Monday, January 24, 2011

For me, buying a fish is a laughable scene. It involves a lot of pantomime. By the time I’m done making a purchase, I’m laughing and so are the Turkish guys around me.

The other day I wandered through the Çarşı Balık in Beşiktaş and decided to buy a levrek for dinner.

I looked through the fish stalls and found levrek deniz, which literally means sea bass of the sea or unfarmed.  It cost 2 liras more per kilogram than the farmed fish. However, I’ve been told the levrek deniz tastes better.

Merhaba,” (Hello) I said to the young balik saticisi (fishmonger). “Bir tane levrek deniz, lutfen.” (One sea bass, please.) And then I tried to motion with my hands about “500 grams.”

He started pointing to the levrek, one at a time, and repeatedly said “bu,” meaning this one.

I finally pointed to one and said tamam (okay). I was just looking for a decent fish that would feed two people.

That was the easy part. Now, the fun begins.

I repeatedly made a cutting motion with my hand across my neck. “Yok,” basically meaning I didn’t want him to cut off the fish’s head. However, in reality, I said that I did want him to cut off the head. (I have since learned how to say whole fish in Turkish.)

He put the levrek on the well-worn cutting board. Then, he took his knife and motioned to cut the fish into filets.

I said, “Hayir. Hayir.” (No. No.)

He nodded, and ran his knife along the skin of the fish to descale it on both sides. Then, he proceeded to clean out the messy insides of the fish. “Madame. Madame. Tamam?” he asked.

Evet. Tamam.” (Yes. Okay.) I said smiling. We were both on the same page.

He quickly finished prepping the fish, rinsed it off with fresh water and placed it in a plastic bag. “Nerelisin?” he asked me. (Where are you from?)

Like an eager student, I thought I actually know how to answer this question. “Amerikaliyim,” I said. (I am American.)

As this whole scene had progressed, I had been admiring the fish and wanted to take some pictures. Yes, I was thinking about my next blog post. I said, “Pardon, photos?”

I took a few photos. Then, the next thing I know, the balik saticisi excitedly grabbed one of the larger fish that was hanging on a hook in the stall. “Madame. Madame.”

(This same scenario happened to me in Dubai when I wanted to take photos at the fish market.) I took a photo of my fishmonger holding the fish. Then, the guys wanted to take a photo of me with the fish. All I could do was laugh.

A box of fresh, small squid waiting to be turned into calamari.
Finally, I paid the 7 liras for my fish. I also tipped him 1 lira because of the whole ordeal.

Then, an older Turkish man from a nearby stall stopped by and told me in English that I spoke good Turkish.

“Ahhhh…pardon. Cok az Türkçe,” I said. (Yeah right. A little Turkish.) So far I have learned just enough Turkish to get by in my day to day life here. However, my lessons are progressing.

Then, he asked me if I was married. Now, there were two other guys standing next to my fish monger.

Of course, this is where the conversation leads. Yes, I respond. We all exchange a bit more banter in broken English and Turkish.

I picked up my fish and a few vegetables from the next stall. I waved to the guys and bid them, “Iyi akşamlar.” (Good evening.)

A normal transaction to buy a fish might take 5 minutes. It took me 30 minutes. Such is the life of an expat whom doesn’t speak the language that well yet. All I can do is laugh. At least it makes for a good story.

At home, I roasted the whole levrek like I’ve previously done. Please see the recipe here. I also steamed some Brussels sprouts topped with a beurre noisette and made a spinach rice pilaf.

Then, I shared my day’s fish tale with my husband over dinner.

Afiyet Olsun!

Spinach and Parsley Pilav
1          T.                     olive oil
1          T.                     unsalted butter
1          small                onion, chopped small
4-5       ea.                    garlic cloves, chopped small
1 ¼      c.         255 g.  long-grain rice (Baldo pilav)
2 ½      c.         600 ml. chicken stock or water
150      g.                     fresh spinach, julienned
1          c.                     fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1          T.                     dried dill
TT                                salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garnish: Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a small sauté pan until it starts turning a golden brown. Add about 2 Tablespoons of pine nuts. Quickly stir the nuts until they are lightly toasted. Spread the nuts out onto a plate until you are ready to garnish the pilaf.

1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat, stirring continuously until they start to soften.
2. Add the rice and cook for a few minutes. Then, add the chicken stock or water.
3. Bring to a boil, stirring briefly. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover the pan with a lid, cooking for about 10-12 minutes.
4. Remove the lid. Add the spinach, parsley and dill. Add a bit more liquid if necessary. Stir lightly. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest for five minutes.
5. Fluff the rice with a fork. Stir the herbs in more, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Garnish each serving with some of the toasted pine nuts.

Brussels Sprouts with Beurre Noisette
1          lb.        500 g.  Brussels sprouts, rinsed and ends trimmed
1          T.                     unsalted butter
TT                                salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Cut the stem off of the sprout, but not so short that the leaves fall off. Remove any yellowed or dried leaves. Rinse well under cold water.  I always score an x in the bottom of the sprouts, or if they are large, cut them in two to help them cook faster. How to clean sprouts video.
2. Place in a microwave safe bowl or container with a vented lid. Add about ¼ cup of water in the container. Microwave on high for about 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Drain off the water.
4. Melt the butter in a small sauté pan until it starts turning a golden brown. I like to cook mine until about a medium brown color. You will smell a delicious nuttiness emitting from the butter. That’s what you are looking for.
5. Drizzle the beurre noisette over the sprouts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tagged: , , , , , ,


Sippy Cup Central said...

You just made me laugh! Karen

Unknown said...

Hi Joy! My name's Claudia and I live in Istanbul too! I read about you in the IWI mag and saw you had a cooking blog so I thought I would have a look. Good luck with your food shopping forays and enjoy Istanbul!

Claudia in Fenerbahçe

Joy said...

Hi Claudia!
I've enjoyed your posts about Turkish life as well on your blog, especially the one about the "camel wrestling" not too long ago! I also have always wondered what to do with those giant cabbages at the pazar. I'll have to try your recipe soon!