I’m liking this place I’ve come back to. Cheeks as soft as I dreamed them, crocuses poking out of the dead grass, and a general temperature about 25 degrees warmer than the bitter chill of Istanbul. I came back with a duffel bag full of presents, and there might not be anything better than giving presents.
I’m missing the food though.
I went to Istanbul to drink tea and find the right baklava, to visit my friends Molly and Aurel, to see old and round buildings. I went to Istanbul to travel with my friend Lissa, the closest person I have to a big sister. To travel just to travel for the very first time since I went to Europe drunk and depressed and looking for a tattoo artist. Because when we talked about it, Joey said, “go!” I went to Istanbul because travel makes my cells hum, and I had just enough for the plane ticket with a little more to pay for Sadie to go to camp this summer. I went to hear the call to prayer as I walked down the street. But mostly, I went to Istanbul to come home again.
I’m not religious, although I have my moments. But when I go other places, I see the connection of things more than when I am home. People are always kinder than I think they will be. When I travel I complain less, because awe takes over. Other languages and patterns make me feel part of something bigger, and the world takes on, well, I don’t know how to say it, but something like a different color.
I travel so rarely, but it stays with me for a long time, and for that I am so thankful.
I ate very well in Istanbul. Over the next little time I will ask you to bear with me as I try to recreate some of the treats that I dissected with every bite. I just have to try, and we’ll see how it goes. But I think my favorite thing might be Turkish breakfast.
Lissa and I arrived in Istanbul in the morning, and after a tumultuous and dramatic cab ride, we pulled in to Molly and Aurel’s, and Aurel put together a little plate of foods. It seemed random; an egg, some wrinkly Turkish olives, chunks of cucumber sprinkled with salt and pungent oregano. There were a few dates, I think, and slices of soft smelly cheese that we would come to love over the next week. There was bread and a little bowl of honey. It was perfect, and as I was falling asleep on the couch after breakfast, I wondered why I had never thought of that particular combination.
As we saw these arranged plates day after day on every Turkish table, I learned that Aurel had not created the idea. There were variations, maybe a spread for the bread or a bit of radish, and there was always parsley. But with every Turkish breakfast, I grew more convinced that this is the best breakfast…ever.
Yesterday, in my jet lagged stupor, I tried to make dinner. I forgot about what I had started, I almost started a fire, and I ruined my favorite pot. So I abandoned my original plan and boiled a few eggs. It seemed that it was time to have our first of many Turkish breakfasts, for dinner.
Like most good things, this one is up for interpretation. But as far as I have been able to learn, there are a few necessary elements:
1. an egg. just one- probably soft boiled, but maybe hard boiled, or even fried if that brings you more pleasure.
2. olives. luckily, I came back with some. but any good olives will do.
3. soft cheese. if you are not in turkey, the most authentic would be feta, sliced.
4. cucumbers. i know that they are expensive and out of season. but if you can do it, do it.
5. parsley. not just garnish. eat it.
6. a bit of bread, not too much, with honey to dip.
Optional elements are endless, but a little arugula salad is nice, or a few dates. Tomatoes if you’ve got them. A dolmas if you are in Turkey or innovative. Some sort of spread made of carrots and dill and walnuts and feta that I am trying to figure out.
And tea. Coffee comes after.