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!
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!