic cuisine to this day. A dish from present-day Sephardic Izmir cuisine, ahogadas, uses chickpeas with eggplant.' Summertime meals include eggplant in many different forms: fried, baked, roasted, stuffed, made into pies, etc. The fact that this Muslim-influenced Iberian Jewish taste for eggplant found fertile ground to prosper in Ottoman lands is reflected in an anonymous poem that talks about the 36 different ways to cook eggplant. Other ingredients, to which they could readily have access and the names of which would not sound at all different to the Jewish immigrants, were numerous. Olives (zeytin in Turkish; azetuna in Ladino) and spinach (ispanak in Turkish, espinaka or ispinaka in Ladino) were derivations of the original Arabic and Persian.

Music Program “The Ladino Project”

Ladino Project brings together some of the region’s most illustrious musicians exploring Arabic, Balkan and Near Eastern music, including Eliyahu Sills on bass and ney (Turkish end-blown reed flute), Dan Cantrell on accordion and other instruments, and Faisal Zedan and Tobias Roberson on Middle Eastern percussion. Comprised of Old Spanish with vocabulary drawn from Turkish, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, Ladino is a language that has survived multiple diasporas, with a rich tradition of songs. As the project’s name suggests, “Madre” focuses on music associated with women, rather than masculine ballads known as romansas.

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