The $1 village lunch
Plus a recipe for gözleme, a simple and delicious Turkish flatbread.
Recipe: Gözleme with potato
If you’ve ever dined at a Turkish restaurant in the company of Turks, you probably know the game. Turkish hospitality by no means stops at their own doorstep. At the end of the meal, a friendly fight over who pays the bill ensues. Splitting is not an option, nor is letting anyone else pay. Anyone non-Turkish in the party? Or worse still, you’re visiting Turkey? Your chances of being able to pay anything other than a tip are so slim as to be negligible. Anyone familiar with Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cultures will almost certainly recognise the situation.
I grew up in Norway. This is pretty much polar opposite of what my Norwegian friends are used to. Splitting the bill – often according to what one ordered rather than the total bill – is the common practice. My parents have always been more Mediterranean in their approach and are far more comfortable when they’re allowed to foot the bill for the whole party. With their son finding a home in Istanbul, it’s almost as if there’s some Mediterranean blood running through our veins. (A Spanish ship did apparently capsize outside the island my mother grew up on a couple of centuries ago, so this isn’t completely far fetched.)
Nevertheless, even my parents weren’t quite prepared for what awaited them when visiting Turkey and spending time with my partner’s family.
Somewhat uncomfortably, they accepted the first dinner was my partner’s parents’ treat on. The grounds? They were the visitors – and would get the chance to pay in Norway. Hard to argue with that. Their next meeting wasn’t in Norway, however, but a joint holiday to Cappadocia (of fairy chimneys and hot-air balloon fame) a couple of years later.
It would in fact be several meals before my parents were finally able to pay for anything at all. The Turks in the party pulled all the tricks of the bill-settling book. The first couple of times were easy, simply speaking to staff upon arrival to ensure no one else would be allowed to pay, or getting up while everyone else was still fully focused on dessert. Either way eliminated the possibility of any discussions of the matter. Of course, this only works once, so at the next meal my partner’s father excused himself for the bathroom after the main course. His intentions, of course, were entirely otherwise! All of this to the protestations of the rest of the table as soon as we realised what was going on. But by that time it was already too late.
Cultural habits like these are pretty much hard wired into us. For a Turk, allowing a guest to pay for anything is simply inconceivable – dishonourable even. It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth meal before my parents were finally able to treat the rest of us.
The village lunch
We were driving through Cappadocia and had stopped in a village for lunch. The place was sleepy. So sleepy, in fact, that once we found a place that looked like it might be serving food, we weren’t quite sure if it was open. It was summer and really hot, so perhaps they were enjoying a little siesta? Luckily, we soon found someone who assured us it was indeed open for business, and before long we were seated on basic plastic chairs and ready to order.
The offer was typical Turkish village fare. Baked goods, tea and soft drinks. Obviously, we all opted for the gözleme, a thin flatbread stuffed with a filling of your choice. A popular fast-food in Turkey, but unlike the vast majority of western fast-food, gözleme is always made fresh to order with home made dough and filled with real, non-processed ingredients. With tomatoes just coming into season at the time, we ordered a couple of sides of shepherd’s salad as well, chopped freshly with local vegetables. What luxury!
The portions were generous and the gözleme just as delicious as expected. But for once, for my mother at least, the moment of the bill was nearly as sweet as the meal itself. Finally, it was her time to pay! When the bill arrived, however, she jumped in her chair, the look of feeling cheated visibly apparent on her face. Surely this couldn’t be right? It was barely a dollar a head, drinks and salads included. My mother promptly made sure everyone around the table knew this didn’t count and that dinner that evening was on her :)
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A simple but delicious treat
We count ourselves blessed to be able to enjoy food like this at an affordable price in Turkey. Sure, there are often more expensive and meatier alternatives available, but even those who can afford something else often long for gözleme from time to time. It’s such a simple, but delicious, food.
And while it’s now best known as a near universally available fast-food, gözleme was traditionally made at home. Many still do – myself included. Since the dough is unleavened and the filling can be an uncooked mixture of ingredients, it doesn’t even take that much time. It’s a wonderful treat for lunch, and very easy to make as well.
I’ve shared the recipe I use on the blog, which I’ve linked to below. The included filling is my favourite: Potato and cheese. It’s a little more extravagant than what you’ll find in the Turkish countryside (where you’ll usually have to choose one or the other), but other than that the recipe is as authentic as they come.
I hope you want to try it.
With all best wishes from Istanbul,
🍴 The recipes
Authentic recipe with a little background on the dish and a few tips and tricks to help you along the way.
A refreshing salad that goes with almost anything, but make sure your tomatoes are good and in season.