Turks tend to believe that their food is famous the world over as the best food in the world. Periodically, a newspaper makes a claim to this end. On this I have to disagree. I still think Italian is the best, but that's neither here nor there. One thing that happens to me here is that, even though I really like Turkish food, I get really tired of Turkish food all the time. Americans are spoiled this way, in that we can have pretty good food from almost anyplace in the world, often only a phone call away. A few years ago, I remember getting really excited when the McDonald's near us started delivering, because it presented a new way to be lazy. I'm not even a big fan of McDonald's, but that's another thing that happens here-- food like McDonald's or Domino's that tastes pretty much exactly the same no matter where you go starts to be like home-food or comfort food. I ate way more double cheeseburgers than I'm comfortable with in the last trimester of my pregnancy mostly because I was homesick. Then I'd go home and guiltily eat a lot of fruit and raw vegetables to make up for it.
Another note on Turkish food is that there are some foods here that Americans know as Greek food. Baklava and dolmas come to mind offhand. Obviously this is because of a shared cultural history and border and population shifting, and it's probably because we have a lot more Greeks with restaurants in America than Turks that the Greeks have claimed these foods in our minds. But any Turk will adamantly and angrily tell you that every food you ever thought was invented in another country is, in fact, Turkish (and I'll certainly give them dolmas, because dolmak and doldurmak are both Turkish verbs about stuffing and filling). I'm sure the Greeks are just as adamant.
And now, to the list of foods I don't like:
1) İşkembe: This has to be number one because it's one of the most disgusting things I've ever eaten. It's tripe soup. Now, that in itself I don't hold against it, though I'm not a big fan of offal in general. I've had kokoreç (fried, spiced tripe) and it was all right, though the smell is nasty and I wouldn't go out of my way to have more. I've even had the bits of sheep's head on a platter (brain, cheek, and tongue) in more than a few drunken hazes, and while I wouldn't call it yummy (though the cheeks were pretty good), it also wasn't as bad as it sounds. But işkembe is foul. It's like they just boiled the tripe in milky water and served it up. You're supposed to mitigate this boiled tripe taste by loading the soup with garlic, vinegar, salt, and other spices, but that barely helps because the original tripe taste remains, and lingers for another 24 hours in your burps. There is a nice habit here of eating soup (or sheep's head or sheep's head soup) after a night out drinking, so you can always find a 24-hour soup place. I was brave once about the işkembe, but after that, I'll stick with lentil soup. Soup after drinking is sensible. Challenging your friends about how many you can eat of the wickedly hot peppers at the soup place is less sensible, but fun. Being hungover burping garlicky tripe taste is not at all sensible. I don't think it's a coincidence that işkembe and işkence (torture) sound so similar.
2) İğde: Apparently, this fruit is called oleaster in English, which wasn't very helpful for me (though I notice Wikipedia also points out it doesn't taste very good). This is one of the foods in Turkey that falls into the powdery, tasteless family. About the size of an almond, it has a rubbery, papery skin that's hard to chew, with a fuzzy, powdery inside that sucks all the moisture from your mouth, is really hard to get out of there, and has virtually no taste. Perhaps it's one of those things that is sublime fresh from the tree, but the one I ate took two hours before all its traces were gone from my tongue, and it felt kind of itchy, sort of like if you scraped a spoonful of fuzz from a peach and ate it. Other members of the powdery tasteless family include leblebi and another hard, dry, white pea-like thing whose name I don't know. These last two are like the beer nuts of Turkey, in that they're served in bars in small dishes. Leblebi are roasted chick peas. All the moisture and taste have been roasted out of them, and the powder quickly turns to a sticky paste in your mouth that's hard to swallow, even with beer. Many Turks affectionately recall eating sweetened leblebi powder as kids, and frankly, it makes me thankful we had Fun Dip and Pixie Sticks. As for the white pea-like thing, it's so hard it hurts to chew, and it also tastes like nothing. In my mind, leblebi and the pea-like thing are best used as tiny projectiles rather than food.
3) Dut: Mulberries. I always thought mulberries were an imaginary fruit only there for the monkey to chase the weasel around in the song. It turns out they're real. They look like albino blackberries. I don't find them at all exciting. While they're not quite powdery and tasteless, they're not as juicy as they look and the taste is hard to locate. On the subject of food I'd only heard of but never seen before coming to Turkey, purslane falls into this category. I'd read about purslane before, but I'd never seen it. It's pretty good, served here in a nice appetizer of garlic yogurt. I once tried to make a purslane soup recipe (it's similar to cress) from Joy of Cooking, but it failed dismally. I did learn, however, from Joy of Cooking, that purslane was Ghandi's favorite food.
4) Amerikan salatası: I think a translation isn't necessary. This is an appetizer made of cooked-to-death peas, carrots, and potatoes mixed with mayonnaise. There could be some lemon juice in there. That's it. Yuck. Most Turks don't believe me when I tell them we have no such salad in America, at least not that I've ever seen, and America is home to some pretty gross salads, like those involving any combination of Jell-O, marshmallows, and pineapple. I've heard that Amerikan salatası used to be called Russian salad, but they changed the name during the Cold War, and unlike Freedom Fries, this political re-naming stuck. My friend who did her Peace Corps stint in Russia confirmed that this salad can be bought by the vat there, so it's probably true that this salad was originally Russian.
5) Starches: One thing that's great about a Turkish meal, in my opinion, is that no one seems too concerned about having four different kinds of meat in one sitting. Fine with me. Great even. Americans should take heed and just go ahead and do this, because probably most of us secretly want to anyway. Another Turkish habit I'm not keen on though, is having three different starches in one meal. One starch is okay. Even two starches work if one of them is bread and the bread is good. After that it gets silly, with bread on the table, plus fries and rice on your plate. Sometimes it's even fries, rice, and mashed potatoes. After I've admitted my love of the meat thing, I won't be hypocritical and claim my issue with starches is about health-- it isn't. I recognize it's cultural, and just as I used to think it was 'wrong' to have chicken, beef, and lamb in one sitting, I think it's 'wrong' to have all the starch. I just like meat better than rice and bread. And as for bread, the baguette kind you get here is lame. Wonder Bread tastes better. It's like Kleenex. I'm not sure why they adopted this foreign kind of bread when the various traditional pides are great. And I'll never get how one person can eat an entire baguette of this Kleenex bread at every meal. People are always on my case that I don't eat tons of bread, especially when I was pregnant, but I still refuse to accept that plain white bread is anything other than a stomach-filler and certainly not a source of nourishment.
6) Kuru fasuliye: Literally, this means dried beans, but when referring to a prepared food, people are talking about an unpleasant concoction of white beans in oily red water with bits of meat. A similar dish can be made with chick peas (nohut), which isn't good either. Kuru fasuliye is one of those dishes people get really excited about, but which aren't the least bit exciting.
7) Falım: This is a brand of chewing gum BE loves. Falım means 'my fortune,' and each piece of gum has your fortune written on the wrapper. The gum is hard, only slightly sweet, and would taste like it's right out of the rubber tree if not for its faint flavor of something like spumoni. I figure if I want hard gum with no taste, I might as well chew something I find under the seat on the bus, though admittedly that gum doesn't have my fortune on the wrapper.
8) Zeytinyağlı mezeler: Zeytinyağı is 'olive oil,' and mezeler is 'appetizers.' Specifically, this refers to a family of appetizers involving a vegetable that has been cooked so much it's pretty much a mushy, gray cellulose ghost of its former self, which is then served in olive oil and lemon. No matter what the vegetable originally was, it turns out tasting like olive oil and lemon. Not terrible, but not thrilling either, and certainly not worth having more than one at your table because they all taste the same.
9) Ayran: A drink made of water, yogurt, and salt. Okay, I've actually never tried ayran because it looks like milk and I have an issue with milk. I hate milk so much I gag from the smell of it and can make myself nauseous if I think about it for too long. I get the willies having milk on my skin. I don't like drinking out of a glass I know had milk in it once. I don't like touching a cold glass of milk with condensation on the outside caused by milk. And I definitely will not drink anything that has the word 'milk' in its name or that looks anything like milk. Ayran looks just like milk. And it sounds gross anyway.
And that's it. Those are all the foods in Turkey I don't like. I told BE the subject of this post when I asked him how to spell 'iğde.' Naturally, he was immediately indignant that I don't think all Turkish food is the best food in the world, but he felt a little better when I told him I like pretty much every other Turkish food I've had besides these. But each food I've chosen here is near and dear to his heart, and he clucked and gasped in disbelief at me as I listed each one, and then took it all a little personally. That's a funny thing, how much people absolutely love these foods and get really excited about them, even though they're short on taste or unpleasant in texture or downright nauseating like işkembe.
I know I've said negative things about some of the more beloved and sacrosanct Turkish foods. I hope no one finds this post too upsetting. Turks have a way of getting overly upset about surprising things, so fingers crossed I don't find myself getting busted for insulting Turkishness or some such nonsense.
But that's another topic altogether.