Human nature being what it is, I’m in Turkey, surrounded by readily available, delicious Turkish food, and all I could think about Thursday night was what I couldn’t have.
Turks as a rule are a proud and nationalistic bunch, and the government taxes the sh*t out of imported goods. The result of the combination of those two forces is that whiskey and IKEA furniture is expensive, and the food that you eat in Turkey is most likely FROM Turkey. The crappy supermarket at the end of my street- you know, the one that sells off-brand flour and questionable meat- has gorgeous produce trucked in that day from the south of Turkey. The strawberries? They aren’t from Guatemala my American friend. They’re from a greenhouse by the Mediterranean. The meat is fresh. The chickens are plump. The eggs are out of this world. It’s so easy to make delicious things to eat when the ingredients are so good. And then there’s the street food: between the balık and the döner and the pide and the pilav and the köfte and the börek there is so much delicious STUFF to eat here.
But you know what you can’t get for love or money? Tacos.
I got dinner with Chris Freeland a few weeks before I left the states at a tiny taqueria on Eastern Ave. I forget the name but it has wood paneling painted a dreadful shade of peach, and Mexican flags hanging from the ceiling, and just appalling lighting, and the best goddamned tongue tacos I have ever had in my life. Just perfectly cooked tongue, onions and cilantro in two diaphanous, melting flour tortillas. Oh my God. I dream of them.
There is a “Mexican” restaurant near my house in kadiköy. I went there once. They serve pizza and hamburgers on top of the usual assortment of pides and pilavs you could get anywhere.
I’ve heard tell of a mythical Chinese restaurant in Taksim, but so far the most exotic food I’ve found here is hamburgers. Hamburgers that are just ever so slightly off, just ever so slightly Turkified.
You know what else you can’t get here? Indian Food.
I was dreaming of Indian food on Thursday, and when I did the marketing on Saturday, I couldn’t help myself. I went into the expensive Deli, the one with all the imported stuff, and bought a tiny can of Korma simmer sauce for an extortionist 10 lira.
I went home and set some chick peas to soak on the stove for later in the week, (I’ve taken to letting my legumes sprout a bit before I cook them. Delicious AND [I’m told] more nutritious.) and chopped up an onion and a carrot and a potato. I seared some chicken and threw it in with the veggies and dumped in the tin of sauce, which I cut with a little milk.
Milk in Istanbul, by the way, comes in cartons like this. It has the living daylights pasturized right out of it, and is shelf stable for a creepy amount of time. I put the rice on then while the chicken korma cooked. My second morning in Istanbul I bought rice and chickpeas from a street vendor and I couldn’t believe my mouth. I didn’t know rice, plain rice, could taste like that. It was salty and nutty and ricey and just- perfect. It was perfect, platonic rice. It took me a long time to figure out that the secret is to add more salt than is necessarily sane, and a good dollop of oil or butter besides. When the rice was fluffy and tender, and the chicken cooked through I sat down with a glass of wine and tucked in. The korma sauce wasn’t quite the same oily beige take-out goo I was craving. It had, in fact, faint aftertastes of soap and tin. But it was unmistakably Indian-ish in flavor and really hit the spot, and took the edge off my homesickness.