Turkey_food

Food in Turkey!

Two words: Fresh and delicious.

My first meal (after a grilled spicy tuna salad sandwich at Starbucks, yes, Starbucks, while waiting for my checked suitcases that took the next flight out of my stopover destination, Zurich), was dinner at a mom-and-pop fish restaurant in Izmit. My plate was served to me with three fish complete with heads and tails, a grilled green pepper and a thick onion slice. After my initial shock from the milky eyeballs and Sophie-sized teeth gaping at me, I concentrated on peeling the meat of the fish away from the bones and was eventually adequately distracted by how good it tasted.

Breakfast is cheese (feta and a light solid cheese), olives, toast, tomato in olive oil and oregano, honey on the comb, and a yummy spread made from tahini and a thick sweet grape syrup called, tahin pekmez.

Fruit is so fresh and juicy. You can eat a lemon like an orange.

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For my first dinner in Istanbul, we went to Balikci Sabahattin. We had cheese, salad, fruit, steamed eggplant, a hot pepper spread, fish and a melon that had a skin that looked like a watermelon but tasted a bit like rock melon (cantaloupe). It paired perfectly with the creamy feta cheese from the cheese plate. Fresh, light and fulfilling.

Back in Izmit…Wednesday nights are Happy Hour at the Business Complex for Tüpraş, a petroleum company and apparently the largest company in Turkey. My friend and gorgeous host, Hatice, is teaching yoga there. After yoga we went to the company’s “social building” for dinner and afterwards drinks. There I had a traditional soup called, tarhana. You can tell that eons of history has contributed to the perfection in the hearty, tangy flavour. When I finished, I felt like I had just been fed by my Turkish buiuk anne (grandmother).

My favorite thing so far?  Hatice’s homemade lentil soup.
My good-to-have-once-but-let’s-not-do-that-again? Street-vendor grilled corn on the cob.

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Turkey_Xmas

I didn’t expect to find Christmas trees and Santa Claus in Turkey.

Apparently, over 95% of Turkish people are Muslim, so even though I was visiting over Christmas I didn’t expect to find Christmas here. But reality never goes in the way you expect. I found it. While there are no nativity scenes, twinkling christmas trees decorate windows, snow flakes hang from rafters and red and white reindeer look over presents. Santa Claus also can be found standing at attention in doorways and dangling perilously from balconies.

Christmas in Turkey?

Not really. It turns out that Christmas Trees, carefully wrapped presents and Santa Claus are symbols of New Year. Christmas trees are called, “New Year trees” and the gifts it nurtures are called, “New Year presents.” The red suited Santa Claus is a symbol for St Nicholas, a celebrated gift-giving saint of children born in Demre, Turkey in 270. The word Santa Claus comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas and is a colloquialism for St Nicholas…

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So despite the Christmas-y decorations, Christmas is a total non-event in Turkey. Having been brought up under Christian tradition, Christmas has meaning for me. So I loved how my friends created a gathering Christmas eve at home by the fire to help me feel welcome and warm and to distract me from being away from my own family in Australia and my Boston Terrier Sophie in New Jersey. Musician friends played traditional Turkish music and old Turkish pop songs. The “band” featured a flute called a ney, a small drum called a goblet drum, a guitar player and the most mesmerizing singer. After trusting me too generously to play a rhythm with the pre-school-sized maraccas, I continued to prove my rhythmlessness with a belly dancing lesson I’d been asking for! We drank wine and Rakı and nibbled cheese, nuts, dates, fruit and cake.

Christmas day coincided with my friend’s son’s 14th birthday. His wish was to have Doner for dinner and to go bowling. So my 2012 Christmas Day night was spent in a Turkish arcade in Izmit bowling to Gangnam Style, and playing foosball.
Surreal but perfect.

Andrea with Hatice Bese

Wherever I go, there I am.

After 12-hours of sitting in a seat, hurtling at however many miles an hour above the clouds through the sky, here I am. As if I never left. Nothing is really different, is it? A floor to stand on, a chair to sit in, a ceiling above my head, people around me, conversation, food and sleep.

The plane lands. My body goes from sitting to standing. And still there is the ground beneath my feet, a ceiling above my head, people around me, friends to greet me, conversation and food, and a Starbucks chair to sit in.

I am here in Turkey.