American Groceries!!

I’m dying here . . .

So this past week, I was invited to tour a certain undisclosed location in Ankara.  I was very excited about going.  I had heard about it many times, but never had the opportunity.

It was a grocery store.  But not just that.  It was an American grocery store.  The problem was, neither my friend nor I had the proper certifications to shop there.  We could only look.  Ugh.  Yes, not every American is permitted to shop at this store.

So we toured.  First stop – a sale on bulk items.  I saw cases of Bounty and Scott paper towels.  Sounds crazy, but so far, Turkish paper towels bite the big one.  I have yet to find one that absorbs anything.  (If anyone knows of a good brand, please let me know!)

Fancy Feast cat food.  Microwave popcorn.  And the crème de la crème – Tide and Downy!  Oh happy day for some lucky folks.

As we strolled up and down the aisles,  I was amazed by the variety and the things I had forgotten.  For instance, I am not a big fan of breakfast cereal, but they had tons.  They had all of my favorite cleaning products.  I’m still trying to figure out which to use here.  I seem to keep buying the same products with the labels “mutfak” and “banyo.”  They seem to be exactly the same to me, but one is for the kitchen and the other for the bathroom.

There was a large variety of spices.  Crisco shortening, cream of tartar, thyme (and please don’t try and tell me kekik is time.  It is not!!!) And there, in the fresh produce aisle, was not one, but two butternut squashes!  And sweet potatoes!  Cowabunga!  Reminded me of my unsuccessful quests for my first Thanksgiving in Turkey last year.

Cuts of steak that I never see here.  And the pork.  Oh yes, the pork.  There were Italian sausages, breakfast sausages, chorizo sausages.  I felt a bit faint when I saw the racks of spare ribs.

My friend and I were having a good time just taking in the scenery.   We walked up and down all of the aisles, commenting on this and reminiscing about that. I forgot to look for Wonder bread, although I switched to Maier’s many years ago. And let’s face it, bread is one thing Turks do very well!!   But one has to wonder. (Tee hee.  Get it?  Wonder about the Wonder.  Um?)

Now, although technically the following happened earlier at the store, I saved it until last because it is my favorite.  I saw scrapple.  My heart skipped a beat. I was overwhelmed with joy!  My friend had never heard of it.  It is a Philadelphia (and Amish) breakfast treat.  “The other gray meat,” as I like to call it. And no, there is no other gray meat that I can recall.  Scrapple consists of those pork parts that aren’t good enough to make into sausage.  I once saw an Amish recipe for it that began, “Hold the sow by the ear.  It makes it easier to saw into its skull.”

The thought of scrapple kept my attention for a long moment, but then it quickly lost my interest.  Not because it wasn’t Habersett’s, my favorite brand.  I normally would also settle for Dietz & Watson’s.  Of course, in Ankara, I would give any brand a whirl, even the above-mentioned Amish recipe!  But not this one.  No way, Jose!  Not even if Uncle Sam was giving it away!

Be a purist - eat it on plain white sandwich bread!

The problem?  Any self-respecting-card-carrying-pork-eating-scrapple-loving U.S. citizen knows that you don’t freeze scrapple!  That’s just gross!  You will never get it to crisp properly.  And even if you do, it will be completely mushy inside.  Now what’s a person supposed to do with that?!

Okay, now that I have you all searching for scrapple on the internet – and perhaps even a few of you brave enough to search for that particular recipe, let me tell you my true feelings upon leaving the store.

I felt kind of sad for some of the folks that shop there.  True, as my friend pointed out, it would be great to get some canned cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, squash and the likes for the upcoming  holidays.  But some of these U.S. amigos truly rely on that store.  Their carts were stocked like my Mama’s used to be.  Fill one cart.  Park it.  Get another.

As much as I wanted to shop there too, I just wouldn’t have had the experiences that I have come to enjoy here over the past year.  My “adventures” would have been more limited.  Remember the time I tried to bake a cake?

I am really trying to get to know Turkey, not just as an expat, but as a member of its society.  While I do miss certain pleasures, like the variety of potatoes, it gives me something to look forward to when I go home.  It’s not that I want Turkish cuisine every night of the week.  I’m not there yet.  It’s still “foreign food” to me that I can’t eat every day.  It’s a treat.  But I do enjoy the challenge of trying to cook my own recipes with limited availability to certain products, and limited language skills for grocery shopping.

I understand that many of my Americano compadres are here on a mission, not because they want to be, but because they have to be.  But I don’t want them to miss out on all of the fun.  I would like to encourage them to go one month or two without U.S. groceries.  In fact, I would encourage them to only go to Turkish restaurants.  Don’t order BC McD’s or  Domino’s pizza in that same time frame.  Get to know your local pazar.  Try out some others.  Start a conversation at the bakkal.  Sit and have tea with the owner of  your neighborhood pastane.  Find the best Adana kebap in Ankara.  Eat  kokoreç.

I don’t want to offend anyone. Certainly my way is not the best way or the only way.  But one day soon you will find you are being shipped off to another far away land.  I just don’t want you to miss out on real “Turkish life”.  I want you to be able to say you LIVED here!

And when you get to that new location, do the same thing there and write to me about it!

. . . so I’m not exactly dying.  I am LIVING!

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17 thoughts on “American Groceries!!

  1. Oooooh ! I’ve heard about the place you’re referring to, but I’ve never been myself. Shangri La ?

    I agree with your post though and would also encourage people to go out and explore. There’s so much to discover.

    Ummmm…. did they have raspberry zingers ?

  2. There’s a yöresel shop in kizilay called Firik and they used to sell sweet potatoes, shop is located on ikinci izmir caddesi and they also have home made tomato paste, olives, spices and zahter which I think is thyme? Correct me if I’m wrong but it grows in Antakya area and they make tasty zahter paste for breakfest, you can get the recipe from the shop!

  3. What happened with your cake? I have not attempted to bake, as yet, since I am not yet in my own home, but I expect to get up to speed not long after that. Baking is one of my specialties, and I find that most Turkish pastries are very, very dry. I have never been able to eat really dry stuff, so it is a struggle sometimes.

    • I am not so fond of baking, but mine have turned out pretty good. Turks tell me their favorite brand of flour is Sinigal (sp?) so I use that. I agree about the dryness of cakes here. Dry and very sugary. I try to undercook mine a bit. The Turks I know seem to have a fear of uncooked eggs, not sure if that plays into it or not. But I definitely don’t like the cakes. One exception, I found a restaurant, a good one, that sells awesome cheesecake. Don’t think they bake it themselves. Very much a NY style cake.

  4. I wanted to add, too, that thyme is very easy to grow in a pot on the window sill. If you can get your hands on a plant or some seeds, go for it. If you have a patio or balcony, so much the better. It is a pretty hardy plant.

  5. We all feel the same as you do. Its hard to adjust to living differently, esoecially when it comes to cooking. We moved to Ankara in August and I came to realize that I have to make everything from scratch. Some things have been a challenge.
    I would like to answer some of your concerns. Kekik us actually thyme with oregon. Thyme is sold fresh wrapped in a small plastic container in the vegetables section. Bathroom and kitchen cleaners. I personally like the brand Cif. Paper towels I know there’s a brand that starts with an S, sorry thats not much help. Hopefully you have adjusted better after being here awhile.

    • Hi Gaby and thanks for your response! I am celebrating 4 years in Turkey today. I have had much time to research kekik and I have to disagree with you. Both are named kekik. What you get depends on where you are. Thyme is much more common in Istanbul and Ankara. Most store-bought packaged kekik in Ankara is “thyme infused oregano.” So it is oregano, with the essence of thyme. Most neighborhood markets in Ankara do not carry thyme in any form, but perhaps larger ones like Real and Kipa do.

  6. Folks, I have lived here in Turkey, in fact I came in December 1974. I was stationed in Istanbul long before the ‘foreign’ franchises made it to these shores. I LIVED on the Asian side, among blue collar workers and small businessmen. I shopped at the butcher’s for meat, shopped at the green grocer’s for the veggies, the bakery for bread and the local bakal for the other items to run a household of a 30-year old bachelor. I LEARNED to live in the land and LIVED WITHIN my means. I actually had Americans come to my door crying that they missed their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What a joke, they didn’t even try to find an alternative. I did, and enjoyed it. For six years, I did not have an exchange or commissary to shop from. I did not have satellite TV or the internet. I did not even have a telephone. I made it and had a wonderful experience learning the language, history and customs of this land. Further, I have made good friends, friends who were generous to a fault. I didn’t have a car, I walked to most destinations, took public transportation to other places. I rode commercial busses all over the land and loved every minute of it. I have been as far east as Kars and Erzurum and west to the Greek border, north to the Black Sea and south to the shores of the Med. I didn’t miss the pork, or any of the ‘ethnic foods’ of the US. I chowed down on Turkish food, both home cooked AND at restaurants of all categories. A fact, I never got sick due to bad food, except once, and that was the result of eating at the military dining room on a US base in the southern area of Turkey!
    So all I can say to you who denigrate and look down on Turkey and Turkish food, history, language and customs; Man up and enjoy, or go home back to mama!

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