Suitcase and World: Dinner under the star filled Turkish sky.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dinner under the star filled Turkish sky.

onight, Şahin organized a barbecue dinner for Fabio, Virginia and I. We all met at Sahin’s shop at 7pm – I arrived earlier to have some quiet time with Şahin as we had not had a real chance to catch up since my arrival.

After Ersin arrived to join the group, we all piled into Şahin’s car. First destination – the market to pick up food. Virginia, Fabio and Şahin did the shopping. Ersin and I went back to his house to pick up the grill and other supplies.

We headed out of town on the road that leads to the Goreme Open Air Museum. Somewhere along the way, Ersin pulled off the main road onto an upaved road – we were somewhere in the valley. A short drive later and we arrived at a cave – our “restaurant” for the dining affair.

After we got out of the car, we broke up into small groups – some to hunt for wood (not easy to do in the dark even with a flashlight and others to help set up.

It was a crisp, cool winter night and the skies were filled with stars. It’s such a treat to actually be able to get far enough away from the city lights to see the stars – the Big Dipper never looked more beautiful, shining brightly against the dark sky.

Şahin and Ersin started two fires – one would be to serve as the space heater and the other as starter fuel for the grill. Soon we were joined by another of Şahin’s friends. I never got his name but he was extremely polite and nice – very typical Turkish man.

Once the wood for the grill had burned to white hot, Ersin added them to the grill and topped them off with charcoal. Şahin and I took turns stoking all the flames and feeding the fires.

When the grill was finally ready, Şahin and I prepped the chicken wings and drummettes for grilling. A simple scattering of salt was the only seasoning. Into the grill grate and atop the grill they went. The smell of the cooking chicken was absolutely intoxicating. I found myself getting more and more hungry by the minute.

Meantime, the beers were passed around – conversation got lively. Şahin turned on his car radio to provide background music.

After the chicken was cooked, the tomatoes and the peppers took their place on the grill. Onions were tossed right on top of the coals to cook. Conversation in both Turkish and Italian filled the air. I huddled as close as I could to the fire to stay warm – the air was getting colder as the night wore on.

A simple woven mat had been placed on the ground for us to sit around. There were no plates or utensils – the cooked chicken was put back on the styrofoam plate it came on with no worries of salmonella contamination. I don’t think the Turks even know what salmonella is as food is bought and sold fresh here – it’s rarely processed and left to sit around long enough that it warrants an expiration date on the packaging. The cooked veggies were just tossed onto pieces of newspaper.

Bread was passed around and we picked up or pinched off whatever we wanted to eat. This was about as simple a meal as one could get and in it’s simplicity was just about the most enjoyable, unfettered dining experience I’ve had in a long time. Though it didn’t look like a lot of food when we started cooking it, it was surprisingly filling.

Once the burning embers of the fire were red hot, Ersin buried the potatoes to cook. Şahin counted each one as Ersin covered them with coals so we would know how many needed to be retrieved afterwards.

Conversation against the backdrop of Turkish music blaring from Şahin’s car radio coupled with and after dinner cigarettes helped to fill the time as we waited for the potatoes to cook. Every now and again, someone would get up to stoke the fire – adding more wood to keep the flames going. I soon found myself lost in my own thoughts. I wondered if this is how Turkish shepherds lived years ago. Another one of my romantic notions. I asked Şahin how often he does this – come out in the dark of night and cook a meal with friends. He replied at least once a month. What a lucky guy.

We were all enjoying the time so much that I think we left the potatotes to cook for a wee bit too long. Şahin retrieved them from the fire and tossed them on top the newspaper. I could not wait so risking burnt fingers, I took one and started to peel. Part way through I realized the skin was crispy enough to eat so I stopped peeling – just split the potato open, sprinkled on a bit of salt and enjoyed every nibble. Two potatoes later and I was satisfied.

We stayed until the main fire was close to burning out. We carefully retrieved all the trash and belongings that we had brought with us and piled back into Şahin’s car for the short ride back to town.

A simple, rustic meal cooked out in the open under a star filled night sky and in good company. A truly memorable experience.