Beyhan Çagri Trock’s “The Ottoman Turk and the Pretty Jewish Girl” is an outstanding Turkish and Sephardic cookbook and fascinating memoir. Trock’s Jewish mother (Beti) and Muslim father (Zeki) immigrated to the United States in the late 1950’s, bringing with them an incredibly rich culture, history, and cuisine. This book contains their story as well as 101 of the authentic Turkish and Sephardic recipes Beti and Zeki grew up with and cooked at home.
Trock presents her family’s cultural and culinary odyssey with a keen eye for explaining ancient family traditions, preserving age-old cooking techniques, and recreating authentic flavors and dishes. In doing so, Trock has captured a precious legacy; the “old world” family recipes which have been passed down from one generation of cooks to the next in an unbroken chain. Beautifully photographed, these elegant recipes include step-by-step instructions to make them accessible to any cook, from young novice to professional chef.
“The Ottoman Turk and the Pretty Jewish Girl” is also a wonderful memoir. In the 1940's Turkey, Muslims and Jews rarely intermarried. The fact that the handsome Zeki Bey, born a Muslim Turk, even talked with a pretty Jewish girl was scandalous. But Beti was not just any Jewish girl. Lovely, clever, and irreverent, Beti recognized a renegade like herself in the tall, moustached Turk.
The lovers shared a desire to live life unconventionally, spontaneously, and most of all, passionately. Enduring bigotry and ridicule from society, they also found themselves at the center of a cultural cyclone. The process of building a life together, entwining their unique ancestries, religions and sensibilities was confusing and often painful. Weathering that storm proved most difficult (and perhaps most enlightening) for the couple’s four children. Dinner time for them felt like its own “Mideast Crisis” every night.
By exploring her parent’s relationship through the lens of history, Ms. Trock has woven a wonderful tapestry of her bi-religious family’s trek through some of humanity’s most tumultuous times. She reveals a complex saga of human struggle, sacrifice, and resilience as she traces the major political events which eventually brought her Turkish and Jewish ancestors to the shores of the Bosphorus.
Trock has given us much more than a story about her remarkable family; we have the chance to actually cook and taste the very same foods they enjoyed. It’s a real-life connection that will surely encourage us to revisit our own family histories and more fully appreciate the people in our lives who taught us how to cook.