Turkey made me feel right at home: Dominican chef

After living in Turkey for the last three years, a Dominican chef says she feels right at home, as she works to improve her long-honed recipes using ingredients and techniques she picked up in Turkey.

"I feel like I'm with my family in my own country. I don't feel like a foreigner," Alicia Santana told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.

Santana, 41, spins her cooking magic at the Turkish Culinary Academy in Ankara, Turkey's capital, where her family of four moved due to the job requirements of her husband, who comes from Italy.

"We're happy here learning about Turkish food and Turkish people," she said.

She said Turkish cuisine influenced her and has added a distinctive touch to her recipes.

Highlighting her experience in Gaziantep, in southeastern Turkey, an area famed for its cuisine, Santana said her visits to the city taught her many ways to use the local pistachios.

Gaziantep is officially registered in UNESCO's Creative Cities Network for its culinary and cultural treasures, and its pistachios and pistachio dishes are renowned worldwide.

"I started to include pistachio in my recipes," said Santana.

She also learned how to make "yuvarlama" -- bulgur meatballs with squash and chickpeas in yogurt and mint sauce -- as well as "beyran corba", a spicy lamb soup, and baklava, Turkey's world-famous pistachio dessert.

Having lived with her family in countries around the globe, including Italy and Cuba, Santana said she has seen firsthand the impact of Ottoman and Turkish cuisine on food "everywhere."

But now that she lives in the heart of this influential cookery, she said she enjoys a special advantage.

"I started to understand Mediterranean and Asian cuisines here in Turkey," she explained.

'Turkish cuisine is special'

Singing the praises of Turkish cuisine, Santana said: "It is different and special."

She especially extolled the cornucopia of traditional Turkish breakfasts, saying: "Here you have everything on the table, and it's amazing."

"Breakfast [here] is different from elsewhere in the world, she explained. Whenever we have a guest from abroad, we make them have kahvalti [breakfast], and they're surprised how people can eat all those things at once."

As for her favorite dish in Turkey, Santana said then whenever her family ends up leaving the country, the traditional dish of menemen is the one she would miss the most.

Menemen is made using eggs, tomato, and fresh green peppers, and spices such as both black and red pepper, and can be cooked either with or without onion.

As a chef, she said Gaziantep is her favorite culinary destination in Turkey, followed closely by picturesque Cappadocia, in central Anatolia.

"Cappadocia is a unique place in the world. It's magical," Santana said of the region, famed for its fairy chimney rock formations, adding that she was also impressed by the historic metropolis of Istanbul.

"Istanbul is cosmopolitan, she said. It's like the whole world in one place. You feel like you're in Europe or Asia -- so in multiple places at once -- when you're in Istanbul."

'Please, 2 more years in Turkey!'

Highlighting the similarities between people in Turkey and Latin America, Santana said both people in both places are "friendly and hardworking."

She did admit that learning to speak Turkish had been a challenge.

"You have a strong language that's difficult to learn," she said, adding that once someone gets past the language barrier, living in Turkey gets much easier.

Santana said that in their global travels, so far her family has lived a maximum of four years in any one country, but now her children -- age 9 and 12 -- are dead set against leaving Turkey.

"They're like, 'No, please'. We want to live [in Turkey] for at least 2 more years," she said.

Source: Anadolu Agency