So as a yabanci there are a few questions I am continually asked by my Turkish acquaintances and one of them that at least for me has become an exercise in forced smiling, is
“Do you love Turkish food?”
Which is generally followed by a polite conversation about how Turkish food is the best/heathiest/tastiest food in the world, far better than American food, from which my Turkish friend walks away feeling satisfied that there is one more convert to the cult of Turkish food.
And Turkish food is fine. Quite a lot of it is delicious. Healthy? I don’t know. They do use a lot of veggies, but cook them in amounts of oil that do not strike me as being particularly sane. Lots of legumes, true. Not a lot of meat, but everything’s supplemented by marathon-running quantities of carbs.
Not being a health nut, though, my biggest complaint about the food here is that the Turkish food culture is incredibly rigid, and there isn’t much variety. My students sometimes ask me if I miss food from home and what I miss most is variation- Mexican for lunch, Thai for dinner. Curries and papusas. French food and real Italian. Decent chinese. Sushi. Barbeque. Crepes.
It’s frustrating for me, too, who grew up with a fairly fusion food esthetic, that there is generally considered to be one way to cook every dish, and experimentation is considered, somehow, abnormal. In summer at my old school, for instance, I was in the habit of taking a cold bulgar salad to work with me for lunch. Quick and delicious! Just mix the köfte bulgar with boiling water, a little olive oil, some chopped up herbs and spring onions, some extra veggies if you have them, and a bit of grated cheese. Voila! Lunch is packed. You’ll be full all day. A fine substitute for couscous.
One of the older teachers asked me what I was eating one day and I told her.
“Oh no!!! No no no!” she exclaimed. “You put cheese in that? Cheese doesn’t go with bulgar! We eat bulgar with yogurt!”
Anyway this has been a lengthy preamble to a subject that I’ve been meaning to write more about: school lunch.
I am very lucky that every day I am fed a hot lunch at work. Someone recently told me that this is a law in Turkey- that every full-time worker must be fed. Pretty cool if that’s true. And it’s pretty awesome ’cause it cuts way down on my grocery bills. When I eat my biggest meal in the middle of the day, I can have a light breakfast, (or, as is more common in the summer, subsist on coffee and cigarettes until lunch) and then something light for dinner- cheese and fruit, for instance, or chickpea salad, or dal.
Our meal today was pretty standard- perhaps remarkable for not having a quadruple serving of carbs. There was eggplant goo- which is made by first deep frying chunks of eggplant, then sauteeing them with ground meat and more oil and adding tomato sauce- over very oily rice, with bread, and a delicious cold yogurt-and-cucumber soup. With of course, bread. Everything is served with bread.
As summer approaches and bikini season looms in my mind, I find myself increasingly stressed by the sheer amount of carbohydrates served with each (free) meal (which yes, I realize I shouldn’t be complaining about.) Any of you who follow my twitter feed must be passingly familiar with my #turkishschoollunch #carbwatch hash tags. Occasionally they’ll serve us all the major carb groups in one meal- roasted potatoes over rice, orzo soup, bulgar salad, and bread. Or, recently, mashed potato stuffed pastry, bulgar salad, soup with rice in it, and bread.
And yet, Turks never seem to get fat.
I think the laws of physics don’t apply here, sometimes.