The Day We Made Eggplant Parmesan in Turkey

Adventures in Istanbul / April 16, 2012

My second day in Istanbul and I am curled up in my Turkish hosts’ bedroom, head pounding and nausea washing over me as I battle through a truly violent hangover.  Here I am with only one week to enjoy the sights, and today, the only day with a forecast of guaranteed sunny weather, the day we are supposed to be taking the ferry to Prince’s Island, I am so hung over I can barely see straight.

“Paula, I think I’m dying!” I shout out to my friend and travel partner in the adjacent room.

“Oh my god me too.” Comes the faint reply.

How did this happen?

24 hours earlier, Gokce, our pal and host had informed us that we had been invited to a dinner party at Cem’s apartment. Gokce’s friends would cook some Turkish food for Paula and I, the visiting Americans. Upon learning that one of the flat mates was Italian, Paula decided to make some eggplant parmesan to bring along to the party. As an Italian American and something of a cooking legend amongst our friends in New York, this seemed like a thoroughly excellent idea.

21 hours earlier, Paula, Gokce and I stood in a grocery store, rubbing our chins. Turns out things that we take for granted as cooking staples back in NYC, such as “bread crumbs” and “mozzarella cheese” are a little difficult to come by in Turkey.

Istanbul supermarket

Istanbul supermarket

Istanbul supermarket

19 hours earlier, Paula had enlisted the help of both Gokce and I in her cooking endeavors. Gokce stood on the terrace of her flat, smashing bread sticks to bits with a large tomato can. Bread crumbs – check!  Paula stirred the spaghetti sauce, which was bubbling along nicely. I took the breadcrumbs from Gokce, and began crumbing up the eggplant. With the clock ticking down towards dinner hour, it looked like we had conquered the foreign ingredients issue after all. Sure the breadcrumbs were a little unorthodox, but we had some cheese that definitely, sort of seemed an awful lot like mozzarella.

desperate measures - making bread crumbs

cooking in Istanbul

cooking in Istanbul

Making Gravy in Istanbul

“Susanne, can you put this first tray in the oven?” Paula asked as she mixed up some eggplant, sauce and cheese.  I ran into the other end of the kitchen, and stopped dead in my tracks when I got there.

“Uhm Paula?”  My heart rate picked up as my eyes darted frantically around the kitchen… “There is no oven!”

18 hours earlier, we realized that Gokce only had a small toaster over.  The first bottle of wine was cracked.

drinking in Istanbul

16 hours earlier, we were walking to the party, eggplant in hand.  After breaking the eggplant up into small batches, we had baked them one at a time in the toaster, then mixed it all together into a larger dish. It may not have been the worlds most beautiful plate of food, but it tasted damn good in spite of all the difficulties. Tasty Italian food – check!


Upon arrival at the dinner party, we were treated to dish after dish of Turkish specialties (pictures below), as well as glass after glass of Turkish raki and wine. We unveiled the eggplant. Italian roommate as it turns out was not able to stay at the party. Paula, next to me breathed a sigh of relief. Oh but we had made Italian food, Italian guy noticed. He would of course have a bite before he left. I suddenly felt Paula’s hand, tightly squeezing my leg under the table. The dinner party fell to complete silence.  He lumped a little of the eggplant on his plate, then his fork and moved it towards his mouth.  Paula’s grip tightened. He put it in his mouth, and swallowed.

“It’s nice.”  He said.  Then quickly put on his coat and left.

14 hours earlier, Paula popped open another bottle of vino, and I handed her my glass.

Istanbul wine

7 hours earlier, we walked home to Gokce’s flat.  I vaguely remember hearing Paula say something along the lines of “Its nice! It’s nice?  What the hell does that mean, it’s nice?”

After that it gets a little hazy.  Which brings us back to the bedroom.

We only have one week in Istanbul. There is just no time to be laid up in bed with a hangover.  I decide immediately to put mind over matter into action.

I pick myself up, hobble into the bathroom and splash some cold water on my face.  I still feel like hell.  But I think I know just the cheesy, salty delicious thing to get my motor running this morning.

“Paula!”  I yell while leaping out of the bathroom, the brilliant plan forming in my mind invigorating me. “Let’s heat up the leftover eggplant!”

Paula turns to face me from the spot on the couch where she is curled up. We look at each other for a moment, assessing one another’s damage.  Paula hesitates for just a second before speaking.

“There is no leftover eggplant.  We left it all at the party”.

Damn.  This is going to be a long day.


Pictures of the delicious Turkish meal Cem and Ahmet cooked for us – it doesn’t get more authentic than this!

Turkish food

Pictured above is onions with sumak (sumach in english). Cem recommends adding lemon juice and parsley into the mixture for an incredible flavor. Choose sweet onions to avoid bitterness. This dish is called maydanozlu soğan salatası or onion salad with parsley.

Turkish food

Eggplant salad – an atypical dish, yet all the ingredients are traditional Turkish staples. It contains paprika (sweet red & fat peppers) eggplant, plain yogurt, garlic, butter, milk and vinegar. Cem passed along the recipe to Paula – she’ll be trying this one herself soon – stay tuned.

Turkish food

Talk about “wow” factor! Ahmet made this mouth watering Levrek (sea bass) for us. There are many ways to cook this fish but Ahmet recommends marinating the fish in lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper and salt – then grill it up. Paula was presented with the head, which is the most flavorful part and a delicacy in Turkey.

cooking in Istanbul

Yes, Gokce is holding fries. Cem loves to spice’em up with chilli pepper, oregano and lots of salt!

cooking in Istanbul

Gokce holding potatoes, Cem at the stove and Amhet doing something in the back!

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