Move, over pizza: it’s all about Turkish pide now. The traditional Turkish treat pide is succulent, buttery and versatile. Xanthe Clay pays a visit to its Black Sea homeland. Photo by Harala Hamilton.
Simply topping: pide is believed to date back to Ottoman times.
Pide is pizza with Turkish flair. Forget tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil: this is about the seductively bright flavours of Middle Eastern food. Think fragrant lamb, pungent black pepper, tender spinach and Turkey’s famed peynir cheese, made from sheep’s milk to an ancient recipe. And the best thing about pide (pronounced pea-day)? It could be available at a restaurant near you.
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The food writer and Turkish food expert John Gregory-Smith says that the best pide is still to be found in its birthplace. I travelled with him to his partner Murat’s home town of Samsun, on the Turkish Black Sea coast, to visit his favourite pide shop, Gözde Pide Salonu. This tiny, spotlessly clean bakery on a back street lined with cafés has been run by Ibrahim and his brother for 25 years, making pide the traditional way with a dough that is left to rise for 12 hours before being baked in a wood-fired oven. When we arrived, he was deftly pressing out the dough on a heavily floured surface, then flipping it over the backs of his hands to stretch it as thin as chamois leather. “It should be as soft as your earlobe,” he explained. Touching the dough, I found it as pillowy as the finest down.
At the counter stood an elderly man who had brought in his wife’s home-made filling – cheese and spinach – to be turned into the long, thin pide traditional to the area. After just 10 minutes in the 300C oven, the finished pide were ready to be chopped into lengths with a curved knife, packed into a box and whisked away to feed a houseful of guests.
“The dough is left to rise for 12 hours before being baked in a wood-fired oven.”
While we waited, John explained that the history of pide is muddled. Some say that the Ottomans ate a pide-like bread called tokalak, while others claim that the dish was invented in the Twenties as a way of eking out ingredients in war-torn Turkey. Most agree that pide originated in the Samsun area, possibly in the town of Bafra, and that it can be as simple as a sesame seed-sprinkled flat bread.
For the traditional Samsun pide, known as kiymali, a filling of lamb, onion and black pepper is enclosed in the dough to make a long, French-stick shape. More modern – as in a mere 70-odd years old (Turkey has a long history) – is the open, pizza-like pide, where the edges of the dough are folded in to make a boat-shaped tart. Toppings can include cheese, vegetables or, most commonly, meat – more lamb, sujuk or the local pastrami. Often an egg is broken on top for the last few minutes of baking, so that slices can be dunked in the soft yolk.
But what unifies them all is butter, for along the Black Sea it is butter, not olive oil, that is king. In Gözde Pide Salonu, Ibrahim dolloped butter over pide filled with lamb (cooked in butter) before sliding them into the furnacelike oven. An empty pide case was loaded with four tablespoonfuls of butter before popping it in the oven to parbake, ready for a filling of paper-thin pastrami. Before serving, every pide was brushed lavishly with more melted butter, giving it a satiny sheen. And on the table was a dish of yet more butter, just in case. As a fellow pide baker remarked cheerfully: “Without butter there is no flavour.”
The result was a deceptively light, crisp base and an intense filling that epitomised the Turkish emphasis on clean flavours. It was exquisite.