As soon as he heard that we were heading out of Istanbul as soon as possible, Mercan Bey went into panic mode. You may recall that Mercan Bey is a spice trader from the Arabian Peninsula (as I wrote about here) who collects (some say hoards) as many spices as he can during his jaunts around Turkey.
With three fewer weeks to search out interesting new baharat mixtures for mangal mania moments during hurricanes, or pul biber for spice-oil making or teyze-thyme-picking collectives on Bozcaada, Mercan Bey was feeling, well, antsy. He quickly wrapped himself up in a cool white cloth, clambered up the kitchen window and hitched a ride with a spice-friendly pigeon all the way down to the Mısır Çarşısı.
As Mercan Bey commenced to scope out the spice situation, who had the best deals, the most interesting new mixtures, etc., Esma, Karagöz and I were over in Taksim Square, in the midst of a jasmine-Coca-Cola tug of war about the joys and pains of seeing the old and new Istanbuls live and converge, M. was battling the usual bureaucracy, as in the red tape management needed for just about any interaction, just about anywhere in Turkey. It has always seemed to me that this is both an annoyance – but somewhat of a national pride in pastime as well. See, for example, Istanbul’s Stranger writing the wonderful tale about how she ended up BEATING the red-tape-making-machine otherwise known as TurkCell…
Emerging victorious with our revised tickets in hand and a fresh story about the most recalcitrant of Turkish street-level bureaucrats besotted by his charm and twinkle, M. kissed me and pulled me back out into the sunlight. This had the effect of brushing the tug-of-war swarm aside and dispatching Esma and Karagöz back home to G’s apartment via a trolley-cum-puppet zip line..
“I know,” M. said with a glimmer of glee in his hell-bent on cheering me up eyes, “we need to pick up Mercan Bey on the way home – and perhaps get some lunch at Hamdi (see Istanbul Eats’ review of this once-hole-in-the-wall now larger-than-life eatery here) to boot. We can eat pistachio kebap and pistachio baklava in honor of your Father since he wasn’t able to make a trip here…”
And although the kind thought did result in more than one tear, off we went, to drown our sorrows in the best of Turkish meze and kebap, in honor of my Father, who sadly never got the chance to taste those tastes on M.’s home soil. Mercan Bey finally tore himself away from the market and met us on the Hamdi patio, and as the afternoon namaz rang out, he sprinkled some pul biber over my food, softly offering gentle words for my Father, who he respected a great deal, even if my Father was spice-averse…”Şerefe baba” (To your honor, Father)
- Sultans, Spices and Subterranean Finds – Istanbul, Turkey (travelpod.com)
- Skip the Searching: 5 African Spice Blends to Make Yourself (thekitchn.com)