In Turkish, the word “dolma” means “stuffed.”
You will see this word on most menus at Turkish restaurants. They come in the form of many things. Basically, anything can be made into a dolma, as long as it is stuffed with a filling.
The most popular dolma are “midye dolma,” stuffed mussels with rice and spices. They are a local street food favorite, and you will find carts on the street selling these magnificent jewels of seafood goodness.
While in Istanbul, my friend Izzet took me to his favorite midye dolma restaurant, a place he’d been frequenting since he was a little boy. When we arrived the place was simple, with just a counter out front with buckets of ready-made midye dolma and a few plastic chairs and tables outside. Only one woman, the midye dolma master, was working. As soon as we sat down, she quickly set the table with a bucket of midye dolma and dishes of lemon wedges, as if she already knew the purpose for our visit.
Midye dolma is best served with copious amounts of freshly squeezed lemon juice. It just…works.
The secret trick to eating these is to use the empty half shell to scoop up the stuffed mussel meat. The shell makes for a perfect spoon!
I have a funny story about this place. Upon leaving, the midye dolma lady asked me to be her daughter. She said she’d pay for my college education if I decide to move to Turkey and marry her son. At first I played along, but when her hug turned into a snug hold, I realized that she was serious! I looked to my friend Izzet, the translator, and he agreed that she was indeed serious about her offer. As we awkwardly made our exit, she told me that I could come back anytime for as much midye dolma and drinks as I want. On the house. Hmm…perhaps I will have to reconsider her offer.
While in downtown, in the trendy neighborhood of Taksim, we enjoyed another round of midye dolmas with ice cold pints of beer. Why can’t bar food be this delicious in the States?
One night, Izzet’s mom made Julia and I, a traditional Turkish feast. She made her famous dolma of roasted stuffed peppers. Unlike the midye dolma, these juicy peppers were stuffed with a sweet rice filling spiced with cinnamon and black currants. A perfect blend of sweet and savory.
A mother’s cooking is always the most comforting. I think the midye dolma lady knew this and tried to catch me under her spell. The next time I come back to Turkey, I’ll have to pay my Turkish mom a visit and stuff myself with unlimited dolmas.