Just another week of Covid-19 lockdown here in sunny, springtime Melbourne. This week my online Turkish language teacher introduced us to the subject of alışveriş– shopping. More specifically we’ve started to learn and practice dialogue around shopping for fruit and vegetables. Warm memories came flooding back. The pazars of Turkey are its heartbeat. As we breathe, live, work and speak, so too we mingle amongst our markets. The pazar is as central to our daily life as is our morning coffee. Buyurun hoşgeldiniz! Smiling now as I recall how I used to startle every time a stocky Turkish grocer boomed this greeting my way. Why’s he shouting, I’m only two feet away? I was so much the yabanci. And then one day I understood. This Pazar is the stadium, these surly grocers are the proud performers and their grunts and gruff banter are as homely and familiar as our favourite pair of house slippers. To choose your food here in the pazaar is not a chore, it’s an experience. Just look at these displays, this is art. Listen. How much excitement is here in this air? Now take a deep breath. OMG, those aromas, so thick and rich and transforming with every step.
Once upon a time I used to pick up a handful of the firmest, reddest tomatoes and stuff them in a plastic bag. The first time I shopped with Alara she watched, bemused. Then over so gently, like a patient Mum attending to a clueless child, she eased the bag from my hand, emptying the contents back from where they came. She held one tomato to her nose, then mine. Couldn’t smell a thing! She pulled me close and plucked one from another rack, much less rosy and slightly mis-shapen. She held it to my nose. I smelled the warm earth, the rain and crisp green vine.
Every product in our pazars is a story in itself. Ask and they will tell. This is not just a fish, this is the legendary hamsi, fresh from the icy waters of Karadeniz. It is perfect because it was caught today, just now, as the first snows fell. Next week they will dance, the horon dance, to celebrate this little silver fish. Those hazelnuts, that punnet of strawberries, that watermelon, they all have stories here at the pazaar. Take a closer look, smell it, taste it, ask and listen.
The clip below is from the Amasra Halk Pazari about 5 years ago. Seems like yesterday. See the small black-clothed lady with a purple head-scarf in the far right corner? For about 30 minutes she proudly shared with me the stories of (and made me taste) each and every handmade jm. I didn’t understand one word of Turkish and yet I’m sure I understood everything. I will never forget her rose petal receli – yes it was full of real rose petals.
Anyway, where was I….? Oh yeah, homework. Imagine you were in a Turkish market, shopping….