Nektaria Anastasiadou is the author of the forthcoming A Recipe for Daphne. She is the 2019 winner of the Zografeios Agon, a Greek-language literary award founded in 19th-century Constantinople. Currently, she lives in Istanbul.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer because I have always loved losing myself in the imaginary worlds of novels. For me, being a writer is neither a gift nor a curse. It is a vocation that requires absolute dedication, a great deal of work, and much patience. I feel blessed to have all three.
A Recipe for Daphne is your first novel. Where did the main idea for the book come from?
One day in 2010 or 2011, an elderly Rum (from the Greek word Romiosi, which literally means ‘Roman’), gentleman told me about a forgotten pastry called the Balkanik. He described it as a large éclair, but with differently flavored crèmes inside. Each crème symbolized a different Balkan people and their harmonious coexistence.
Because the peaceful coexistence of peoples with different religions, cultures, and languages is something that fascinates me, I knew that I wanted to write about a pastry chef who would resurrect that old recipe. Thus, my character Kosmas was born.
At that time, I was renting an apartment in the historical street of Faik Paşa in the Çukurcuma neighborhood of Istanbul. One evening I was sitting in my cumba—a traditional bay window—and imagining how the street’s old buildings would have looked when they were built in the nineteenth century, or even half a century prior. I began writing about them in my notebook from the perspective of an old man who had lived all his life on that street, who had seen its changes over time. That old man became Fanis.
The pastry and the street came together into a story when I had a discussion with friends about the difficulty of finding a mate within a small community (the Rum minority of Istanbul is estimated at about two thousand people). I wanted to write about this challenge, so Fanis and Kosmas had to be on the lookout for a Rum wife.
If she were already in Istanbul, they would have found her already because everyone knows everyone within a community of two thousand. Consequently, a woman would have to come from outside, but I didn’t want her to come from Greece because I don’t think that we should limit ourselves to the idea that only Greeks understand Rum culture. For that reason, I made Daphne American.
Can you share a little of the story?
Fanis, a widower and retired antique dealer, is at the center of a group of Istanbul Rums who meet regularly for afternoon tea in Cihangir. When Fanis’s friend Gabriela brings her American niece to tea, Fanis is smitten but also unsettled because Daphne reminds him of the fiancée that he lost during the 1955 riots.
Fanis’s friend Kosmas, a master pastry chef on the lookout for a good Rum wife, also falls for Daphne. She is intrigued by his search for a forgotten Ottoman recipe, but can she love him in return? Or will a family secret threaten their chances?