Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Outdoor dining is dead, long live outdoor dining

I'd been eyeing the roadside kebab shop for a while, as there seemed to be a steady stream of customers whenever I walked by after my physiotherapy sessions. Then, quite suddenly, all indoor *and* outdoor seating at restaurants and cafes was banned once again in Turkey as a coronavirus prevention measure. Takeaway, however, was still allowed. On this particular day, I was starving, having missed lunch; the weather was still mild, despite it being early December; and I figured I could furtively scarf down a dürüm in a couple of minutes while lingering on the street corner out front.

But I hadn't given Turkish ingenuity and hospitality enough credit.

No sooner had I approached the server standing outside the door and ordered my Adana dürüm (acılı, tabii ki, ama domatessiz lütfen) than he had swooped up a piece of cardboard and placed it just so on the edge of what used to be the shop's outdoor-dining area. (Can't sit on the cold ground, your reproductive organs might freeze.) 

As I sat on my cardboard-covered perch, eating my dürüm and sipping my ayran, situated at a safe distance away from other customers doing likewise, I noticed there were people sitting in the cars parked in front of the shop. They were eating their kebabs as the server dashed back and forth to their car windows to deliver post-meal tea and retrieve the empty glasses. It was almost like being at an American drive-in.

Restaurants, cafes, and bars are suffering heavily during these shutdowns, to be sure. But these examples of resourcefulness are cheering in their small way. A neighborhood bar is packaging up its cocktails to go and bottling its mixers for sale. The owners of a popular meyhane have opened a takeaway meze shop and even deliver locally by bicycle. One street in Karaköy is doing its best impression of a European Christmas market, the scent of cloves and cinnamon drawing passersby to long tables outside bar-restaurants that are selling cups of mulled wine and slices of cake to take in hand as you stroll. It's something I've not really seen in Istanbul before, but a new tradition I certainly wouldn't mind seeing endure after the pandemic is (inşallah) behind us next winter.