When you say Turkey folks tend to think pistachios -- if they are thinking of nuts, that is. Pistachios are a huge crop in the country's southeast, and more often than not pistachios are what gets tucked between sheets of yufka for the baklava sold back in Istanbul.
But for me Turkey's big nut is the hazelnut, so dear in the USA but so everyday here, especially on the Black Sea coast. On our first road trip along the Black Sea some 11 or 12 years ago we marvelled at the burlap bags of hazelnuts in the region's kuru yemis (dried foods) stores, pounds and pounds of shelled and unshelled nuts sold for a song. We bought dried mulberries and plums and hazelnuts by the kilo and cobbled together what seemed at the time fabulously luxurious trail mixes. To accompany a beer with handfuls of hazelnuts, instead of peanuts, seemed almost a sin.
A few days ago we kicked off our third Black Sea trip in less than two years, in Giresun -- also known as Turkey's hazelnut capital. Like those of other Turkish cities Giresun's central square is graced with a statue of Kemal Ataturk. But just nearby is another statue, of male and female hazelnut pickers standing back-to-back, conical woven baskets laden with nuts strapped around their waists and giant hazelnut husks (the papery covering over the nut, which looks a bit like a trumpet flower) balanced on their heads.
Driving into Giresun from the east along the four-lane highway, we passed fındık fabrikası (hazelnut processing facility) after fındık fabrikası -- huge buildings, many with container trucks parked out front. In the city fındık depo tucked among houses and low-rise apartment buildings house hundreds of burlap bags of nuts in their shells, and shops with names like Hazelnut Castle and Hazelnut World sell all manner of hazelnut products: the nuts shelled and unshelled and dipped in chocolate, hazenut butter chunky or smooth, hazelnut flour and the big macaroon-type cookies that are made from it and hazelnut ezme, a sweet, sticky slurry of coarsely crushed hazelnuts blended withsyrup.
At Giresun's twice-weekly market, which draws fresh and prepared food vendors from villages near and far, we asked a husband-wife team selling whole dried pears, pear and apple pekmez (fruit molasses) and seven types of cheese why, given that the Black Sea hazelnut harvest was not all that many weeks ago, there were no hazelnuts for sale at the market.
"Why would we sell our hazelnuts at the market for 5 lira a kilo when we can get 15 lira from the factory?" he asked (the couple harvest around 500 kilos of hazelnuts a year from their own orchard).
But there are hazelnuts aplenty in Giresun's pastane, or pastry shops. We eyed the breads, buns and sweets in many pastry shop windows before settling on Patar Kadayıfı, in the center of town. Our rationale: the glass case tiny Patar held just three or four sweets, and only two made with hazelnuts.
If there's one thing we've learned from working the street food circuit all these years, it's that specialization rules.
We we ordered the hazelnut baklava. And it was delicious, not too syrupy ..... but to be honest, once you've eaten baklava in Gaziantep no other baklava can ever come close.
So we tried the fındık ezmeli kadayıf, a sort of sticky bar cookie made of hazelnut ezme combined with kadayıf, wispy dried wheat vermicelli. It was wonderful, heavenly, packed with nuts that had been crushed not too fine to really taste. We swooned through a shared plateful.
As we were scraping our plate with our forks, two portly middle-aged Turkish men sat down at the table next to us and ordered a portion each. Their ezme squares arrived topped with thick slices of what looked like kaymak (Turkish clotted cream) and a hillock of crushed hazelnuts. Whoa!
Well, the kaymak turned out to be dondurma, that delicious, slightly chewy Turkish ice cream. So much the better. We returned to Parar the following day just before blowing town and did our fındık ezmeli kadayıf right, crowned with shingles of ice cream and more fındık -- to the delight of the trio of burly men behind the counter who, judging by their collective girth, enjoy hazelnut ezme often.
Patar Kadayıfı, 21/B Fatih Caddesi, Giresun.