Monday, February 22, 2010

Food---1, Kurdish

Yeldegermeni (the Windmills) is the name of the neighborhood in Kadikoy where I live. Back in the day, that is, in Greek and Roman times, it was a gigantic cemetery that stretched all the way down the hill to the sea (when construction crews go to work building one of the ready-in-a-day instant apartment complexes, they always end up digging into Roman bones). But now its crowded with apartment buildings, shops, men's clubs, restaurants, and crumbling Ottoman mansions inhabited now not by Greek aristocrats but one-eyed cats and wild dogs. A whole section of the neighborhood has been taken over by people from my girlfriend's village, Conag (see It's a case of one family moving and establishing a sort of starter agent for the others. Growth ensues. Delal's uncle lives there as well, and Friday night, I went over to have a traditional Kurdish meal--zirvet.

(Now Turks and even moreso, Kurds, have a million different words for family relationships where one will do. Everyone claims its because ‘we value family so much more than you’, but it’s more likely because family hierarchy plays such a role in controlling people’s lives--an uncle on your father’s side is called an amja, one on your mother’s a dayi, and if your aunt has a husband he is an enishte. Delal says Kurdish adds a few more to the mix.)

Zirvet is a very naughty dish. You bake a very wide, round piece of bread in the oven--it’s something like a huge pizza crust, but fluffy in the middle like a proper loaf of white bread. Then you cut off the top crust, and tear the warm middle into pieces leaving the bottom crust as a kind of bowl. (If your Delal’s grandfather, you take a spoon and scrape every last bit of white from the crust to do it properly) Next, you pile the torn pieces of bread into the middle until it forms a mountain of starch, and then poor a mixture of garlic, butter, and salted yogurt (ayran) over the top. It makes a sort of fettuccini sauce--rich, buttery, creamy, and yummy. Everyone sits around the zirvet and eviscerates the mountain with their spoons, eating until their stomachs refuse to take any more in. Usually, you serve it with a side of salad to make yourself feel less wrecklessly hurtling headlong toward a heart attack.

Yeldegermeni is on a hill, and when you walk from the top down one of the cobble stone roads you have a magnificent view of the blue Marmara, filled with sailboats, ferries, and freighters. On some days, a gypsy man and his wife wander the streets with an accordion and a bowl for donations. (For some reason, I find this sound romantic--the man has the proverbial barrel chest and plays with wide exaggerated tugs on the accordion, but his wife kind of just hangs back with the begging bowl in her hand, once picking her nose). There is a Christian evangelical church on Sundays filled with bad white-people music (heads-up crackers, just steal from the black folk like we always have and quit fooling yourselves), a synagogue surrounded in razor wire (Welcome!), and an old mosque that looks like its made out of adobe (whose call to prayer in the morning is louder than the alarm that screams in my ear). There’s a hunter’s club just a few doors down from my apartment; the walls are hung with stuffed deer heads, pheasants, fish, and ducks.

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