Fisting Eggplants – or – Making İmam Bayıldı For the First Time

Imam bayıldı

My very first attempt at making Imam bayıldı – which felt more like fisting a boiling hot eggplant unhappily…

Well, apparently Hacivad Bey’s prompting to get back to writing stirred things up a little bit.  We’ll see how long it lasts, says the naysayer. As M. and I walked through the local Armenian grocery, picking up their delectable İmam bayıldı along the way (a stuffed eggplant dish called ‘the imam swooned’) a wave of shame passed over me.  The shame had a name – the name of one of the Karagöz puppets living in my head who gives me the hardest time in life….

Before I could even say başlama to myself, I heard Kenne, the Queen of Manners and Maintenance of Ladylike Behaviors puppet whispering in my ear. “You are the wife of a Turk, yet you have never, ever cooked İmam bayıldı – or anything else uniquely Turkish other than çay, although I must admit, you have mastered that passably well.”

Rolling my eyes behind Kenne’s back, I willed her out of my mind as I promised myself to go home, and cook some gosh darned Turkish food for once.  It was bad enough that the Hanım Efendi (lady proprietress referred to with an honorific) of the grocery we were in didn’t even acknowledge me or my attempts to greet her properly in Turkish – despite that I’ve been shopping there for 10 years.  I hate to say it, but this lady, she reminds me of Karagöz at his meanest – snobby about my fledgling Turkish and ready to ignore me in the cruelest of ways before making fun of me in a belittling way for mispronouncing something.  But mostly just ignoring me.  In any case, the rest of the puppets soothed me from my own thin skin, propped me up, stopped me from feeling sorry for myself and marched me out of there to cook something Turkish, damn it!

Armed with eggplant, lemons, tomato, olive oil, sugar, cinnamon and a bay leaf, I turned to the Internet for a tarifi (recipe).  Karagöz, that impish trickster puppet, quiet for so long due to being bound and gagged by his compatriots, ROLLED on his fat paunchy stomach laughing like all get-out at the idea of finding a RECIPE on the INTERNET.  “You are so in trouble – you need to learn that from your abla (big sister) or your kaynana (mother-in-law) – you’ll FAIL MISERABLY otherwise.”  I threw him down the drain with some lemon rinds and ground him up in the garbage disposal, bit by camel-hide bit.

Turning back to my iPad without distraction now, I chose a recipe from the New York Times.  Although I could hear a cackling warning in my head from some errant puppet saying “you are going to trust the NYT to teach you how to make İmam bayıldı” , I ignored it.  What else was I going to do?  Trust some crazy blogger with photos of clearly under-cooked eggplant? No.  Here is the recipe that I started with - click here.  Mercan Bey, the Arabian Spice Trader puppet cheered me on, however, reminding me that I should be very careful with the amount of cinnamon that I had chosen to add – from reading a Turkish recipe and adding that bit to my NYT choice.

Starting with the eggplants, I sliced them in half – careful not to break through to the other side.  I considered removing the bitter seeds right then and there but decided to follow the recipe (something I rarely do).  After cooking them at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes – they were barely shriveled. Despite the ghost of Karagöz the questioner who had taken up residence in my mind by now, I gave them another ten minutes, to good result.  In the meantime, I practiced my conjugation of the verb “to cook” while softening the onions and then peeling and coring the tomatoes.

After leaving the eggplants to drain for a bit, I took at look at them, burning my fingertips along the way.  “I f*ing hate eggplants!” I found myself calling out, terrifically Karagöz-like as I really don’t, I really LIKE eggplants.  M. stormed in the door at this point, grumpy from a tough day – clearly not ready to be my in-house culinary consultant.  I left the eggplants to sit a little more while making him a tomato-cucumber-white-cheese salad with lemon and olive oil (his nectar of the Gods).

Facing my task anew, my renewed enthusiasm flagged, as I saw the chunky, heavy flesh before me, with no room present to receive the delectable tomato-onion stuffing I had patiently prepared.  “I shoved my fingers into the largest eggplant, trying to pull out the deceptively slippery seeds, which seemed to be GRINNING at me with spite.  I couldn’t pull those God Damn things out without ripping the skin, which was supposed to be intact – and my fingers were getting singed to boot.

I stomped my foot.  It did not help.  I looked up at the windowsill and saw the ENTIRE puppet troupe there, cheering me on.  I shoved my hand back up into the bowels of the big eggplant, determined to harvest those seeds by any means necessary.  I emerged with a tiny string of seeds.  “F this,” I said to nobody in particular, ignoring Kenne’s horror at my potty mouth, “I’m using a knife.”  Diverting from the recipe, I held the steaming hot eggplants under water and hacked away at the seed threads in a way that could NEVER be referred to as yavaş yavaş (slowly by slowly). I even tried speaking lovingly to the eggplant seeds, for a second, before cursing them again.

At this point, M. walked through and said, very unhelpfully, “you have to take the seeds out.”  After cutting onions thinly, blanching tomatos in boiling water to peel them, coring and seeding them – and fisting those hot and heavy eggplant bottoms, I could only think of the great respect I have for all the Turkish women out there who cook this dish on a daily basis.  Damn!

In the end, my red-hot fingers managed to survive my first fisting eggplants episode – and M. (and the rest of the puppets) deemed the lemony sauce “just right,” although I’m not sure if he was placating me or not.  Come over and visit, if you promise to cheer me on, I’ll fist eggplants for you too – and you can be a judge of my version of the dish!

(Or send me your secret for how to get rid of those awfully stubborn seeds!)

P.S. Later that evening, M. said “it actually needed more salt, and those eggplants are shit – they have no taste! They are not Turkish eggplants.  But it is not YOUR fault.”  Sigh.


Posted in Cross-cultural learning moments, Turkish Food!, Turkish-American Matters, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ten Years, Ten Moments: Hacivad Bey Speaks

Our niece Melia, having a tactile experience outside of the Haghia Sofya...just one of Hacivad Bey's top ten moments from our ten years together

Our niece Melia, having a tactile experience outside of the Haghia Sofya…just one of Hacivad Bey’s top ten moments from our ten years together

Today, Hacivad Bey poked his head around the corner of my living room and inquired about my well-being.  “It’s been a long time, M’lady, since you’ve let us come out and play!”  Sighing, I responded, “Indeed, Hacivad Bey, it has. I’m just not in shape for blogging like I used to.”  So much has peaked the puppets’ interests in the last six months – by my fingers have been leaden to their whims.

What has, however, managed to sneak through, are the puppets’ thoughts on the Top Ten Moments of our Ten Year Cross-Cultural Roadtrip. We celebrated our ten-year-together anniversary this year (and 5 years with the legal papers)…and there is much to look back on.  So much, in fact, that Hacivad Bey has handed me a stack of notecards with careful calligraphic penmanship indicating which of those rise to the top, and here they are in no particular order (with my narration)….although not the best blog post, if nothing else, I have enjoyed recalling these special moments, and I am grateful to Hacivad Bey for appearing today and shaking me up a bit!

10. Eating Ayva Tatlisi (a.k.a. poached quince): Who knew a quince could bond two people together quite so deliciously.  For years, M. ranted and raved about his love of Ayva Tatlisi – but only made it last winter.  As soon as I tasted his carefully poached confection, I was taken back to my Spanish Granny’s kitchen – and a dessert I had almost forgotten.  We had two helpings each, as we recollected our childhood love of that dessert.  And then M. told me what Ayva is a slang word for in Turkçe. :)  And we had a good laugh. Click the hotlink that is the title of this item for the whole story. 

9. Bargaining for a Car in the ABD (USA):  Nobody ranks quite as low on the totem pole of scorn as car salesmen…and one of the worst set of offenders are located nary a few blocks from our house.  When we decided on the car we wanted, we headed down the block with our heads held high, an order for me to shut up, and a very secret weapon – namely M.’s Turkish negotiating tactics.  It was all I could do to keep a straight face – and M. scared the bejeezus out of the car salesman who dropped the price as soon as possible.  I loved every minute of it.

8. Freestyling in Turklish: Over these ten years, I have struggled to make time for learning Turkish.  Once successfully off the tenure track at my university, I had no more excuses.  While I amped up my efforts – my attempts to freestyle with my slowy-acquired skills have led to many corrections – and a few big mistakes.  None was funnier than the one I dropped on the 2nd bridge while stuck in gridlocked traffic with my Abla (Big Sister) and her kids, namely “Taş gibi.” Translated as “like a stone,” this phrase is also slang for a hot woman – a woman with some substance.   You’ll have to read the story at the hotlink above to get the picture – literally and figuratively. :)

7. Su Gibi Git Su Gibi Gel with Teyze:  After visiting M.’s Teyze (Aunt) for the first time, a trying visit to say the least, I was happy to be leaving.  I felt terrible about it.  I never imagined not being able to get along with someone – much less someone with whom I did not share a language (the only person in M.’s family for whom that is true).  I turned around to wave goodbye, still hoping I could make a good impression – and saw Teyze throwing water after us.  I burst into tears, presuming that this was her wish to get rid of us.  Pulling over the car to comfort me, M. tried to understand what was wrong – and when I explained through boogery sobs, he descended into laughter.  I had no idea that the tradition of throwing water behind those leaving on a trip was to wish that they would “go like water and come back like water.”  In other words, safely!

6. Seeing Turkey Anew with Our “Child:” One year, we decided to bring our niece, Melia, to Turkey with us.  Fascinated by world religions and travel at a young age, her parents decided to let us have her for three weeks.  And they were a grand three weeks indeed.  While we did all the standard stuff, the most wonderful thing that happened was the response that people had to us as a couple – with a child.  We were clearly “legitimate” as a couple and gained entry into elements of Anatolian society that we heretofore had not.  We were even told “not to come back without Melia next time!”  Over the course of the trip, this led to many rich conversations about our different cultures’ expectations of women, men, couples and families.

5.  When the Karagöz Puppets Met the Archers: Although I (still) have not blogged about it, one of the best moments (drawn out over a week) of our relationship was meeting the illustrious Archers of Okçular and bonding over scads of things – including the receipt of a GENUINE Karagöz set of puppets for me!  After starting this blog, Alan became a devoted supporter – for which I am so grateful!  We became e-friends and several years ago, made the jump from 0/1 bits to face-to-face contact near Dalyan. Our sharing conversations barely paused for a week – and spanned the gamut from hilarity to tears about all manner of things Turkish, political, botanical, familial and otherwise.  Can’t wait to see the Archers of O this summer on our hunt for the blue mollusk in the Black Sea region!

4. Shared History in Gelibolu’s Lone Pine Cemetery: On my first trip to Turkey with M., we drove from Istanbul to Bozcaada – stopping at Gelibolu (Gallipoli) on the way.  Many people have heard of the national friendship spawned by the terrible battles at this location between the ANZAC forces and the Turks.  Each year, on ANZAC Day, the displays of international friendship are extreme – and being known as the relative of an ANZAC soldier in Çanakkale, for example, is likely to get you a free meal, a story and a sympathetic hug.  While I’m not an Aussie – or a Kiwi – my great uncle ran away from Southern Spain, gained Aussie citizenship and was promptly drafted into WW1 – only to die on the second day of battle at Gelibolu.  My Granny’s favorite, her grief over his death never quite left.  By sheer luck, M. found my great uncle’s gravestone – bringing some level of karmic closure to a painful familial fissure on my mother’s side.  We both cried and hugged each other in the sun, the first of many cultural overlaps on our road trip.

3. Finding another Turkish-American Couple: We know plenty of Turkish-American couples – many of whom we adore and share interests with.  Many of whom we protested with during Gezi Park solidarity protests.  But it was one particular couple we met – and became fast friends with – that have brought an even deeper cross-cultural element of life examination into our lives.  Meeting J. (American) and S. (Turkish-American) has been life-changing.  Something about the constellations of our respective relationships allow us to delve deep into topics that are unique to our relationship combinations.  For example, J. and I have commiserated about our at-times “Turkish wife” status – or the unexamined expectations held by our Turkish partners.  Meanwhile, M. and S. have bonded into blood brothers based on their acculturation level to the U.S. – and more importantly their equal (in my eyes) identification as Turks and Americans.  This sets them apart from others who seem to be one or the other.  We have been welcomed into their extended family and cannot imagine life without them.  So here’s to the Internet for making that happy accident a wonderful reality that has led to so many ‘elevated’ conversations. :) That’s for you, S.

2. Gaining an Abla and Her Kids:  This one can’t be quantified as a moment – but rather a span of time during which one of M.’s best friends became one of my closest…and through that process I not only gained a wise Alba, but a close friend who can translate my unending cultural confusion into understanding and relief.  But she is much more than that to us – she has become our family member in heart. She once famously said to me of her child who stayed with us for a time “You take the meat, I’ll keep the bones” when referring to a short period of collective child-rearing we engaged in. While we have blood siblings – we often wonder – what would I (therefore “we”) do without her?  (We love you and your kids, G.)

1. Saying No Over Lamacuns in Kilis:  For years and years, there have been odd and somewhat unsettling moments in our marriage.  They have always involved me posing a question – and Murat looking at me, but not saying a word.  One of these moments came at a lamacun shop in Kilis, on the Syrian border. We love trying out lamacun wherever we go – as we both grew up with them – M. in Cihangir and me in Watertown, MA, where my Dad picked boxes of them up from the “Exotic” Armenian bakery on his way home from work.  But in any case, there we were in Kilis.  I posed a question to M.  He stared at me – his mouth full of the best lamacun either of us has ever eaten.  And just as I began to feel that familiar feeling of frustration at his odd lack of responsiveness, he lifted his eyebrows – and it hit me – he’s saying “NO!”  It took me 7 years to learn his Turkish body language for “No.” Oy vey, what a laugh we had. I wonder what else there is to learn!



Posted in Cross-cultural learning moments, Family Challenges, On writing about my life with the Karagöz puppets, Turklish Moments, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Karagöz Puppets muse on Turkish (neo-colonialist?) influences in Kuzey Kibris

Flags from the Turkish Republic next to that of Northern Cyprus in Kyrenia's castle - two peas in a pod? (Image by Liz Cameron)

Flags from the Turkish Republic next to that of Northern Cyprus in Kyrenia’s castle – two peas in a pod? (Image by Liz Cameron)

Although it has been a few months since our exploration of Northern Cyprus, our consideration of what we saw there continues to be a daily source of discussion. The  Karagöz puppets who inhabit my head, in particular, have much to say, so let me let them speak to you today:

Celebi, the modernist puppet begins the discussion: “The woes of Cyprus. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. These days, people focus on the crisis in 1974 when Greek groups attempted to annex Cyprus to Greece and the Turkish military ostensibly came into protect the scads of ethnic Turkish Cypriots who had lived there for centuries side-by-side with Greek ethnic Cypriots.  So says one part of the story…”  Sighing, he rubbed his head for a while before continuing.

“Many we have met here say that the Greeks were just as bad as the Turks – killing and disappearing many Turks – but the Turks were also bad to the Greeks  - doing just the same. The incident in 1974 goes down in history with Turkey being the bad guy – that’s not a new role for us is it – but the fact is the Greeks were bad too – both were bad it was awful and it is still awful.”  In an unusual fit of frustration and hopelessness, Celebi pounds a glass of single malt and keels over, drunk as a skunk.

Hacivad Bey, the learned Sufi elder puppet steps in at this point (or rather over the drunken, passed-out body of his overwhelmed colleague). “But, my dear friend Celebi – oh – he can’t hear me – well – anyway – there is some sense of a way forward. Between United Nations efforts to reunify the island through a peace process, some small steps have been made. Of course, there was the most recent referendum on the merger of the northern and southern parts of Cyprus. A majority of people on the northern side of Cyprus favored reunification well the opposite was true on the Greek side. A sad situation indeed, despite nascent hope gleaming on the far horizon.” Sighing deeply, he stroked his beard and a tear dribbled down his cheek.

Yehuda Rebbe puts his arm around his teary comrade-in-arms, and takes his turn, saying “Hacivad Bey, let us focus on another aspect of this situation – what we saw on this trip. Overall, our sense of Northern Cyprus was that it was a relatively secular place without too much of the growing Islamist movement we have observed in Turkey over the past decade. That said, the shiny new mosques built in small towns in rural areas felt a lot like the projects we have seen in the more rural areas of Anatolia – perhaps an effort to distribute what some would refer to as “the opiate of the masses.” So what is Yehuda Rebbe getting at here? Well, as I see it, it relates to what M. and I have noted across Anatolia, funding for new mosques may-just-may correlate with voting patterns leaning towards the AKP government.  But who are we to say but mere human observers with no hard data to stand on?

Wishing to move the conversation out of Internet censorship-worthy territory, Safiye Rakkase steps in with her usual flourish.  As she is the expert fashionista amongst the members of the puppet troupe, Safiye Rakkase interjects her unique lens of opinion at this point: “Of the men and women in religious Islamic garb we came across (versus traditional Turkish dress often mistaken for religious Islamic dress), we felt that none had accents that were Cypriot – they were from Kars, Van, Antep and other cities across Anatolia.  That place was more Turkish than parts of the Western Aegean coast in high summer!” Wow, that’s just about as serious as we’ve ever heard from the vainglorious dancing girl puppet, the well-known stomper-of-flamenco-feet, Safiye Rakkase.

Esma, the hippy puppet who is ever interested in the underdog gracefully stepped in front of Safiye Rakkase at this moment – she hoped, you see, to steer the conversation away from potential commentary on fashion in Northern Cyprus.  Pressing her most earnest face towards the crowd, she, takes over the commentary from here: “and while we were happy to see that people from Anatolia had opportunity in Cyprus, albeit funded by Turkish government relocation programs, this effort has clearly and nearly wiped out the unique Turkish Cypriot culture – not to mention the remaining Greek Cypriot cultural enclaves on the northern side of the island for the most part. At times, I felt it might as well have been any province in Anatolia. All the children the human spoke to plan to attend university in Turkey, Turkey was the bright shining star of their future.”

At this point, all of the puppets began to speak (in a big hubbub as they are wont to do) of the almost ever-present Turkish flag seen across the island. As you will note in our header photograph for today, the Turkish Cypriot flag is to the right of the Turkish flag. According to Turkey, technically, Turkish Cyprus is it’s own country.  Of course, Turkey is the only nation that recognizes Northern Cyprus as such (maybe North Korea??). Therefore, what the rest of the world sees is that Northern Cyprus is indeed an add-on to the Turkish mainland (it is, after all, encompassed in the zip code for the southern coastal city of Mersin). Some might even say it is a neo-colonial entity.

A looming statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Dipkarpaz, Northern Cyprus, home to circa 500 Greek Cypriots who remained after 1974 (Image by Liz Cameron)

A looming statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Dipkarpaz, Northern Cyprus, home to circa 500 Greek Cypriots who remained after 1974 (Image by Liz Cameron)

And the neo-colonial feel in Northern Cyprus was egged on by the fact that there were numerous statues, plaques and billboards depicting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic. While we “love us some Mustafa Kemal over here at Slowly By Slowly,” we feel it vital to note that he did not, by the way have anything to do with the founding of Northern Cyprus as all of that happened WAY after his death. Troubling. Very, very troubling.

Of course, Karagöz, the agent provocateur puppet, had something to say as well, so we might as well let him speak: “all I have to say,” he squeaks with glee, “is that clearly the Turkish government has f*d Northern Cyprus! What a beautiful country gone to rubbish, smog, poverty & controversy!” And while we do agree with this sprightly and oppositional puppet to some extent, we wouldn’t extend our views to the realm of cursing.

To leave you on a positive note, Mercan Bey steps in as Karagöz is pulled out of the way by his protectors (as in – “get off the stage immediately you oaf!”). As you know, this well-traveled puppet, originally from the Arabian Peninsula, trades spices all over the region. His interests normally fall in the realm of food – And in this case agriculture. Indeed, he has engaged in many conversations with various Cyprian puppets (as the Karagöz puppets do not converse with humans other then M’lady) during his visit, and would like to share the findings of his queries.

Holding his hand up to silence the rest of the puppets, he claims the last word, and it is a positive spin. Clearing his throat, he begins “as you know, recent developments in the ongoing saga of the accession of Türkiye by the European Union has required that trade relations see. Of course, there appears to be a significant and thriving black-market, however this has had a positive impact on the environment overall. As northern Cypriot agricultural products cannot be exported, the nascent nation has decided to only produce that which it needs. This has the odd effect of contributing to a country in which poverty is clearly present, but no one appears to be hungry. Additionally, this has meant that many of the chemicals used to foster agricultural development in other countries are not used here – thus the lovely organic fruits and vegetables – not to mention meet – that we have sampled here.”

So there you have it, the last word is a positive one. Overall, the puppets recommend visiting this interesting country/neo-colonial outback especially if you’re interested in observing a current manifestation of Turkish – informed controversy and sociopolitical intrigue. And of course, don’t forget the joy of delicious natural northern Cypriot cuisine and the quiet breezes on the Karpaz peninsula.

Posted in Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments