Feast and Phrase

Gastronomy in the world of words.

Tag: olive oil

Imam Bayildi 3

Aubergines, a fainting imam, and imam bayıldı

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than simple food done really well. I would use an example from life, but the one which keeps popping into my head is actually from Pixar’s Ratatouille: Remy the rat cooks up the titular ‘peasant dish’ for ruthless critic Anton Ego, making it so delicious that Ego is momentarily flung back into his childhood, remembering how his mother served him the same thing.

The story of imam bayıldı follows a similar theme – minus, of course, the talking rat chef!

imam bayıldıImage from Flickr user Dobrin Isabela. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user Joan Nova.

İmam bayıldı is a Turkish dish consisting of an aubergine stuffed with a spiced mix of onions, tomatoes, and garlic, prepared with plenty of olive oil. The name is pronounced ‘im-aam bah-yuhl-duh’ rather than ‘im-am buy-ill-dee’ – Turkish has a dotted and undotted version of the letter ‘i’, and the dotless ‘ı’ is actually pronounced as ‘uh’. As you can see, the dotted ‘i’ is also dotted when capitalized to avoid confusion.

(The dotted ‘i’ has caused some confusion with my website, because the font I use doesn’t have the capitalized version, so I’ve had to put most of this article’s title in lowercase. Just in case you were wondering…)

Translated, ‘imam bayıldı’ literally means ‘the imam fainted’. No, the stuffed aubergine is not supposed to represent an unconscious imam! There are instead a variety of stories to explain how the dish got its name.

Olive OilOlive oil is not only key to making imam bayıldı, but is also key to how it got its name – at least in one version of the story. Image from Pixabay.

The most common story, in the Ratatouille vein, is that an imam was served this dish and found it so delicious that he fainted. Another tells that the imam fainted when he found out that his wife had used up all the olive oil in the house to make the dish. In one account, the imam didn’t even get to taste the dish – having just finished a lengthy fast, the mouth-watering smell was enough to make him faint. A fourth explanation is that the imam was overcome with shock at how expensive the dish was and passed out. Given the simplicity of the ingredients, this seems a little hard to believe! Maybe olive oil was more costly back then…

If you ever find yourself looking for a vegan or gluten-free dish, imam bayıldı ticks both boxes and is definitely one to consider (though you might like to serve it alongside something that has a good source of protein). Make it as tasty as the legendary original and you can also cause your guests/yourself to faint with delight!

RatatouilleRemy’s ratatouille from the film Ratatouille. Image from Fictional Food.

To finish, a fun fact: the fancy ratatouille which Remy prepares in the film is based on a real-life version of the dish known as ‘confit byaldi’ – the name being a nod to imam bayıldı. The dish appears to have been created by French chef Michel Guérard back in the 1970s; American chef Thomas Keller developed it further to create the version featured onscreen.

Confit ByaldiConfit byaldi, as prepared by Crystal Watanabe at Fictional Food.


Raclette at Borough Market

London’s Borough Market is a heaven for food lovers, but deciding what to eat is hellishly difficult. During my first visit last weekend, I seemed to loop endlessly around the stalls in a bid to make up my mind.

‘If in doubt, Meriadoc, always follow your nose,’ advises Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring. At first this seemed like the worst advice, because my nose wanted to go everywhere at once. Retreating to the free samples of Croatian fig jam and proper virgin olive oil, I realised that one smell had stood out above the rest: the irresistible flame-melted smell of raclette.

Raclette 2Half-wheels of raclette melt away under gas flames.

‘Raclette’ refers to both a cheese and the dish in which it features, hailing from the French and Swiss sides of the Alps – most famously, Switzerland’s Valais region. To make the dish, a wheel of raclette is cut in half, and the flat surface is melted with a fire or grill before being smoothly scraped onto a serving of potatoes, gherkins, and pickled onions. A good sprinkling of black pepper is all that is needed on top before you tuck into a plateful of salty, smoky, gooey goodness.

Raclette 3The melted cheese easily slips onto the plate.

Watching raclette being prepared is utterly mesmerizing. I could have stood for a good while breathing in the atmosphere of melting cheese that surrounded the stall, eyes fixed on the half-wheels as they sizzled away under gas flames. Most satisfying of all is the ease with which the hot cheese slips with the knife onto the plate. ‘Raclette’ comes from the French racler, meaning ‘to scrape’, but this suggests a bit of work is involved. Raclette, on the other hand, is effortless.

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