“Muslims can say Merry Christmas! We revere the prophet Jesus, whom we call Isa, and it is good to celebrate his birth”, said our friend Emre as we celebrated with a meal Christmas Eve in our little flat in Cihangir.
Pre-December 24 shopping included no time for food buying. So, Christmas Eve day, Jim and I made a return visit to the Cevahir mall, two Metro stops away. We had cleaned the flat the day before, although it needed another go over to clear out Lucy’s hair. The vacuum is weak, and our invitation to our friends had been prefaced with, “if you are willing to hang out with Lucy and Rita”. Being cat people, they were keen to meet Rita, and since she has always disliked our friends, I actually had misrepresented my roommate situation as well as the menu. Nearly all of our friends only know Rita by photos.
At the Migros supermarket, we got serious, buying foods for salata, two varieties of dolmas, hummus, pickled carrots, olives and European cheeses for meze. We were heavily laden for the return Metro trip and decided to take a taxi, until I realized I’d removed the city map from my purse. Without it, we could not tell a driver how to get to where we lived. So, we trundled our wide loads onto the crowded subway, and read our thoughts on the faces of the passengers sitting opposite – “those yabancı (foreigners) always buying so much!” In Manhattan I had, what as a young person I called, a wire “old lady” cart. We need one now, but we have seen only one person with one, and none for sale. Maybe they aren’t cool, or maybe Istanbul’s streets and sidewalks are just too rutted, uneven, steep or stepped to make them feasible.
Arriving home around 4 pm we hurried to string the colored lights around the interior doorways, walk Lucy and go order our dinner from the fish restaurant and kebap salonlu. Jim took care of the fish and dessert, ordering 2 grilled medium sized unnamed firm white fish, grilled anchovies and fish soup. From his favorite Pasta and Café, Elif’li (earlier post https://2istanbul.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/warning-food-porn/) he picked up baklava. I climbed, breathlessly, up to Taksim Square and was sold the mixed kebab platter – a huge amount of food. They offered to deliver it, but I wanted it in my hands so it would be there when our guests arrived. Medi Şark Sofrası sent their runner carrying a big tray behind me anyway. I couldn’t speak to him, but feeling rushed, I dodged crowds on Istiklal and then scurried down the many sets of stairs and steep streets going the back way to Bol Ahenk Sokak. Our friends had just arrived when I got home.
We feel so lucky to already have Turkish friends. Our guests Emre, Serpil and Kamer are smart, lively, fun, and speak great English. They enjoy regaling us with stories of Turkish customs, and brought with them an old style Ottoman Turkish coffee set – a gift that is just perfect! Unfortunately, our kitchen lacked both Turkish coffee and the long-handled coffee pot called a cezve, so Turkish coffee is a lesson for another date. Keeping the coffee hot while drinking is important. They explained how the heavy ceramic fincan (cup) which used to be heated directly on a wood stove, and the zarf, (envelope) fitting snugly over the cup are designed to conserve heat. The small dish holds Loküm (Turkish Delight), in this case the gel type which may be flavored by rosewater, lemon or mastic.
Eating dessert and çay (tea) after dinner we heard a man call on the street – which we now recognize every night. I asked what it was and they said “Boza!” Emre opened the window and called out, with a back and forth a few times, until the vendor located us. Our flat is on the ground floor, just inside the building’s main door. He arrived and poured us some big cups to take in and drink, setting his boza vessel down to go to the bakkal (ubiquitous neighborhood grocer) to find some cinnamon for us. Emre and Kamer got into it, remembering the boza of their past – I guess boza isn’t peddled in their neighborhoods.
Emre fetched sarı leblebi, yellow roasted chick peas, from the bakkal and we were now ready to assemble and drink. Kamer said this drink signified winter to her. It is a bit of an acquired taste, but pleasant. Thick, cool from the night air, and somewhat sweet, with cinnamon and crunchy leblebi in each sip. Its seasonality, and the way it looks reminded us of eggnog. It is hearty and filling. The Ottoman Empire was said to feed its army boza because it is rich in carbohydrates and vitamins. If we don’t drink more boza, Emre said the remaining leblebi makes a great snack when eaten with raisins.
Boza in Turkey (regional variations of it are also consumed in parts of Eastern Europe, some of the “stans”, the Ukraine and Lithuania) is made of fermented wheat, other regions may use maize or millet. I think we are lucky we initially landed in Cihangir. We get to learn about the numerous traditional street vendors here (subject of a future post). They may not exist in the more modern Moda.
What a rich evening of good food, exceptional company and wonderful cultural exchange. Very fitting, we felt, for marking the birthday of Jesus.