Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eating Out or Menu Assumptions

Turkish, like no doubt so many other languages, has appropriated foreign words, most notably French. However, the meaning of the Turkish word is often somewhat different than the original, leading to confusion. Take for example food, where what I think I've ordered is so often is not what I get.

Being pregnant and hungry all the time, I've lately found myself needing to grab something quick while out and about town. Three years ago when I was new in Turkey, I quickly discovered how difficult it was to find something healthy, let alone vegetarian. Favourite go-to snacks of the locals include simit (a smaller, tougher, denser bagel) and doner (extremely oily meat sliced from a spit and eaten between one of a few types of bread). There is no Subway Sandwiches; no falafels or salads; no Starbucks Vivanno or other healthy smoothie one can just grab and eat on the go. No one eats whole wheat bread and no one is a vegetarian.

My solution at the time was ayran, a buttermilk-like salted yogurt drink. While not low-fat, it gave me a serving of protein and calcium, while also filling my tummy and tying me over until the next meal. Now, however, with a hungry baby growing in my belly, ayran isn't enough. The other day, I ordered tost (toast), only to remember after receiving my two pieces of toasted white bread with a generous layer of melted cheese between them, that in Turkish, toast means toast-with-cheese.

Sugar is likewise apparently not considered an added ingredient. Recently out for a walk one evening with my husband, we stopped at a juice vendor for some strawberry juice, which I'd somehow never tasted in three years of living here. I immediately suspected it contained sugar, and asked the man behind the counter what was in the juice. Just strawberries, he assured me. It's natural, my husband added, just strawberries and maybe some water. I reluctantly let my husband order me my own glass; I would have been content just to taste his, but I was thirsty and a whole glass of crushed strawberries was of course a healthy snack!

Delicious and cold, I unelegantly chugged back half of the huge glass' contents immediately. My husband, who actually stopped to taste his, commented between sips that it seemed a little too sweet to him. The vendor defensively replied that he had to sweeted it, or else it wouldn't taste good.

Wait -- what? There's sugar in here?

Of course, replied the man matter-of-factly. If there's a Turkish version of duh, I'm sure he was thinking it then.

But why didn't you say so?!

Because clearly sugar isn't an added ingredient, but rather a spice, the way salt and pepper are added to soups and stews but not mentioned on menus.

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