Karagöz is dying for some Şalgam suyu…what about you?


Istanbul :: şalgam & turşu

Well, Karagöz really worked hard on acculturating to his new part-time life in America last night.  He snuck away from the quiet night that M. and I had at home, through the floorboards, and joined our neighbors in their after-midnight-after-party.  It clearly involved a lot of booze.  And, of course, last night was New Year‘s Eve, so you know what that means, bubbly. Karagöz had never had anything other than rakı (rah-kuh, which is like ouzo), and had no idea how terrible champagne can be the next day – even compared to rakı.

I woke up to him moaning, head in hands, really moaning in pain and considering the choice between Hacivad Bey’s sensible Advil packet and Esma’s herbal tinctures which smelled, well, vile.  She’s all for the herbal cures (e.g. a mix of sage, garlic, lemon and tea that she learned from her Annanne or granny).

But Karagöz only had one person in mind, and that was Mercan Bey, who is staying in the compound these days, getting all the spices in for a bit of heat in the long, cold and wet New England winter.  “Mercan Bey – Efendi!” Karagöz cried out, wretching and dry-heaving a bit in his evil state, “I need your şalgam suyu (shahl-gahm soo-yoo). It’s the only way to address a – how do you say it – a hang-under?”

Entering the room at the corner of the door, Mercan Bey surveyed the scene, raised his finger as if to say “wait, please, with patience” and turned on his heel with a quick step towards the kitchen.  I followed him, out of curiosity, as he is the one who always helps me to expand my horizons. “I want to introduce you to “Şalgam Suyu” – or black turnip juice – it is a very popular drink in Turkey for those who drink too much rakı. It is actually made with something called a black carrot, the likes of which you have not seen around here very much. While my specialty is spice – I also know how to make this necessary post-party item.  Let me make it for Karagöz, the poor sot, at least it will soothe his misery enough for us to have peace from him on this New Year’s Day.”

Pretending I know nothing of this  from Mercan Bey, who M. cannot sense, I ask M. of his own experience with this elixir. M. tells me that this drink is best known in the Southern part of the country (look near Gaziantep or Adana), that it is a salty and sour and spicy drink that is fermented in wooden barrels. M. says it is totally delicious and that he used to drink it while he was in the army (required for all Turkish young men) in the southern part of the country which tells you something about what he was up to on his days off, I suppose – and who could blame you, if you heard his insane stories about the Turkish military…but writing about these things will likely get us censored, so enough of that.

As Mercan Bey handed Karagöz some of the drunkard’s next-day elixir, Karagöz regained some of his impishness, and winked with wicked wit, saying “Can you say “pucker up, anyone?” And all was well with the world as the şalgam suyu went down the gullet.

2011 Interlude: From hairy black radishes to sweet apples and the power of childhood memories


Spicy black radishes from the farmer's market

Cross-cultural moments abound in my marriage. While I am not in Turkey right now, they still seem to come fast and furious seven years into this road trip together with M. – the road trip that I am narrating here on this blog as I try to take the tenets of “cultural responsiveness” learned in my professional life and put them into practice in my own life. Now that I am in tune with the Karagöz shadow puppets in my life, I find them very comforting.  These Karagöz puppets (known for their specific characters since Ottoman times) have embodied the confused voices in my head that battle it out for how to handle some small or large cross-cultural confusion in any given moment.  They have seen me through a lot.  This morning, they saw me through the somewhat scary presence of black, hairy turnips on my kitchen counter as these somewhat ominous images prove.

This morning, when I awoke, I did not know I was about to hit a cross-cultural moment.  I stumbled into the kitchen in search of some sort of warm caffeinated beverage with which to jumpstart my faulty engine, and I saw these.  At first, I thought they were black turnips, used to make  Şalgam Suyu – a very popular drink in Turkey especially when one is hung over, apparently.

Şalgam Suyu ve cig kofte

M. says it is totally delicious and that he used to drink it while he was in the army (required for all Turkish young men) in the southern part of the country).
Can you say “pucker up, anyone?” Şalgam Suyu is served cold with kebabs or cig kofte (“sig-cough-teh”) which is a delicacy (see the photo – that is kofte made with raw meat).

Creepy black radishes on my kitchen counter

But back to New England on this autumnal morning and to my kitchen counter with Halloween vegetables abounding and to my husband, ever the bright and sprightly morning person that I am not and never will be, made sure to let me know that this hairy beast of a vegetable was in fact a radish he had procured at yesterday’s farmer’s market.  As I stumbled about the kitchen, he shoveled the radishes into a plastic bag to take for lunch.  “What kind of lunch is that?” I said, simultaneously hearing the entire Karagöz puppet chorus cry out in unison – that’s a Turkish junk food, as you call it, be accepting! And it is healthy, too – what’s to object?”  It was too early in the morning for me to contemplate these hirsute items, so I commenced the tea making and studiously ignored them.

A lamacun with pickled cabbage from our trip to Kilis

Later in the day, when I sought some guidance from M. on what the hairy beasts are used for, he launched into the recounting of his afternoon walk home from school. The kuruş (derived from the German Groschen, 100 of which constitute one lira) jingling in his pocket all through the Cihangir neighborhood, his mouth would water at the thought of purchasing a forbidden lamacun (lah-mah-jun) that his mother insisted was made from cat meat in an effort to deter him from eating street food.  He talks lovingly of holding the hot lamacun in his hands, waiting for the seller to grate black radishes on top of it for some vegetal spice action.  It took us about a minute to find the word grate – he described it in detail, not knowing the English word though he is twenty years into this U.S. experiment of his.  We hit on “grater” after some interesting telephone pantomime. In any case, his loving memory of these childhood times reminded me of milky tea and apples with my mom on our back porch after school – raised in a suburban area, we had no street food around.  Inspired, I sat and prepared tonight’s lecture on the back porch, in the sun, replete with milky tea and fresh Fuji apples.  The power of childhood memories from two sides of the world led to a great morning.  The puppets snoozed in the sun around me as I planned my lecture, peaceful in their sleep.

A bevy of Fuji apples ready for crunch & munch