GLORIOUS! Istanbul text over image of the city

Hello! And welcome to the first wordsoup for my friends at Glorious!

Hello! And welcome to the first wordsoup for my friends at Glorious! As a proper fan of Glorious! soups, stews and sauces, I was tickled pink when they asked me to work with them. Glorious! is a company of lovely, good people who make real food. As well as these wordsoups, I’ve written the 60 Glorious Years Trends Report - click here - and have just led the Glorious! food odyssey to Istanbul.

Why me? Well…as a teenager I trained as a chef, and worked in some of the best kitchens in Europe. After that (let’s not talk here about my career as a rubbish jazz singer, or overdressed DJ), I became a grocer and caterer, and had some trendy caffs in London. My groceries were called Realfood, the catering company was Joy, and the caffs were branded Love. I started writing on food and producers for Food Illustrated in the mid 1990’s, and still write and take snaps for the Guardian, the Financial Times and the world’s most beautiful food mags and sites. Around the same time, I started predicting Trends, first for Marks & Spencer, then for more and more clients ranging from multinational giants to kitchen table start-ups. Ive written a few food books along the way, and am just now working on a biography of Chateau Musar, Lebanon’s finest wines. My life now is about a third writing, a third consultancy and Trend prediction, and a third travel, when I seek out the world’s most inspirational food and wine producers. I live in West London, and am tall, thin and ugly, with a beard.

60 Glorious! Years takes 1952 as its start, for obvious reasons. I believe in my heart that, in order to know where you’re going you have to know where you’ve come from. That’s why 60 Glorious! Years looks carefully at what has influenced the way we eat since the Coronation (and coronation chicken), so we can see what foods will be on trend for late 2012 and beyond…

I realised early on that the biggest influences on our national food tastes were: a)migration and the people who have brought their food cultures to the UK, and b) the destinations we’ve travelled to on holidays and the foods from those places that we’ve come to love.

My hot Trends for late 2012 are:

*Turkey and the Levant (my overblown way of saying Eastern Mediterranean), where 3 million or more of us will holiday this year – hence the Glorious! trip to Istanbul.

*North African village food, and its earthy, warm flavours and aromas.

*Regional South East Asian, especially the foods of Cambodia, Laos, northern Vietnam, Burma and northern Thailand.

June is a great time to visit Istanbul. The fruit stalls are heavy with hard green Erik plums (sensational with a Martini or a cold Efes beer)and fat glossy gothic-looking cherries; the sun is warm, but the heavy heat of summer is yet to arrive. Soups and stews have an honoured, central place in the cuisine of this fascinating region.

Ten of us gathered on a bleary early morning at Heathrow. Simon Gamble, Head Development Chef at Glorious! was with his colleagues Matt Stephenson, himself just back from a mammoth eatathon in South East Asia, and Mars Webb, whose good luck it is to communicate the good news about Glorious! Our photographer and movie-maker was the super-nice Carl Pendle. Some of the UK and Ireland’s most distinguished food and travel writers made up the rest of the group.

We arrived in Istanbul in time for lunch, which was at Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi, a restaurant specialising in the cuisine of Hatay – ancient Antioch. 14 courses later (we ate everything from gentle yoghurt and pumpkin soups to 2 metre-long pistachio kebabs, flaming shoulders of lamb and a dessert of warm halva with pekmez grape molasses. Yum!) we decanted ourselves into our minibus to eat a second dessert (pigs that we are) at Karakoy Gulluoglu, the best and busiest baklava joint in town.

That evening, a tasting of Corvus wines from the north Aegean island of Bozcaada was accompanied by delicious white cheeses from Ezine and plate after plate of tasty bites. A water taxi then cruised us up the Bosphorous towards the Black Sea, where we ate bowls of fish soup thickened with the traditional liaison of egg and lemon, fish kofte (these were very good, flavoured with dill and cumin), warm aubergine paste with sauteed prawns, and great plates of tiny grilled red mullet and the last of the season’s anchovies, which were fried in cornmeal. (Are you hungry, yet? I’m starving, just writing this!). Every Istabullu you’ll ever meet will be able to tell you what fish are in season that week, so connected are they to the rhythms of the tides and the seasons.

The following morning we stepped into our elasticated trousers and drove along the Sea of Marmara for a traditional Van breakfast. Van is a lake and a city in Turkey’s far south east, on the border with Iran. Butter-fried Van-style peppers with coddled eggs, and clotted cream dribbled with dark, resinous honey helped set us up for the day.

Having jumped a ferry to Istanbul’s Asian side, we found ourselves on a busy street market, where Simon got deeply into the succulent mounds of different pepper pastes and pepper flakes on sale. Isot pepper from Urfa (near Turkey’s border with Iraq) was a revelation, and is a top trend tip – isot can be hot, smoky or fruity depending on the grade you choose. It adds tremendous character to any dish.

Lunch that day was made by chef Musa Dagdeviren, whose deep commitment to Slow Food has him collecting tens of thousands of recipes from vilages all over the country. Each day, he makes about a hundred dishes at his Ciya restaurant. a salad of kekik thyme leaves with pomegranate molasses, soaked green olives and tiny tomatoes was exceptional, as was a beautiful lamb broth with aubergine, and another with tiny chickpea flour dumplings. A chicken, almond and allspiceperde pilaf was baked inside a dome of filo pastry, and afters included glaceed olives, tomatoes and aubergines, washed down with wild thyme tea. By Slow Food, I think Musa means – slow to leave your waistline, after eating it.

Showered and dressed up, we presented ourselves at dusk on the rooftop terrace of the Marmara Pera hotel, where Mehmet Gurs has his Mikla Restaurant. Mehmet is alarmingly talented and quite disgustingly good looking. As the sun started to set, the female members of our group invested an hour or two in being horribly nice to Mehmet, whilst Simon, Matt, Carl and I (rather resentfully) watched the lights come on in the Old City across the Golden Horn – perhaps the world’s most evocative and moving cityscape.

Mehmet made us a bespoke Bosphorous-inspired soup that infused seaweed and salt flavours into water in which swam small, succulent pieces of local bonito. This was served in small kilner jars. Gosh, it was good. As the Corvus wines flowed, we ate some beautiful Anatolian dishes, all given the modern, Mehmet Gurs treatment. Grouper fish with firik (green wheatberries), lamb shank with smoked aubergine… I don’t entirely remember getting back to our hotel, but retain some vague images of the street singers and raki-fuelled bars of neighbouring Beyoglu.

In glorious sunshine the next morning, we sat in a peaceful cemetery garden and drank tea and nibbled on gozleme (white cheese-and-potato-filled flatbreads), a stone’s throw from the Old City’s touristic hotspots. By the Nurosmaniye entrance to the Covered Bazaar, we ducked into a tiny hole-in-the-wall kofte grill frequented by the area’s silver and leather workers. Under a vaulted ceiling we ate piles of sexy, springy, savoury kofte, sprinkled with isot, served simply with piles of bread, crunchy salad and pickled hot peppers.

Thus fortified, we discovered the Bazaar (the world’s first shopping mall, you could say) to be as busy, weird and disorientating as ever, but filled with the most beautiful dust-speckled light. A meander (did you know that the meandering River Meander is in Turkey?) downhill found us in the thronged Spice Bazaar. Outside, there’s a street market the tourists rarely penetrate, where Simon bought a suitcase-full of pepper paste, pomegranate molasses and isot flakes to haul back to his kitchens in sunny Scunthorpe.

Our last meal together was in a gritty suburb, where Kurdish villagers from the Mesopotamioan region around Diyarbakr, Gazinatep and Urfa have congregated over the years. Ehli Kebab has a grill chef and a dedicated soup chef, who makes beyram corbasi, an all-day breakfast speciality from Gazinatep. In shallow individual bowls he fries up hot isot peppers and garlic, then adds a few grains of soft wet rice, some strands of pit-roasted lamb, and a ladle or two of dense, rich lamb stock. The resulting soup was brightly flavoured, and enormously spicy; it felt like the entire corps of the Royal Ballet were dancing Swan Lake all over our taste-buds. The platters of grilled liver kebabs that followed were less well received, but Ehli saved the day with wonderful shish kebabs, bowls of salad dressed with thick pomegranate molasses – Turkey’s balsamic vinegar, if you like – and charr-y grilled peppers.

In not quite three days, we’d each eaten a week’s worth of food but for inspiration, excitement, and sheer downright deliciousness, the Glorious! trip to Istanbul was an extraordinary experience for all of us. It was a journey for discovery, from Apple tea to Zaatar, and an insight for me into the seriously committed way in which Glorious! finds the inspiration for its A-Z of World Flavours.