After a long hiatus where I set off on a journey to the far reaches of the galaxy to train with an aging swordsman (and a general tendency towards procrastination) I’m finally back and ready to kick start the new year with a much needed jolt of blogging about an obscure but always arousing cuisine: Turkish food, smack dab in the middle of a large Chinese city.
Yep, you heard it here folks. Turkish food in China. In Shenzhen. Of all places. Did I need to try it? Heck yep.
So my party of five and I trekked down to Huaqiang North (华强北), the electronics district of Shenzhen to get our fill after an intense hour of hacky-sacking in the park. It’s located in an area with plenty of other restaurants, including an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue joint right next door (more on that in a future post!). We made our way inside amidst an ominous blanket of thick hookah smoke that injected the dining area with an oddball assortment of fragrant scents. It only added to the already foreign looking atmosphere and seemed to be saying to us, “this ain’t your typical Chinese restaurant.”
My first and only exposure to Turkish food was at this exact same place, nearly two years ago. To be fair, I’ve had shawarmas before but I had never been to a sit-down-and-enjoy-yourself Turkish restaurant before. I leafed through the menu with purpose, grasping for a feel of this novel cuisine, trying to somehow make any sense over what appeared to me as an eclectic array of tasty looking dishes. To (inaccurately) sum up my findings, it seemed like a blend of both Mediterranean and Greek cuisines, with a healthy dose of Middle Eastern flair bringing all the dishes together. The menu included staples like hummus and baba ghanoush with bread, but also lamb bites in a mildly spicy red sauce with bread cubes and yogurt. Also included was Turkish style pizza, which is a nearly oval shaped, flatbread pizza made with Mediterranean-style toppings, and Turkish lunch and dinner platters which resembled your classic burgers and fries joint. For the more adventurous, you can also order a hookah pipe with your choice of flavourings to share with your dining fellows. With choices as varied and delicious as these, I’d have to make a few more trips back to delve deeper into what Turkish cuisine really is.
We started by ordering some healthy appetizers. First came the parsley salad, a stunning blend of emerald green leaves and tiny tomato cubes glistening with an olive oil sheen. I transferred a spoonful onto my plate and picked up a small bite to try. Immediately I was struck by its simplicity, surprised that a few simple ingredients could hold so much taste. A lemon juice and olive oil dressing held everything together, giving the flavour of the parsley some added weight against its more acidic tomato pairing.
Next came the baba ghanoush with a slab of soft, chewy bread. Baba ghanoush is an eggplant based dip made from roasting an eggplant until the flesh is soft and nearly melts in your mouth and then pureeing it with olive oil and other seasonings, in a similar vein as hummus, though with a lighter flavour. The bread was the perfect conduit for scooping up the baba ghanoush, its many white folds capable of soaking up heavy amounts of it. Though I have a soft spot for hummus, baba ghanoush will definitely be given a second try by me at some point.
Several dishes after that came in quick succession, which was good as the appetizers had done their job of appetizing us. Two pizzas arrived on wooden slabs and a plate of ground lamb chunks smothered in yogurt, bread and a red sauce followed soon after. One of the pizzas was a simple spinach and cheese, and the other had ground sausage and onion topped with a baked egg. Both were thin and had been freshly fired up in the oven, sliced diagonally to share. The cheese on one was thickly layered and stringy, oozing in and out of the tender spinach leaves, while the egg complemented the sausage and onion mixture on the other, almost like a breakfast pizza. The crust wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked, though for a thin crust pizza it still had a decent amount of chew.
The ground lamb chunks smothered in white yogurt and red sauce was probably my favourite dish of the evening. The red, white, and smoky brown colours resembled an artist’s palette, the colours dancing beneath our wagging tongues. I placed a chunk of ground lamb and a few bread cubes on my plate and drizzled it with a generous helping of red sauce and yogurt. LOTS of yogurt (Fun fact: the English word “yogurt” actually derives from the Turkish word, “yogurt”). The combination of the mildly hot red sauce, sour, creamy yogurt, and lamb juices all being soaked up by soft, spongy bread was nearly enough to declare this place a gateway to food heaven. Everything about this dish was simply magical.
Soon after, a platter of roast chicken, fries, and various fresh and pickled grated veggies came our way. Its presentation was a pleasant reminder of home, and more satisfying than most lunch specials you could find in a standard mom and pop diner. Crisp fries and roast seasoned chicken: can it get much better than that?
Oh, I forgot to mention: the rose tea!
The gentle pink glow of the tea gave way to a ghostly steam that invited us to unlock the rosy flavours inside. The tea was flowery and sweet and was kept warm by a candle underneath the teapot holder. We sipped it out of tiny glass cups, giving us a sweet respite between mouthfuls of savoury food.
Verdict on Turkish food? Though still a mystery to me, this is one of those cuisines I feel I will slowly develop a huge appreciation for, and will only get better the more I try it. The food here was decent and the flavours not too strong nor too mild, a nice proving ground for the curious foodie. I can’t wait to seek out other Turkish restaurants and discover what else the great nation of Turkey is hiding behind clouds of fragrant smoke.
Address: 深圳市福田区振兴路 (华强北地铁站C出口) Zhenxing Road, Futian District, Shenzhen (Huaqiang North Station, Exit C)
Exit C and walk north on 中航路 (Zhonghang Road) and make a left on 振兴路 (Zhenxing Road)