I asked Capaptay to recall her and her family’s experiences with the traditions surrounding ashure, and she explained how the dish – which her mother served hot using a minimalist eight-ingredient recipe (wheat, sugar, sultanas, chickpeas, white beans, water, cinnamon and walnuts) – is synonymous with sharing, good health, and warm neighborly relations.
“My earliest memories of the making of the ashure are simply two. The first one takes me back to the moment of holding a little copper bucket filled with a cinnamon/walnut mix and accompanying my mom who would have a big copper bucket of steaming hot pudding and knock on our neighbours’ doors. After my mother poured it into each neighbour’s bowl, as her busser, I would garnish the pudding. This is of course, a rural way of sharing it,” she told me.
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“In Istanbul or in other cities, you would use your own bowls to share your ashure and garnish it before you take it around,” she added.
As a dessert with an ancient history and cultural significance that outpaces most sweets, it was an intimidating subject to tackle. I opted to dive in spoon-first, which is why I wound up at Goreme, a long-time fixture in the Kurtuluş, historically a Greek neighborhood that retains a cosmopolitan feel and still has a significant Armenian, Greek and Jewish population.
In line with that cultural influence, owner Ilhan Yalcin said the shop’s ashure recipe, devised by his grandfather, was based on an Armenian cold soup that could be described as an ashure variant. His version was on the simple side, but still boasted a plethora of ingredients: dried figs, dried apricots, raisins, chickpeas, white beans, oat berries, salt, rice starch, a sprinkle of crushed hazelnuts and a small amount of turmeric, which lent a pleasant yellow hue. The sweetness was natural and not overbearing, with the apricot imparting a surprising tartness.
Dessert shops are likely the best place for visitors to find ashure year-round, as I soon found out. I stopped by the renowned Ottoman restaurant Hunkar only to find out that it was available the day before but not during my visit. I phoned Haci Abdullah, another Istanbul eatery inspired by Ottoman cuisine, and they told me they weren’t currently offering ashure, though it is listed on their website’s menu. Torun said the reason for this is that some restaurants only serve ashure during the month of Muharram, and there might not be much demand at other times.