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Culinary Capital: Delhi has a newfound love affair – with Turkish cuisine

Pide, baklava, kisir and Urfa aren’t exactly alien names for Delhi’s food vocabulary anymore. Just like gelato and polenta, or gyoza and onigiri – from Italy and Japan respectively – entered the food nomenclature a decade or so ago, authentic Turkish dishes are now making their presence felt in menus across the national capital. Not just this, the city’s love for all things light, healthy and flavorful has spawned a host of specialty Turkish eateries, with some going to the extent of flowing down chefs from Turkey to keep their promise of authenticity.

Sharad Madan, co-founder of Khubani restaurant at Aerocity, which opened earlier this year and has dedicated a huge section to Turkish food, says, “Turkish cuisine has relatability to the Indian palette and flavours, making it more acceptable. It started to be made in India about 20 years ago, but has become popular in the last three years.”

Sharad Madan, co-founder of Khubani restaurant at Aerocity, which opened earlier this year, has dedicated a huge section to Turkish food.

Chef Onur from Turkey, who steers the kitchens of Ophelia in Chanakyapuri and Cozy Box at One Golden Mile, says, “Turkish cuisine has a lot of similarities to north Indian cuisine, that’s why it has grown in liking from Delhi people.” In fact, he says that it touches exactly the same taste buds as north Indian food, adding that it has gained popularity since the last five years, around the time they launched Ophelia. To pair cocktails with Turkish food, Ophelia roped in a Turkish bartender as well.

Chef Onur from Turkey, who steers the kitchens of Ophelia in Chanakyapuri and Cozy Box at One Golden Mile

Chef Sagar Bajaj from the Middle-eastern restaurant Diablo, in Mehrauli, says Turkish food is congenitally healthy and ambrosial, while its smoky flavors are exceptionally suited for the Indian palate. Even as it has its roots in India since the 11th century, the cuisine has become commercially popular now.

Pita Breads from Rizq

Bajaj says Turkish food is rich in flavor but light on spices, so it becomes a perfect comfort food for dining out. But, he adds, “To maintain its authenticity, it’s important to learn the local Turkish techniques of cooking, using the regional produce and keeping the natural flavors intact.”

To cater to the authenticity quotient, restaurants are flowing in expert chefs from Turkey. For instance, Madan says the chef at Khubani is an eighth-generation Ottoman cuisine expert. “All the dishes he cooks are based on 400-year-old recipes,” he says. “Adana kebab (minced lamb kebab) is among the most favorite Turkish dishes in India.”

Executive chef Nawras Mustafa Ayoubi at the newly opened RizQ in Defense Colony is Syria-born and has experimented with Turkish food in restaurants across the globe.

Executive chef Nawras Mustafa Ayoubi at the newly opened RizQ in Defense Colony is Syria-born and has experimented with Turkish food in restaurants across the globe. He says, “Mediterranean cuisine is becoming very popular all over the world because people are finding healthy yet tasty options there. From the beginning of the 2000s, it has been gaining popularity, as more and more people started exploring Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and their food.” Ayoubi says that at RizQ, they also import ingredients, and use authentic techniques of cooking and serving Turkish cuisine to maintain an edge. The most famous Turkish dishes the world over include Doner shawarma, Ali Nazik kebab, Qawarma (confit-style preserve made of chopped meat), and kafta of all kinds (each region in Turkey has its own kafta dish), he says.

Turkish kebabs from Rizq

Chef Onur adds, “With Adana kebab and urfa are hot favorites as of now, there are a lot of options yet to be discovered by the lovers of Turkish cuisine in Delhi. The way the butter-chicken loving Delhiite has taken to its flavours, it will soon replace or be on a par with Chinese or Italian food in Delhi.

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