The other day we all happened to be in town – me and Özgür for our clients and anne for her doctor. Done and starving by the afternoon we thought, “Why not to eat at the Kadıköy market?” This was the first time for me in Istanbul together my mother-in-law and as the Kadıköy market is my territory I was determined to get her the best. Fish at Kadı Nimet Balıkçısı followed by the baklava from Bilgeoğlu and washed down with seriously good Turkish coffee at Fazil Bey. Failure-proof plan. Or so I thought.
We got the the Kadı Nimet, my spot for fish at the Kadıköy market where I would often come for a straightforward fish and a salad. This time was a bit of an occasion though. The children’s day widely celebrated in Turkey made Özgür remember old times times his mom would take him, a young kid, out for a nice meal. He felt obliged to treat back. As a grown up man. And I guess the waiter had sensed that vibe: he offered us the most expensive fish on the menu. Turbot.
“We have only received it today. Please, feel free to choose one for yourself. Özgür went to examine the available flat monsters and I did not interfere. They say you should not take your husband for a small kid and check on him ever so often. “Darling, have you taken the keys?” As if the big guy can’t manage that much. So I showed some trust. Özgür returned content: the fish was chosen. My and anne were hungrily pecking the already arrived salad in the anticipation of the big fish.
When the waiter brought a huge dish with the slices of turbot coated in flour and deep-fried I got puzzled with the red color of the fish skin. “And why is that?”, – I asked. “This is the color of its skin” – the waiter was quick with his literal thinking and rushed to attend to the table of German ladies.
Each of us took a piece and in a few seconds anne and I looked at each other, “This is not the taste of turbot! It can’t be fresh one”. Delicate self-sufficient flavor of the most delicious fish came as a flat taste of the farmed sea-bass that had been frozen and then cooked. A few pieces were betrayingly stinking. I was outraged: I have never came across such a fish profanation even at the most touristic Istanbul fish restaurants.
I was frenzied, “We are telling immediately to replace and we are not paying for this”. I started waiving to the waiter still busy with the German ladies. When he showed up by the table we explained the matter and he went to consult with his patron. After a long while the patron showed up. Özgür stated the facts getting slightly nervous and embarrassed about the whole situation. I was furiously swinging a piece of deep-dried turbot and said I could not believe they served such a fish to us.
Who kept calm was anne. She smiled to the waiter in a way old ladies do to the younger man they are asking for an obvious favor and said softly, “I grew up in the family of the fishermen: my brothers still have a fishing boat and go into the Mediterranean every day. And I am a cook. I have my own restaurant where we do cook fish. So I know a thing or two when it comes to fish.. And I can tell you this turbot is not fresh”
And all of us present understood the case. Just like they do at the shops where anne regularly goes or even enters first. Without doing much she gives you that commanding vibe that charms you and makes you do what she asks for. Without her asking. I have forgotten how she commands this respect and how I was stricken by that when I first met her. Because I got yo know her beyond that – in her anger attacks which made my cry, on the days she was tired and sick, at the times she would soften hugging me as I return from Istanbul, in her quarreling with Özgür, in her complaining about someone from the staff not really doing the job.
I have completely forgotten how much I admire her. Her being wise and diplomatic. Getting things done without saying too much. Saving the face and letting others to. The unfortunate turbot was replaced with lagos (white grouper) – juicy and fresh just like the fish should be.
“I have not been here for ages, in Kadıkoy. It’s not to crazy busy here because most of the folks are locals. Higher quality crowd than in Eminönü which is so bustling and filled with just about anybody. But you know, it is Eminönü which has been the heart of Istanbul” – anne was saying as we were sipping Fazil’s Bey’s soothing Turkish coffee.
I thought how when translated in English her words become mine when I explain to my guests what difference it makes to be on the Asian side of Istanbul. I thought about the connection I have with this woman who was such an unlikely mother-in-law for me but but has luckily become one.
A Quick Fix of Baked Horse Mackerel (Istavrit Buglama)
Turks do know a thing or two about fish: this is a quick-to-make and worth-looking-forward-to dish of small but proud horse mackerel
Prep Time: 10 Min
Cook Time: 20 Min
Total Time: 30 Min
- 800 g horse mackerel (or sardines) with intestines removed
- 1 medium onion sliced into half rings
- 2 large tomatoes skinned and thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper seeded and thinly sliced
- 1/2 lemon lemon quartered and thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley coarsely chopped
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 6 tbsp water
- pinch black pepper
- pinch salt
- Preheat the oven to 200C/395F. In a large mixing bowl sprinkle the sliced onions with a generous pinch of salt and black pepper and give them a good squeeze for a minute or two so the onions start releasing their juice. Toss in the horse mackerel, sliced tomatoes, red bell pepper, lemon and parsley.
- Fetch a medium-size baking tray or heat-proof dish and transfer the horse mackerel with the vegetables in there. Sprinkle over the olive oil and water and cover the tray with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the onions are cooked. Serve with the cooking liquid: we like to wipe it with fresh white bread. Can be also served with steamed rice.