Breads of Turkey
About my favorite meal on a recent trip to Turkey was the lunch we had in a small café in the hillsides of Sirince, a small village that had been turned, by some clever marketing gimmick, into a cozy homestay destination and street market.
We walked down to the basement dining area and found plates filled with flat bread on our tables. The first servings were of bread with a filling of cheese, soft and slightly salty but really tasty. This was followed by more flat bread, this time stuffed with a mix of spinach and spices, filling enough as a meal without need for meat or seafood. But the last flat bread variety was the most memorable: filled with a sweet concoction of hazelnut and chocolate, all that sweetness tempered by Turkish tea served on ornate glasses encased in beaten metal.
All throughout our trip, every meal would be accompanied by a variety of baked items: flat bread, buns, muffins, soft and hard pretzels, and even baklava, the world-famous Turkish pastry of layers of dough enclosing a filling of nuts and dates, drizzled over with honey.
This was to be expected, as our “fam tour” of Turkey came courtesy of Turgay Unlu, president of the Turkish Flour Yeast and Ingredients Promotions Group (TFYIPG), which is admittedly eyeing the Philippines as its next market in Asia.
In the last few years, flour exporters from other parts of the world had tried to block the importation of Turkish flour here, spreading “rumors” that the products from that country were in some way “substandard” or even “unhealthy.” Which is strange since Turkey exports flour to different parts of the world, and no other reports of tainted Turkish flour have surfaced.
“We have 10,000 years of civilization,” declared Unlu, and much of those years have been marked by the cultivation of wheat, its processing into flour, and, as shown by the sheer variety of breads we encountered throughout the trip, the creation of different types of breads to sustain, nurture and enhance the experience of eating.
Indeed, our guides on this and previous trips made it a point to emphasize historical records that the cultivation of wheat actually began in Turkey. In various regions of Turkey, but especially in the south, we found ancient tools, mills and even ovens where bread production is thought to have originated. I for one would find it strange if Turkish flour exporters, with their proud history and traditions, would dare tarnish that legacy just to make an entry into an admittedly small market like the Philippines where bread is not even “native” to its cuisine.
According to the writers of “Panaderia,” a prize-winning volume on the history of bread in the Philippines, the importation of wheat into the country was introduced by the Spanish colonizers, who, being Europeans, needed bread for their long-time survival. They organized the bringing in of flour to Manila and built a centralized bakery (and only oven) which was the only authorized entity to produce flour products here. First managed by Spanish bakers, its operations were eventually turned over to Chinese, who then turned around and popularized their trade all over the country.
Unlu and Mehmet Bayakesi of the association of Turkish exporters said flour exports to the Philippines totaled nearly 100,000 tons despite the “troubles” of recent months. Even if demand for bread in the Philippines is not as great as it is in Western countries, they said, we are among the biggest bread consumers in Asia, where rice reigns as the supreme staple.
To ensure the quality and safety of flour importation and flour processing here, the TFYIP is also set to begin training and orientation sessions for groups of local bakers who may find greater inspiration and, perhaps, creativity in working with flour that comes to us cheaper but with no compromises on quality.
For readers following my misadventures in Turkey, as well as other issues occasioned by the mishap, you may follow it in rinasblogatlarge.wordpress.com