Saturday, June 13, 2009

Food envy

Earlier this week, I traveled 15 hours each way by train to eat bacon-wrapped cheese skewers (at right) in Bulgaria. (Well, there was a bit more to it than that, but it makes a better story this way.) I've stood outside an Italian supermarket with all my luggage waiting for it to open so I could pull as much pork, cheese, and wine off the shelves as I could in 10 minutes and then race to the airport. I've carted champagne back from a Greek island so we could celebrate Obama's election in style. I've picked raw bacon out of a friend's clothing after the package exploded inside her suitcase during an ill-fated smuggling run. I've even asked a vegetarian friend to bring chorizo from the United States for Thanksgiving stuffing. (She declined.)

Here in yabancıköy, my gang of Istanbul expat friends likes to joke that if we spent half as much time working as we spent scheming how to bring maximum quantities of food and drink back from our various jaunts, we could all retire. (Below, at left, my so-far personal-best haul, from Spain and Portugal.)

Although Istanbul is a massive city with much to offer, it seems to lack the thriving immigrant communities that give other urban areas such a delicious mix of cheap ethnic restaurants. This, combined with the fact that Turks are generally fairly conservative about food, means that ingredients not commonly used in Turkish cuisine--and the few restaurants that specialize in non-Turkish eats--are priced for the presumably fat wallets of foreigners and the local elite.

Bacon, blue cheese, maple syrup, limes, imported alcohol, Ben & Jerry's--we've got them all, just at ridiculously inflated prices. Other items, from black beans and cilantro to celery and raspberries, seem impossible to find on store shelves. Yes, we could eat well and live happily just with what's readily and reasonably available here, without competing to see how many kilos of sausage and liters of wine we can stuff into our suitcases, but where's the fun in that?

* * *


For another expat's take on eating abroad, check out Yazar's blog post "A scone, a goat and the Conor Pass." An Irishwoman living in Çanakkale, Turkey, she's the next link in today's food-themed "World Blog Surf Day," organized by Sher, an expat living in Prague, and Twitter-reported by my fellow Istanbul expat Anastasia Ashman.

15 comments:

Schaufensterbabe said...

Hi Jennifer,

Funny to find your blog on this list. I don't remember how I heard about WBSD, but it's a cool idea.

Too bad cilantro isn't available since you need it for salsa. The funny thing is, I just bought some today in a Turkish store here in Berlin. Since Germans don't really use it, I figured it must be a Turkish thing. Hmmm...

Rebeccah

Camille said...

That's an interesting revelation about Istanbul not having affordable Western foodies.

Having lived in former West Berlin for 8 years, at the time being the 2nd biggest city in the world with Turkish people and having lived right between the Turks, I learned about their food and loved to eat it!

Sher said...

Hi Jen,
Wow...you sure managed to bring back quite a stash! How on earth did you pack all that???!!! That's great!!!

Good luck with future food hauls!!

Have a great day,
Sher :0)

Ivanhoe said...

Oh the stuffed suitcases! I remember few trips like that, although I never had bacon blow up on me, but cans of beer were quite fun :o)

Tactless Wonder said...

This brings back memories of Mexico, and cruising friends bemoaning the price of all the "American" (or non-Mexican) products in the big markets. And the joy of friends and family bringing you yummy things (real peanut butter! cheap cali wines!) and treats (glycerin soap! hair ties!) when they came to visit...

It really is one thing to "live like the Romans" when you are anchored out in the middle of nowhere (Agua Verde) and the only place to restock sells plenty of rice and beans and flour but not much else...veggies and fruit once every two weeks...and quite another to be mere miles from Puerto Vallarta and know that even if you could afford that really expensive jar of olives, try as you might, the expiration date is long gone and who knows really just how old it is?

Ah memories...

hospitalera said...

Hubby and I are coming to Turkey in autumn/ fall, fancy a care packet from the Czech Republic? We are coming by car!!! SY

Emmanuelle Archer said...

Jennifer, your pictures made my mouth water! Isn't everything better with bacon? Well, maybe not clothing. That might be the one exception.

On an unrelated note, I love the background pattern on your blog - so beautiful!

Emmanuelle

Internation Musing said...

Jennifer, you are right about the pricing of 'foreign' food and drinks in Turkey!.))

Also, I stopped drinking whiskey in restaurants, the cheapest is 10 USD..) for a single, and if you order a double, they bring you a whiskey with much more ice...and one whiskey..)) Nice trick guys.)!
Carrefour lately have decent prices for 'foreign' food products.
Kindest
hans

Corinne said...

Too funny! Even though I live in Turkey, I haven't felt so deprived, but then again I have an advantage called a commissary provided by the U.S. government that I can shop in. Good luck with future acquisitions!

Yazar said...

Ohhh bacon, I miss it so much. My mother gave me a cookbook of Irish food and virtually every recipe required either bacon or sausages!

Now I want a fry-up for breakfast including black pudding, something Turks would find absolutely disgusting!

Natalie said...

Great post. I was amazed, even here in Portugal, at random odd food items I couldn't find easily and if I did, at inflated prices (i.e. tortilla chips). I still can't find whole wheat pastry flour or plain, organic peanut butter w/o added sugar or other crap. Fortunately, good wine and pork products are not a problem!

Great pic of your stash from Spain and Portugal.

Jen said...

Thanks for all the comments, it was fun to read everyone's takes on expat eating!

Don't get me wrong, I really do like Turkish food, but the variety of cuisines I enjoyed in San Francisco has me spoiled rotten and missing many tastes of home.

Mexican (the national food of California) is especially tough to make; it's so strange that cilantro was in a Turkish store in Berlin, no one I know has been able to track any down here...

P.S. To Emmanuelle, thanks for the compliment on my blog pattern, unfortunately I can't take any credit for it, the design is all due to my friend drain who kindly set up the blog for me!

Chaplain said...

Jen, As a WBSD participant, my apologies for being so late visiting & commenting, my excuse being going down with flu. I endorse hospitalera's comment as I'm driving the car!

Jen said...

Thanks, Chaplain, I hope you're feeling better now!

FYI, Bulgaria lists the number of grams of meat in the dishes on restaurant menus too, as you mentioned in your blog post. That was the first place I'd ever seen that done.

And we have no shortage of funny restaurant English ("Turklish," of course) here too. My favorite recent one was "crap legs."

Yup, crab legs.

And Turkish waiters seem obsessed with providing clean plates and glasses--to the point of taking them away while you're still eating or drinking! "Pardon, bitirmedim!" (I haven't finished) is a useful phrase...

Nathalie Uy said...

Breathe it all in, Love it all out. May you have a good day, and keep on sharing good thoughts :)
imarksweb.net
imarksweb.net