In Istanbul, raki and a bottomless pit of gluttony
Soon will come the mezes – trays of them. The server will bring them out 15 or so at a time, stacked on top of each other, and you and your tablemates will select those which look most appealing. Many of the salads are flavoured with pomegranate, quince or cherry glaze and sumac, and have a spicy, sour, long-lasting flavour (as opposed to Greek mezes, which are more vinegary). Make sure to sip your raki slowly and steadily, because the flavour of aniseed will keep your taste buds balanced.
You will probably be eating several dishes that involve yogurt (“which, I can guarantee you was invented by the Turks, not the Greeks,” your neighbour will likely say). I hope you like yogurt – with eggplant, with herbs, with cheese. And bread. You will be eating a lot of both.
“You are full?” someone will ask mockingly.
You will respond with the wry grin of a person ready for this simple challenge.
“Good! We will sit here long hours. We still have more cold mezes. Then, we move to hot mezes.”
“Great. Bring on the food.”
“Then we will have fish.”
“Excellent! Who wouldn’t need fish after all this bread and yogurt and cheese and all manner of things deep fried in oil or soaked in butter?”
“And of course, we will always have more raki.”
The fried calamari is the first hot dish to come out, followed by shrimp swimming in a delicious pool of garlic and butter. You will look over at the heaping basket of bread that has just been refilled, and your confidence will begin to wane, but you will carry on, because the food is amazing and your head is starting to buzz with alcohol and good conversation.
“This calamari is the best I’ve ever had!” you will exclaim, because even if it’s not the best, the raki has you speaking in superlatives. The hot food and the raki compliment each other perfectly – the endless servings help soak up the booze while the raki dissipates the shame you might otherwise be feeling about the fact you are dipping the final piece of bread from a once overflowing basket into that glorious, now shrimp-free, pool of butter and garlic.
And you will rejoice and console and tell stories that stretch deep into the night, and talk about life and loss and love, because the Turks love nothing if not great conversation.
When the night finally comes to an end, you will be so satiated, mentally and physically, that you may consider, if only for a moment, cancelling your plane ticket home and letting Istanbul hold you captive just a little while longer.