Turkish coffee is intense and aromatic, a manifestation of how the coffee beans were transformed in the so called Old World. Those who are first initiated into this ritual expect something unknown. There is not much interference by sugar nor dilution by milk. One goes embracing the purity and integrity of what coffee drinking is actually like, and how it all began. The Ottoman Empire transversed both East and West, embraced cosmopolitan practices, was enriched by many demographics but had food traditions that are still unique.
To enter such a world, and sample a variety of the special cooking that was centred in the Middle East, my cousin Lin and her hubby Joe organised for a group of us to try the Mado Cafe. The cafe has a visible location along Auburn Road and was recommended by her close friend from Iran. So each of us had expectations, but also missing gaps in what we were going to experience. We wanted more authenticity, less modification and true atmosphere. I have tried Lebanese cuisine but not totally Turkish. My stereotyping perspective of grains, beans, nuts and spices set my tone and mindset. It was a bright Saturday in early spring (picture above) but I was also concerned how the pastes and ingredients in unique Anatolian cooking could agree with my stomach.
True to my expectations, Momma breads, pide and dips , along with flavourful steamed pilav rice, first welcomed us at our table. Indian rotis and Turkish breads, they seem logically connected, via geography, trading routes and historical connections. I find the dips lively and standing up in taste, with the colours reflecting the freshness of the ingredients. Baba ghanush has eggplants, cacik has dried cucumber and the rather well known humous provdes chickpea and tahini as its main inspiration. Tahini paste is made from ground and hulled sesame seeds.
I am one who checks the dessert offerings at a restaurant before the mains, often furtively. It may be a bad habit, or a strategic one, to help me choose just the right serving of the main dish and allow room for the stuff to sweeten up the meal. I saw the pomegranate seed laden with other stewed fruit concoction above on my way to the booked table. However, I was also captivated by the efforts of Mado to place representatives of their cultural heritage in various corners, like in the image below. Fereidoun Hassan Zadeh directs the running of this rather spacious restaurant, with the help of attentive and eager staff. For our lunchtime visit, we sat at the front, but there were several dimly lit corners of seating far back, with my imagination running wild and suggesting sessions of enjoying the Turkish water pipe, and more.
Yes, I did mention desserts earlier and there is a very good reason. If you do not take anything else, you must try the Mado cafe for its signature ice cream - the dondurma. At this stage, I realise that there is well known Mado Cafe in Istanbul itself. (186 Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul Beyoğlu, Turkey). Pistacchio and mastik flavours are worth a sampling. I enjoyed a special experience in Mado in Auburn with the Maras inspired ice cream slice serving seen above - I had to use a knife and fork to cut through the hard texture, beautifully welcoming with yogurt and sahlep orchird tuber aromas. I am told that the dondurma is sold by the metre back in Turkey! The Mado chain back in its homeland is very popular, and there are many overseas outlets, including those in Malaysia, South Korea, Cyprus and Hong Kong. Picture below provides a display of burnt rice pudding or the Kazandibi.
I could not help pointing out the shoes hanging on the wall to my fellow lunchers Al and Lucy. (photo above) I enjoyed the simple but light salad mix of tasty tomato cuts and cucumber slices mixed with Mado's special sauce. (picture below) Two main dishes caught my eye - the Ali Nazik, lamb mince bathing in a a gravy of eggplant strips and yogurt, all garnished by parsley; and the Maras kebab, with sauteed Turkish bread cubes, more minced lamb with vegetables and yogurt. The province of Maras is located inland in south-eastern Turkey. Oh yes, my stomach was most agreeable with what we had at the Mado.