February 24, 2012
As I carried my ingredients, teetering on the edge of my newly purchased cutting board, into the kitchen, I knew I was not at home. When I cook, I depend on having all the staples: salt, spices, bowls, knifes and everything else ready at my fingertips. I knew where they were and most importantly, I knew they were not in short supply.
On each floor in the six-floor dormitory, there are two two-burner hot plates, a microwave and a toaster oven that fits a loaf of crusty Italian garlic bread. Sort of.
Open flames? Nope. Precise control over temperature? You have to be kidding me. I always knew there was a reason why I hate cooking rice on an electric stove. Even worse, an electric hot plate that may heat the metal disk to an unknown temperature and when I turn the knob down to cook the rice on low, possibly may decrease the temperature, though I really can’t be sure.
But I can adapt to imprecise cooking times. One of the third floor hot plates is broken, but that didn’t deter me too much. The lack of counter space is the true nuisance here. Worst of all, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. Rather than working on an even-leveled counter, I balance my cutting board on the slightly-warped counter, or have to push the plastic box of stale simits aside to chop a tomato. (Tip: dip your simit in a glass of unsweetened tea and the inside will turn delectably soft while the outside will remain characteristically chewy. There will be sesame seeds floating in your tea, but it’s a small price to pay for breakfast-on-the-go perfection.
So while the siren song of the 2TL Tavuk Döner Kebap from Joy may be strong on most nights, a Sunday visit to the Tarlabaşi market was all the inspiration I needed to prepare a feast; not single-handedly of course. After walking by an open-air fish market with even the most luxurious looking tuna steaks costing only 15TL for a kilo, I knew a delicious bargain was in hand.
Rather than the deep magenta tuna, I opted for small, slightly oily white fish. And at only 5TL (or roughly $2.80USD) for a whole kilo (that’s 2.2 pounds, folks), I’ll come back for seconds. Of course, I should have known that the fish would not be gutted, cleaned; anything. Fortunately, I had bought a new knife at the market, so I accepted the challenge. Properly cleaning all that fish takes time, so thankfully I was helped out by my lovely friend Ida and together all the fins were cut off, untasty guts and back bones removed and stray scale carefully washed away. She also made a killer strawberry and walnut salad that was seriously one of the best I’ve had in a while, but more on that later.
Even the olive oil came from the street market. It’s like nothing I’ve seen back home