Great Gifts from Turkey
caftans, peshtemels, red lentils, tulip glasses

Great Gifts from Turkey

I wish I could have taken the tomatoes. I felt inordinately bad about throwing them away, three perfect red globes, their stems still attached. I think every Turk eats at least one tomato each day—and I have grown to regard tomatoes reverentially. Before heading to the airport to travel back to Minnesota, I bit into one of them, adding salt as I ate. I thought about how this “vegetable” that we regard as savory really has a neutral flavor, and goes with both sweet and salty foods.

I was carrying another agricultural product with me, something I call “crunchy raisins.” (I think, but am not sure, that dried fruits are okay to bring into the U.S.) The first time I bought Turkish raisins and discovered seeds, I was disappointed, frustrated at making yet one more foreigner mistake. But then a Turkish friend pointed out that seeds are healthy, “good for the blood.” So I tried a few, cautiously at first, and then more enthusiastically. The seeds, it turns out, help cut the cloying sweetness.  It didn’t take long before I became a fan.

Arlene, one of our early visitors, liked the raisins so much that she asked me to bring some home for her, and they are making their appearance in this blog before she knows they are hers. When I purchased them the other day, I murmured America-da yokto the clerk, meaning that this item isn’t available in America. His immediate 
comment? Olmaz, that can’t be.

Surely every kind of thing is available in America. 

Another thing I jammed into my suitcase was a set of Turkish tea glasses. Turks do not drink tea out of mugs or coffee cups, but instead small tulip-shaped glasses. At first that seemed odd; a glass was surely too hot to pick up with near-boiling beverage inside. But gradually I learned to hold the glass delicately, at the very top. And Turkish tea—the leaves braised over water and then slowly steeped—is a subtle, delicious treat.

A recent visitor wanted a set of Turkish tea glasses for her daughter and I have purchased a typical design like the one above, making note to buy myself a set exacty like it before I leave Turkey for good.

lentil soup. (Just checked in my Minnesota kitchen, and no lentils in sight.) Never mind, I can go to the Iranian-Turkish store near the University of Minnesota. The story goes that this store was originally run by and for Iranians, but the Turks in town convinced them to stock their food items as well.

It will be fun to hunt down this store, just as I ferret out places in Istanbul’s Old City, experiencing and re-experiencing the triumph of “discovery.” And it will be fun to meet an Iranian or two. They have the same forbidden mystique people from China and the Soviet Union had during the Cold War.

My suitcase is full of stuff I’ve bought that is Turk-ifying my life. A navy and white flowered housedress that I use as a bathing suit coverup. It is the most flattering coverup I have ever had, and was a steal at 15 TL (about $9.00) at the weekly market in Edirne. I paid a local tailor 8 TL (about $5) for alterations.

A peshtemel, something new to me that I am really excited about. It turns out that, at the beach or pool, a heavy towel is really not necessary. All you need is a light, soft length of cloth to dry and wrap yourself in. Peshtemels come in all kinds of lovely colors and designs, and have been a staple in Turkish life since Ottoman times.

Angela bought a really pretty peshtemel.
A Turkish necklace from Shibu, a creative Turkish-American collaboration, that features a little metal Ottoman caftan stuffed with pretty fabric.

Fistikli atoms, a healthy, addictive treat involving sweetened carrot paste covered with pistachios.

Clothing that is a little more feminine that what I wear in the States. A white sleeveless top with a cutout design on the shoulders.  An olive green T-shirt with a yoke and two different types of fabric. Some flowered white Cabani brand sandals; the folks at the shop were so helpful when I needed to exchange them for a bigger size.

Aside from requests, the only gifts I’m bringing are birthday and Mother’s Day presents for my mom. Rose water from the Spice Bazaar.  Turkish delight from Haci Bekir, the country’s oldest purveyor of the treat.  Some handmade slippers, purchased at Narin, a shop located down a narrow pasaj in an elegant Istanbul shopping district. It is rumored that ladies from all over the Arab world visit this passage to buy their slippers.

And finally, I’m bringing myself: enthusiastic, dazzled, weary. Not quite sure where I belong anymore. Full of another world and having a hard time shaking it.

17 thoughts on “Great Gifts from Turkey

  1. Angela is lovely and your mother must be very excited to have you at home. We are still meeting at the former “Brewberry’s” on Friday mornings and we’d love to have you join us.

  2. I miss you! Istanbul isn’t nearly as much fun without you. I thought about you when I took Ray, Isaiah, Margaret, Frances and Margaret’s friends to the roof of the Buyuk Valide Han. Mehdi says “Merhaba.”

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