"Head of the Turkish Desk" is how journalist Arad Nir, the head of the foreign desk at Channel 2, jokingly refers to himself. In about a week, his book, "Hamisada Hagedola Ba'olam" (The Biggest Restaurant in the World) is to be released by Aryeh Nir Publishing.
He describes the book, which contains a huge selection of culinary highlights from Istanbul, as "the height of his love affair with the city."
Nir, 48, has been a food lover since his childhood.
"I have three sisters and my mother always told me, 'you cook for the children.' I'd prepare meat slices and croquettes, I was placed in charge of the easy recipes," he recalls.
His interest in the culinary arts increased when he served at Army Radio and studied to be a veterinarian in South Africa and Israel.
"There are a few chefs who started out doing veterinary studies, such as Tamar Cohen Tzedek of Cucina Tamar, and Victor Gluger of Chloely's. Perhaps they want to familiarize themselves with the animal from every angle," says Nir and laughs. Nir completed his veterinary studies but decided to focus on foreign news.
What he took from veterinary school is his wife, Tali, a veterinarian by training who develops medications. Together they have three cats, two dogs, and a horse that the family is raising in a stable near Ra'anana ("for the kids").
During Nir's first visit to Istanbul over 10 years ago, he fell in love with the city. It reminded him of his visits to his grandfather's house in Haifa. "I loved the mix of sea and mountains, the Bosphorus Strait, the Black Sea. I was drawn to the mix of Paris, Haifa, Gaza and Jaffa. It's ancient fusion. All the time there I searched for French, Japanese, and Italian restaurants and there were many misses. The city enchanted me from the first second, but I was convinced that from a culinary perspective, the situation was not so great. I committed the sin of culinary condescension," he confesses.
Six years ago he visited the city again. "I told myself, it can't be, there has to something more there, another world that needs to be uncovered," he says.
He asked for culinary recommendations from journalists he worked with. Slowly, he realized he had found a treasure.
"During all my visits to the city I searched for a culinary guide or recommendations and I couldn't find anything in print," he says. "The recommendations of my colleagues revealed to me an entire world with tremendous respect for food, which in any city with a history, serves as a cultural bridge. The city has excellent raw materials such as walnuts and almonds of every kind, vegetables, spices, cuts of meat. The Black Sea is a huge habitat for clams."
In the book, Nir recommends restaurants in the city, markets and spices and provides recipes for preparing the dishes at home.
"I have a few weaknesses when it comes to food: I like to recreate at home what I ate out and I like to preserve fruit in jars, to make jam or fruit soup from them; I pickle vegetables. Tali, my partner, always says we are ready for an attack: There are always a few jars of food in the pantry and we can also share with the neighbors," he says.
In Istanbul, Nir adds, his yen for preserving has found a warm home and a source of inspiration.
"Because the climate in Turkey is very extreme, they store summer fruit for winter and vice versa," he says.
It is hard for him to count how many times he has visited the city. "Work colleagues are impressed that I walk around there without a map, and also know the alleyways. I tried to convey this feeling in the book as well," he says.
Nir's doesn't think his book will suffer from recent less than stellar relations between Israel and Turkey.
"There is news-related material and there is a tourist experience in Turkey," he says. "I never was treated there in an inappropriate way or even addressed impolitely. You have to distinguish between the headlines and what the man on the street feels. In 2004, there were terrible relations between Israel and France, but Israelis didn't stop going to Paris. The routine of life doesn't change."
Nir's book is a very practical guide for the Israeli tourist in Turkey: He explains when to travel to Istanbul, how to interpret the taxi drivers' behavior, how to make a reservation at a restaurant, where to go and what kind of food can be found there and also translates the dishes into quantities for home cooking, using the method he copied from Joel Robuchon, a chef he admires.
Nir snapped the pictures that appear in the book together with his 13-year-old daughter Shiraz.
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