I can vividly remember the first time I came face to face with the results of the feast known in Turkey as Kurban Bayram. It is the traditional religious holiday when all Muslim are expected to commemorate the strength of Ibrahim’s faith by sacrificing a cow, sheep or goat. I was in Gemlik, a town famous for its olives, as a guest of one of my students. He came from the east of Turkey and was celebrating the holiday at the home of the oldest of his many brothers. Volkan’s abi and his wife lived in a modest one bedroom apartment and in honour of my visit, turned over the use of their bedroom to my partner Kim and I. For the sake of propriety we referred to each other as husband and wife. When we learnt the three would sleep on the hard scratchy sofas in the salon we felt very uncomfortable, but they insisted.
We spent the day wandering through the town. It was built along the shores of the Sea of Marmara and the locals liked to pass the time sipping tea and smoking copious cigarettes in one of the many teahouses lining the water’s edge. Young lovers loitered discretely under the low hanging leaves of broad limbed trees while single young men tested their shooting prowess by aiming at balloons anchored in the bay. Kim declined when challenged by Volkan but heartily applauded when our host proved his accuracy with a gun.
Back at the apartment Volkan’s yenge, his sister-in-law, stood guard over a heavily laden table. We sat down and waited while she brought in our plates of soup one at a time. As each bowl was set in place I became aware of a particularly nauseating smell. I looked down and saw a grey murky liquid that closely resembled greasy washing up water left to fester for several days.
Reluctantly I dipped my spoon into the bowl when Volkan urged us to eat. Kim and I could each only manage a spoonful of the liquid before laying our spoons back down. Just as I did so, what looked like an eye popped to the surface before lazily rolling over and out of sight. I exchanged worried glances with Kim. I didn’t want to be rude but I also didn’t want to vomit at the table and the longer the soup was in front of me the more probable that seemed. Kim looked as concerned as I was so we both carefully explained we were unable to eat any more, all the while apologising profusely. At first our earnest refusal was met with a profound silence. Just as we thought we had caused enormous offence, our three hosts laughed in delight and eagerly took the soup from us. They weren’t offended at all. The kelle paça with which we’d been presented is made from parts of the carcass, such as the head and offal. Nothing is overlooked and the dish is considered a great delicacy.
This short excerpt comes from my new collection of essays called “Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries”. Please click here to buy your copy today. Available in paperback and as an ebook.