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Breaking Good: Testi Lamb Casserole

2014-05-30; Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul’s Signature Dish is a Palace Classic

It all started in July 2013 with President and CEO of Kempinski Hotels Reto Wittwer’s challenge to the group’s general managers during their annual gathering in Berlin:  “Do you all have a signature dish that is popular, local, unique and with a history?” İstanbul’s grande dame actually had a dish that just fit the bill -

“Testi Lamb Casserole” of the Tuğra Restaurant. As one of the city’s most renowned Ottoman cuisine restaurants, Tuğra Restaurant has been part of the hotel since its opening back in 1991. It is located in the Ottoman royal palace Çırağan Palace, one of two buildings the hotel owns, and pays tribute to genuine Ottoman cuisine with its cooking techniques and ingredients every evening.

This very popular dish is an authentic recipe from the Ottoman Empire. It has a unique presentation and a special cooking and serving technique. “Testi” is the Turkish word for “clay pot”, which were initially developed to carry water from the wells to houses. Different cultures have used different techniques of cooking food in clay for centuries. The first pots made of earth were good to store water, but later they were used for cooking meat and vegetables in the embers of a fire or in stone ovens.  Its usage for cooking purposes in the Anatolian land dates back to Hittites – the  ancient Anatolian people who established an empire at Hattusa (today’s Çorum) in north-central Anatolia around 1600 BC. The pots we use at Tuğra Restaurant are produced by hand in Kavak/Kavak Çömlek in Avanos-Nevşehir. Pots made in this area are made of red mud, which is a special type of mud particular to the region.

This dish used to be prepared for Ottoman Sultans. A slow cooking method was used to tenderize the meat, as well as to protect the Sultans from being poisoned. A personal assistant would test the ingredients, and it wasn’t until the clay pot had been sealed that they felt the Sultan would be safe. Prepared with Thrace spring lamb and seasonal local products, Testi Lamb Casserole is mainly found in Central Anatolia and the Midwestern Black Sea region. Anatolian cities, such as Yozgat, Nevşehir, Konya, Cappadocia, are home to this special dish because of the millennia of pottery-making tradition in the area. This dish could also be made with vegetables, fish, poultry and even sweets if desired.

Its main ingredients are deboned, lean lamb shoulder, tomato sauce, wild mushrooms, shallot, garlic cloves, green pepper, young potatoes and vegetable stock. After all the ingredients are put into a clay pot, the hat of the pot is covered with aluminium foil, and it is baked in the oven for about 100 minutes. Then a special sealing dough is made with flour and other ingredients to cover the hat of the pot.  When the dish is ready, service staff breaks open the pot by knocking it with a special copper handle on the side table right in front of the guest.

“It has been one of our most popular dishes since Tuğra Restaurant’s opening,” said General Manager Ralph Radtke. “Locals love it, hotel guests love it, we love it. As our President and CEO Reto Wittwer nicely puts it, ‘Our strategic vision is for Kempinski to become an undisputed leader in the hotel and restaurant industry. Kempinski has a fine heritage in gastronomy, and this is what we want to build on."

About Kempinski:

Created in 1897, Kempinski Hotels is Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group. Kempinski’s rich heritage of impeccable personal service and superb hospitality is complemented by the exclusivity and individuality of its properties. Kempinski now manages a portfolio of 73 five-star hotels in 31 countries and continues to add new properties in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Each one reflects the strength and success of the Kempinski brand without losing sight of its heritage. The portfolio comprises historic landmark properties, award-winning urban lifestyle hotels, outstanding resorts, and prestigious residences. Each one is imbued with the quality guests have come to expect from Kempinski while embracing the cultural traditions of its location. Kempinski is a founding member of the Global Hotel Alliance (GHA), the world’s largest alliance of independent hotel brands, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2014.

For further information please contact:

Çiler İlhan, Director of Public Relations ▪

Çırağan Palace Kempinski İstanbul ▪ Çırağan Caddesi 32 ▪ Beşiktaş ▪ 34349, İstanbul

Tel. +90 (212) 259 03 73 ▪ Fax +90 (212) 259 03 72 ▪

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