/Işkın in Istanbul

Işkın in Istanbul

As we walked down Via dei Pettinari in Rome on Tuesday, clients asked me, “is there anything you don’t eat.” I paused for a moment and thought long and hard. “I don’t love brains,” was my reply. But I never turn them down, either. There had to be something on earth I would never eat again.

Less than 24 hours later I was sitting at an outdoor table at Çiya on Istanbul’s Anatolian side eating seasonal kebabs with my friend Tuba. Little did I know I was about to taste the only food I truly dislike. While were were chatting, Tuba spotted a push cart full of knobby green stalks. “Take your camera! Come with me!” She said as she leapt up from the table and stopped the vendor cold in his tracks.

“What is it?” I inquired. They looked like demented asparagus. I have seen a lot of unusual things pushed around in carts in Istanbul, but this was a first. “Işkın, wild rhubarb,” replied Tuba as she placed her order and received several bundles of the stuff. At this point passersby began to swarm around the cart. A group of school children converged on it as though it were giving away candy. I was optimistic.

We returned to our table and Tuba peeled me a stalk, stripping off the thin outer skin and handing it over to me. I guess I expected it to taste like pie or something. It didn’t. On her blog, Tuba describes ışkın, which is eaten mainly in eastern Turkey, as tasting like “grass, green plum and spring flowers.” While I like all these things individually, when they are combined in a mouth puckering, slightly tannic fibrous stalk, I’m not such a fan. So I learned something this week—when I am with Tuba I always do.

2017-02-17T15:18:08+00:00 May 4th, 2012|Categories: Food & Wine, Istanbul, Turkish Cuisine|7 Comments


  1. Roberto May 4, 2012 at 11:54 am - Reply

    Do they also cook this wild rhubarb? I’d rather starve than eat traditional rhubarb raw, but stewed or baked in a pie it’s one of my favorites. Maybe the same could be true of ışkın.

  2. Arlene Gibbs May 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    I love rhubarb, but this sounds, well, not pleasant!

    I wonder if you can cook them.

  3. Tom May 4, 2012 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    “I guess I expected it to taste like pie or something. It didn’t.”

    I laughed out loud when I read this! Funny and informative post Katie.

  4. Tuba May 4, 2012 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    Just to surprise you more, they call it the “Doğu’nun muzu” – banana of the east- in East Turkey.

    It is widely sold on streets of Bitlis, Erzurum, Tunceli and consumed by the locals. You see people gathering round the small stalls and bargaining for the price, taking home a armful of it.

    It is like çekirdek, sunflower seeds, they nibble on it.

    They also make eggs with ışkın, though I have not taste it, but I can try since I have some left 😉

  5. Deniz May 4, 2012 at 11:33 pm - Reply

    Shocking! As a Turkish person living in London, I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to be happy or sad. I thought rhubarb only grows in infertile lands like Great Britain.

  6. s May 9, 2012 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    ‘taste like pie’ – tee hee! i am going to ask my Irani friend if this is the same thing she says she loves and misses from back home.

    as for brain, well then you have to have the brain masala our cook in Lahore makes- garlic, ginger, tommies, turmeric, lots of coriander-scooped up with a tandoori naan and washed down w some salty lassi, it is just the ticket. come visit us one day 🙂 x s

  7. Malia Yoshioka May 9, 2015 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    Awesome! I randomly got to try this at the market in Kadikoy yesterday when I saw the cart go through and started asking questions about it. Eventually a nice man who had bought a bundle peeled one for me and took me over to his restaurant for a long (and not ultimately successful) google-translated conversation trying to explain what it was. Good old google came up with “Syrian Rhubarb” for me later on and voila! today I find your post. =) I was directed here from the A-Z list on Wandering Educators for Turkey resources. Your blog is fantastic! =)

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