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.