Many societies have their version of the (Cornish) pasty. In Spain there is the empanada, in India the samosa, in South Eastern Europe, North Africa and Turkey the börek. Different communities also have their version of the pancake. In France there’s the crêpe; in Britanny the gallette, in North Africa there is msimen and in Turkey there is the wonderful gözleme. If you’ve never had gözleme, it’s like a stuffed pancake, only it’s made with a dough (not a batter) which is stretched and pulled and stuffed (eg with spiced minced meat or goat’s cheese) and then folded over a hot plate.
When I stepped off the London Overground at Dalston Kingsland, it was like stepping off the Berlin Hochbahn (ie the underground that goes overground) at Kottbusser Tor. Not quite like being in Istanbul (Istanbul is much more avant-garde than any Turkish expat community I’ve seen), but not far off it. There are Turkish cafes and barbers lining both sides of Kingsland High Street and its northerly continuation, Stoke Newington Road, interspersed by the odd hamam, halal butcher and kebab shop.
In several of these cafes, there are headscarved and apron-ed women preparing gözleme for the local population: mustachioed Turkish men drinking coffee like tar; mums who’ve dropped their kids off at the local schools; and shoppers and traders from the local market. One such establishment is Evin Café, where I had a delicious breakfast of spinach gözleme and a latte for less than a fiver (£3.90). The gözleme was freshly prepared and lightly spiced (although I should have asked for it with cheese as well as spinach – that’s my favourite combo). The staff were friendly and efficient and the wifi was free.
Evin, 115 Kingsland High Street, London, E8 2PB. Tel: +44 207 254 5634
Another local Ottoman gem is Solché, a bit further North. It is a large place on a broad corner and in summer the windows open onto a pavement terrace. At this time of year, though, you’re better off inside, dreaming of the Mediterranean sun as you sample the extensive menu of hot and cold mezze, grilled meats and kebabs, pizzas and casseroles.
On arrival, a basket of grilled flatbread and tapenade greeted us and staved off our hunger while we tried to make up our minds. Everything sounded delicious! Finally, I opted for a selection of mezze. I had imam bayaldi (my all time Turkish favourite – aubergine stuffed with tomato and onion and baked until it just melts in the mouth); a dip of broad beans and dill snuggled on a bed of yoghurt and olive oil (yogurtlu bakla) ; and a warm dish of prawns in an amazing tomato sauce (karides). The mezze were £4-5 each and with bread were enough for a filling meal. My friend had a very substantial (so much so he took some of it home with him) chicken beyti (hand-chopped chicken meat seasoned with lightly spicy red peppers and grilled on skewers, served with rice and salad on a flatbread on a wooden platter). Because even when you’re stuffed it’s still possible to eat dessert, we also had a fresh mint leaf infusion to accompany super-sticky baklava and also a chestnut dessert, which was recommended by our waiter. It didn’t look much – kind of like a side plate of pale nuttela, but it tasted amazing; like nothing I have had before. It was sweet, but not overly so, due to the addition of a little cream and a sprinkling of chopped pistachio nuts. After that, we virtually rolled home! At less than £25 a head including aperitifs and a glass of wine, it was a really good deal. The staff were attentive, and every one of their recommendations was spot on!
There seems to be a Solché Cilicia of the same chain, also in Hackney, with a greater internet presence than the one we visited. The one we tried is at 182 Stoke Newington Road, London, N16 7UY. Tel: +44 20 7275 9988
© Lynn Sheppard