As I write this, the clouds covering Istanbul have cleared away. This is made even more pleasurable after reading posts by friends saying how it is snowing and hailing back home. That’s something I don’t miss about home. I guess it makes up for the fact that it was around 60 degrees in January when I left New York and it was the worst snow storm Istanbul had in years the week I arrived. Most snow Istanbul’s had in five or ten years. Most snow Izmir has seen in 30 years. I like to think I brought that little of the Northeast with me.
But now it’s only late April and I’m well-accustomed to the springtime storms in Upstate New York. Mid-May snow storm? Been there, done that. Ho hum.Very warm weather, sunny days and most importantly, no snow? Now that is a stark change from back home. There’s many wonderful things about Turkey and the weather is (generally) one of them.
But I do have a few gripes. This being a predominately Muslim country, pork is very hard to come by. I heard rumors that some stores sell it, but until I see it with my own eyes, I don’t believe it. See something that vaguely resembles ham, but is a sickly neon pink color? Yeah, that’s ham. Well, ham-ish. It’s spongy, rubbery and has a weird chew to it that reminds me very much of Armour hot dogs. Oh wait, that’s because they’re pretty much the same thing.
At the butchers in Turkey, the signs read Et ve Tavuk, meaning “meat and chicken”. It’s like there are only two forms of animal protein available: chicken and everything else. Is it beef? lamb?…pork? Isn’t chicken meat too? I’m still befuddled.
But just as my confusion over the meat in Turkey (ha, see what I did there) reached a peak, I heard my new favorite four-letter-word. Pork. Rumors of its presence, lurking somewhere behind the cases of meat and chicken.
But not only pork, but ham. Smokey, salty, delicious. But pork? Or was it the textured chicken and added vegetable protein log, dyed pink, rolled into a log and hacked sliced into sticks of bubble gum…err…ham. With my fingers crossed, I asked where this rumored meat lies.
At a French cafe. Sorry. Café. It’s French after all. Tucked into a quaint courtyard inside the French Consulate only steps away from busy Istiklal Avenue, a handful of flower-adorned tables soaked up the sunlight.
Though most of the menus in restaurants are in Turkish, my entry-level Turkish skills have been enough to recognize and order the food I want and hope that the message got across. It usually does, but sometimes I get a few surprises. It’s what always keeps me on my toes. When available though, I opt for an English menu. It sounds easier, and in general, it is, except when it unnecessarily translates Köfte into meatball, or mantı to ravioli. Hey poorly translated English menu, Ayran and buttermilk are not the same thing.
But here in France (Technically it is? I think?), the menu was available in Turkish and French. Since I know much less French than Turkish, I actually asked for the Turkish menu. I’m a real Turk now. Really, I got my residence permit yesterday.
After deciphering and ordering what I believed I wanted, the food arrived. Having also caught the itch for pork, my dining companions ordered ham and cheese omelets. The menu featured Turkish dishes as well, but when in France (Or a small plot of French possession), do as the French do. With that on mind, I went for the Croque-madame. It was between that or the Croque-monsieur, but when one comes with a runny fried egg on top, there’s really only one option.
Perfectly light, it was a great choice for my impromptu al fresco lunch. During the meal, the three of us debated whether the meat in our dishes was indeed pork. We weren’t 100% sure, but after each plate was clean, each crumb of orange bundt cake eaten and every drop of coffee drank, I guess it didn’t really matter anymore. It was the best meal I’ve had to pass through security and a metal detector to eat, but it was worth it.