Friday, October 10, 2008


Somewhere along the way Jerry and I decided that rather than lug home a whole bunch of souvenirs from our trips, we would instead seek out gustatory delights that were common to each area we visited. I don’t remember how it was that we came up with this idea, but over the years we have had great fun.

In our 1985 trip to England, we ate pork pie and stilton cheese in the fox-hunting country, fish and chips with mashie peas in Brighton, strawberries and clotted cream in Betwys-e-coed in Wales, and steak and kidney pie in a pub somewhere in mid-England that I have forgotten. The “forgetting” part probably is because the taste was akin to what I imagine kidneys boiled in undiluted urine would taste like.

In New Orleans we ate raw oysters (I swallowed quickly and Jerry chewed); in Baton Rouge we had Catfish Po’boys, and in Lafayette we had crawfish etouffe. In Cape Cod we ate boiled lobster, feelers and all, and in Old Salem we went to a clam bake, in which the clams were not baked but boiled, with the clam itself having to be wrestled out of its shell. They were so ugly it was almost impossible to eat them. The only thing I saw that was uglier were mussels.

During our time in Turkey Ahmet Bey, our driver, helped us experience some of the delights that normally a tourist wouldn’t have. Some were regional and some seasonal specialties: asure, a wonderful multi-grained pudding that was made only in the harvest months, and a shredded-wheat-like dessert with kaymak, the latter being a whipped cream made from water buffalo milk.

The other very strange thing I ate, or in this case drank, was a fermented thick and mucusy beer-like substance called boza. Made of wheat berries, it is served slightly warm in a tall glass and topped with a dash of cinnamon. It is traditionally sold in neighborhoods by mobile vendors and is strictly a winter drink.

But Ahmet took me to a shop hidden in the one of the nooks and crannies of old Stambul, one that tourists would never find. He ordered the drink and set it in front of me. A room full of Turkish eyes turned to see what I was going to do. I would like to say I enjoyed the drink – but the most I can say is that I tried to enjoy the experience and I managed to gag the drink down. The way I did that was to think hard about other things as I was drinking it. It had neither a pleasing taste nor a pleasing feel to my western palate. However, all my Turkish friends assured me, after I told them exactly what I thought about drinking the boza, that I was better off for having drunk the whole glass, as it is a great health-promoter! “Good for what ails you,” is what they said.

Frankly, boza and raw oysters both rate pretty low on my gustatory scale, though neither as low at that horrible steak and kidney pie I had in England, which was the very worse thing by far that I’ve ever tasted.

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