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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Touch of Spice (2003)

Politiki Kouzina: if you are in love with Greek cuisine this is the book for you. There are only a few copies still available, the publisher is no longer operating. And of course, you need to know Dimotiki, otherwise you'll enjoy the images of various dishes, without being able to follow the recipes.

I love Greek cuisine, I love it enormously and I remember the great brunches I used to have at a Greek restaurant in Clarendon, one of the towns from Arlington County. The tables were full of all kind of good stuff, dolmades, eggplant salad (baba ghanoush, if you know the term, though the Greek name is different) and backed eggplant, stuffed peppers, taramosalata and tzatziki, fasolatha and gigandes plaki, souvlaki and keftedakia, and moussaka, cheese of all ways, and salami, black and green olives, fish prepared in many ways, and many, many other dishes. That restaurant is no more, but there are other nice Greek restaurants in the greater DC area (one of them, that I highly recommend, is the PanAm Family Restaurant on Nutley Street, in Fairfax) .

All this stuff is also in the Turkish cuisine, both are very similar (and they have a strong resemblance with the cuisine of all other Balkan countries, Romania included, and also with all countries in Mid Orient). I used to go on any given Saturday night in a Turkish restaurant in Bethesda (also the DC area), they were making there a great seafood chowder, and I was adding a glass of Mukuzani. But they were having also musakka and pilaf, and salads, and chopped meat, and minced meat and lots of other dishes, and sauces, and spices, and above all their coffee, their wonderful Türk kahvesi (I knew it with their Romanian names, either cafea gingirlie, or cafea cu caimac, or cafea la ibric). That's a restaurant that also ran out of business, I miss it.

Which is the best of them? There is only one answer: you'll find it in Istanbul. It's Politiki Kouzina, the term has double meaning. Politiki Kouzina is the Cuisine of the Polis, because the Great City of Constantine, Constantinopolis, is unique: it is THE City, THE Polis. Politiki Kouzina means also political cuisine (or politics through cuisine), as the relations between Greeks and Turks have always been so complicated that everything there cannot exist without a heavy political dimension.

I watched yesterday a Greek movie from 2003, Politiki Kouzina (the English title is A Touch of Spice): a movie about politics and about cuisine. It's about Greeks who used to live in Istanbul and have been forced to leave for Greece, due to the complicated political contentious between the two countries. They moved to Greece and remained nostalgic for their lost Polis, and a way to keep their distinct identity was Politiki Kouzina: the dishes they went on preparing exactly like in Istanbul. The same spices, in the same proportions, giving the same flavors. Their touch of spice, their Constantinopolitan touch.

A movie calling in mind Cinema Paradiso, full of nostalgia. I have read the reviews to this movie. Most of them were enthusiastic. I'm sorry to say I did not appreciate very much the realization. When you tell its story it sounds great, while the movie itself seemed to me artistically flawed. Maybe too one-sided politically (though very decent), maybe somehow irresolute, like not knowing what turn to take in the unfolding of the plot, maybe some solutions in the plot suffer from lack of consistency.

I am sorry to say that because I am fascinated by Istanbul: I haven't had the occasion to go there so far, it's one of my dearest dreams. And where A Touch of Spice definitely succeeds is in communicating a superb love for the Great City, for the Polis, and I will give you here just a scene which is, I think, the greatest in this movie. It's one of those scenes that will remain in my memory for ever! This movie, for all its flaws, deserve to be watched for this scene. The three personages are gathered at the table (where else?) in their apartment in Athens. And the father is suddenly telling his love for the most beautiful city in the world. They have been forced to leave Istanbul many years ago, their souls still belong there.




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