Serving up traditional Turkish gözlemes, Cinpolat feels at home on the Roman.
If you’ve ever strolled through Roman Road market and caught a comforting whiff of fresh bread mingling with hints of faraway herbs and spices, then there’s a good chance you’ve walked past Elif Cinpolat’s gözleme stall.
A firm lunchtime favourite on market days, Cinpolat has been serving her savoury stuffed turnovers since 2016, bringing a taste of traditional Turkish cuisine to the Roman every Tuesday and Thursday (weather permitting of course).
Cinpolat moved to Hackney 32 years ago from Kahramanmaraş province in Turkey. A staple dish of Turkish cuisine which was traditionally eaten for breakfast, Cinpolat has been cooking her golden gözlemes for as long as she can remember, having been taught by her mother when she was a child.
The family recipe has stood the test of time and Cinpolat hasn’t changed a single thing except the dough. ‘I don’t put eggs or milk into the mixture just in case members of the public have any dietary restrictions,’ Cinpolat explains, catering to the East End’s ever-largening plant-based clientele. Water, salt and flour are all you need.
Gözlemes are usually unleavened and rolled into a thin dough: akin to a chapati before they are filled, sealed and cooked until the perfect combination of crispy and chewy is achieved. Cinpolat repeats this ritual with a chef’s instinct, moving around her dark-green stall with efficient ease and familiarity.
‘I think the flavours of gözlemes are universally loved,’ smiles Cinpolat, ‘I know they must be tasty when my customers recommend my stall to their friends.’
Offering various filling combinations of spinach, feta, potatoes and lamb, Cinpolat says a mixture of them all is the most popular option. You can’t blame hungry customers for not being able to whittle it down to one.
‘All of my fillings have a unique taste to them,’ Cinpolat says, ‘but I have to agree with my customers, the mixed flavour is my favourite too.’
Manning the gözleme stall alone, Cinpolat says that thorough preparation is the key to running a smooth service. ‘I prepare almost everything at home,’ she says: ‘I only add salt and herbs to the food when I arrive at the stall, and I do all the preparation by myself,’ Cinoplat smiles.
Unlike many restaurant chefs, she has a cool head on her shoulders and is unfazed by the long line of customers queuing up for a taste of her tempting turnovers. Working over an enormous concave pan, known traditionally as a sac pan, Cinpolat looks relatively small. But she is clearly in command of her kitchen.
Despite not speaking much English, Cinpolat’s warm demeanour comes through when she greets every customer, gratified to see familiar faces and first-time tasters.
When she opened her market stall six years ago, Cinpolat was largely driven by her passion for Turkish cooking. ‘I thought that it would be a fun hobby for myself,’ she says: ‘I wanted to spend my time doing something fun all the while earning some money for myself. Other than selling gözlemes I spend my free time tending to my house chores.’
And judging by the cleanliness of her stall, you can bet her home is spick and span. Cinpolat is careful to clean the light dustings of flour from the surfaces before she is photographed. ‘You know how conscious about cleaning our community can be,’ she winks. Like any good business woman, Cinpolat knows the value of maintaining a pristine public image.
Looking back over her years at the market, Cinpolat says that it is much less busy now than in former times.
Cinpolat recalls: ‘Roman Road Market used to be much busier when I first started trading here. Ever since the pandemic it is no longer busy. It has become emptier. And now they’ve increased our stall rent quite a lot so we don’t make as much profit anymore.’
But Cinpolat’s positive demeanour doesn’t seem downtrodden, she is uplifted by the positive spirit that pervades the market.
‘Everyone at the stalls has become my family.’ She grins: ‘Even though I don’t speak much English, I still laugh and joke with everyone. I’ve met some lovely people here. I’m really satisfied here. I’m really happy when I come here.’
The interview was kindly conducted and translated by Gulistan Elidemir.
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