4.3.10

Eating Out

Posted by Puna |



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I often find myself enduring the unfortunate combination of being simultaneously lazy and hungry. I catch myself walking into the kitchen, where I stand still and stare at empty pots leaning out of each other in the murky swamp water of my sink. I stay there standing uselessly until my stomach starts grumbling and crying like a inpatient child in the back seat. Granted it is summer or one of those days I forget to check the temperature outside, I grab my sneakers and head out, searching the store fronts of nearby blocks for food.

I enjoy cooking as much as I enjoy eating, but I am not faithful to my own; I love eating out. Recently, I ended up treading further than the usual radius teathered around my apartment block. I found myself where Europe kisses Asia, on the loud crowded streets of Istanbul. I was always a big fan of street food, and the narrow passage-ways between concrete and centuries old stone walls of this never-ending metropolis are a world-class buffet. Push-carts and woobly wooden stands are to be found everywhere. Hole-in-the-walls pour into streets which cannot comfortably accommodate two people walking in opposite directions, even somehow managing to fit in a display counter and even a few shin high stools and tables against the building.

The most striking thing is how good this all can be. And it is all because Turkish people love food. On the smallest allusion to a food, you can trigger an avalanche of a pontification embellished with a audible kiss to the tip of the fingers combined into one spot, like an unopened rose. A clothes merchant put on a look I have only seen on sweet-tooth children as he peeked into my bag, having caught a glimpse of floss halva (pismanije). You can even pick up cooking tips in the cab from the airport.

Here is some deliciousness that can be expected from Istanbul's streets:

Simit: if you must, think of a sesame bagel a-la St. Viateur. The dough is first cooked in sweet water, covered in sesame seeds and baked till crispy perfection. A cheap, tasty and filling meal; needless to say, it is very popular.

Kesten: freshly roasted chestnuts, not unlike those offered in the European streets of a time past. In Istanbul, they are plentiful enough to have endured as a great option for street food.

Misir: Corn on the cob, offered boiled or with a quick grilled finish. Always a fun meal, especially on the street, and an emblem of summer.

Doner: the same concept as swarma and gyros, a gyrating mound of meat impaled on a blade and cooked on one side, but better. Unlike in North America, it is not one grey meatloaf-like mound that has the distinct smell of a cafeteria. It is real meat, and you can tell, topped off with a layer of fat and a tomato on the top to flavor the meat as it cooks. Served with vegetables, sometimes even french fries, in white bread, a bready pita or a flat pita. Ayran (yogurt, water and salt) is essential with this.

Lahmacun: Meat, onions and spice spread on flattened dough and all baked together. Rolled up and stuffed with tomatoes, onion, lemon and parsley.

Kukarec: Rolled small intestines grilled in a rotating fashion similar to the doner. Likewise, it is also stuffed into bread with condiments and vegetables.

Icli Kofte: A deep fried pocket holding a spiced mix of ground lamb, walnuts and parsley. Delicious!

This is merely a small peek into what Istanbul's corners, side-walks and parks offer. To this add a myriad of other kebabs, roasted lamb heads, grilled fish, pickeled vegetable salad, rice-stuffed clams, various simit-like breads and many more delicious bites and buns. The coffee, tea and cigarettes are all strong and good, and, seated on a ledge or a low stool while watching Istanbul's endless movement flow between its always present monuments from its diverse past, are the perfect conclusion to a delicious meal. For this, its best done as the Turks do; tea and coffee drinking is done slowly, sipping and relaxing, thinking, sometimes even over a game of backgammon. They say "yavash yavash" (slowly slowly), no need for a rush, enjoy the moment while you digest.

I have to echo Stephanie bellow; when I travel, I let my nose be my compass and let my stomach be my tour-guide. Eating into a culture is a profound, accessible, and, well, definitely delicious way to understand a place and the people in it.

With all this talk of food I am starting to get hungry, I am heading off to search the streets for what Montreal can offer my stomach's desires.

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2 comments:

Stephanie said...

Mmm... that just makes me hungry :) Is "Doner" the same as "Donair"?

Pub said...

Nice! When I was in Amsterdam, they had a shop that had "Doner". Very tasty. I still haven't made it down to Istanbul, but someday soon. In the meantime, I'll have to practice up on my game skills with my backgammon software!

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