Winter is way more cheerful in Istanbul than back on our hilltops. And way more delusional: the bright sun dazzles not only your eyes but also the brain and makes you think the spring is early this year. My sunglassed neighbors in Moda are happy to be tricked: they leisurely promenade by the Sea of Marmara, queue for the Belgian-style waffles at Kemal Usta and occupy all the tables at the street cafes. But it’s all only the theater: there is still not a sign of fresh artichoke or asparagus or even humble nettle on the market stalls to confirm the spring has arrived.
I put on my sunglasses and dove into the Sunday crowds of the Kadıköy market. After feasting on the Turkish home cooking for a week I craved for a big grilled fish. “You spoke Turkish, but you are not Turkish, are you?” – asked me a waiter at my favorite fish restaurant Kadı Nimet Balıkçısı, and I was immediately taken aback by the fact someone could take me for a foreigner. I had nearly forgotten I am.
As my Turkish language fluency grows I can participate in most of the conversations with the family and other inhabitants of the farmhouse. Even our weekend helper who used to shout, “Big.. big.. bed cover.. cover..bed.. bed cover” to get herself understood now includes me in the group of people she gives the scoop of the village gossips to. From an exotic bird I’ve turned into “our girl, our daughter” (bizim kız) – still weird in many ways, but what to do – ours.
Özgür’s cruelty in putting me on the spot with his friends and customers and his sister Özge’s policy of no-English in the conversations with me have eventually proved fruitful. Last week on the ride back to Istanbul with Özge we chatted just about anything. Including mediocre expat organizations in Istanbul and dealing with her brother. I usually run out of words when talking about both in any language, but surprisingly Turkish sufficed for both cases.
And today I was forced to have my first client interaction in Turkish: as Özgür went down to rescue the couple whose car got stuck on the ice-covered hill I showed the newly arrived guests into the room. A small thing, but a serious step in my language confidence. I am so ashamed about my street Turkish which is ok to use when talking with shop-keepers in Eminönü, but not good enough for talking with decent cultivated people. The same guests drove me back to Istanbul, so the conversation went on. I did not hide behind “My Turkish is so bad, but I can speak English“. Just like at the farmhouse, I felt included and hence no foreign.
4 days in a row, or about 40 hours, I’ve spent working at the kitchen side by side with my Turkish mother feeding our clients. Enough material to write about. Maybe even too much, and that’s why writing comes so hard at the moment. I brewed myself Turkish tea and checked my Facebook and Twitter a couple of times knowing there was no updates as I had not been posting any.
Busy with chopping parsley I was away from the planet for 40 hours. At the kitchen in Sapanca away from Trabzon where I have been wanting to go for months, Moscow where I have been dreaming to throw a big Turkish breakfast for my friends and Istanbul where my clients want me, and I refused them one by one this week.
Leaving for Istanbul on Sunday I told anne, “Hope there would not be much things for you to get tired while I am away”. She gave me the Cheshire cat smile, “I’ll manage, don’t worry!” And with her Olympic endurance I know she will, but I also know that she really needs help. On Saturday night she took me upstairs and proudly introduced to all the guests, “This my assistant. We are mother and daughter working together”. I blushed to the applause and praise which followed from the dining clients.
After the big grilled fish at the Kadıköy market I stopped by a Mango shop. Ironic how it always looked trash to me back in Moscow, but have appeared such an elegant find here in Istanbul. I attribute it to the Turkish unbeatable merchandizing skills that are obvious even at any food market. I eyed a dress – turquoise chiffon top and white heavy viscose bottom with a long golden zipper on the back. I grabbed it to see if it fits. The mirror proved me right: Mine! It is made for me! As I was putting the dress back to the stand I saw my nails – some chopped off while cutting vegetables and one – a traitor! – had tiny bit of tomato skin stuck under it. I would probably wear this dress once. If at all. To the kitchen, to the market?
I thought back of those days when I could wear such dress and other nice clothes. Which of course was not the case because as a young consultant I did all I could to look more executive, and I thought that dark suits help best. Ah, the mind that loves tricking us: we regret the glorious past which did not seem that glorious at all when it was our present.
Next morning I made myself breakfast: plump black olives, my quince confit, sheep cheese with warm bread. And menemen, Turkish scrambled eggs that took a dozen of my efforts and a few experiments to master before I could get the perfection. I sighed hesitant to start the feast: Turkish breakfasts are made to share. After all I am ready to go back to our farmhouse.
Classic Menemen Recipe
Anyone who has tried menemen have fallen for it forever. This is your classic menemen recipe to recreate the great memories of a Turkish feast.
Prep Time: 5 Min
Cook Time: 10 Min
Total Time: 15 Min
- 8 tbsp olive oil
- 2 long green peppers halved, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 large succulent tomatoes peeled and finely diced
- 4 large eggs lightly whisked
- pinch salt
- pinch red pepper flakes
- pinch dry thyme
Warm up the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the chopped green peppers and cook on the medium heat until the peppers start softening yet do not pick up any brown color (about 3 min). Stir in the diced tomatoes (make sure you find the most succulent tomatoes the season allows) and simmer for about 5-7 min, or until most of the moisture evaporates. Eventually fold in the lightly whisked eggs. If you like menemen on the runnier side, just stir the eggs 2-3 times and remove the pan from the heat. Else, continue cooking for about 1-2 minutes, gently stirring. You don’t want to overcook your menemen to the dry crumbles: be proud to serve the still rather runny utterly delicious Turkish scrambled eggs with plenty of white bread.