Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012 - No comments

Our Daily Bread

One recent Sunday morning, as I walked up the lane to our corner bakery, I paused to say hi to a neighbour.  

“Where are you off to?” she asked.

“The bakery.”

She squinted at me.  “What for?”

“To buy bread.”  I laughed.  That’s all they sell - what else would I be going for?

Her jaw dropped.  “Since when do you buy bread?  In all the years you’ve lived here, I’ve never once seen you go to the bakery.”

I smiled.  “And I’m not starting now.  I’ve been invited to someone’s house for breakfast and they asked me to pick it up on the way.”

“Ah.”  Now I made sense to her again.


It’s true, I am quite an anomaly around here.  No Turkish table is complete without bread - the usual allotment being half a loaf per person.  But I pretty much only buy bread when we are going to a Turkish home or having Turks over.  (And even then, it’s often not until we sit down to eat that I realized it’s missing and have to send one of the kids on a run to the bakery!)

Whenever I tell a Turk I don’t really eat bread, their shocked response is always, “Then how do you get full?!?”  Well, with other food.  (Perhaps a lesson on stomach volume might be in order here....)  

I imagine a lot of it is an economic thing - it is certainly cheaper to fill a belly with bread than it is meat.  And I am grateful I can afford to fill mine with more than just fluffy white carbs.  But more than just a money-saver, bread is a central part of Turkish culture, and it’s taken very seriously.  When we lived in Istanbul, one of my American friends, who also lived with a Turkish family, got yelled at for throwing bread away because it was “a sin.”  (She eventually got creative and started putting her leftover crusts under other garbage in the trash can in her room!)  I always have to chuckle when, at the dinner table, I hear a Turkish mom tell her kid to “finish your bread” much the same way mine would have told me to “finish my vegetables.”

The exception for me was the season in Istanbul when we had a kapıcı (door man) who would come by every morning and afternoon with a basket of hot, fresh bread.  Sometimes us girls would buy a loaf, pop open a tub of garlic yogurt and dunk our way through the entire thing in one sitting!  But even then, it was more about the yogurt than the bread.  To me, bread is not much more than a vehicle for something else to dip it in or spread on it.  I can take it or leave it, and in the end, I’d prefer a cracker.  Why waste precious space in my stomach when there are so many other good things to eat?

I say all this to explain why I was so surprised to find myself eating bread at least once a day while I was in the UK last week.  Granted, the place I was staying served only toast and jam for breakfast, and most of the meals revolved around bread - flatbread with hummus, rolls dipped in soup, deli meat subs - so the option was either to eat it or go hungry.  

But what shocked me was the fact that when I was out and about, I purchased sandwiches of my own free will...on several occasions!  (This is so, so unlike me!)  They sucked me in with those darned meal deals at stores like Marks and Spencer, Boots and Sainsbury’s - 3 pounds for a sandwich, drink and snack.  When we were out exploring London or when I was getting ready to board a train or a plane, they were always right there, calling my name.  They took all the flavours I miss in Turkey and stuck them between two slices of bread, and for that price, I couldn’t resist!  

I had to laugh at myself and wonder if I’d become a complete convert when, just before I got on the plane to come home from Glasgow, I found myself inexplicably drawn to a sandwich cooler in the WH Smith by my gate.  There, in all its yummy glory (and on the one Pound discount shelf, no less!) was the mother of all sandwich deals - the “Christmas Triple” with three sandwiches in one box:  

Turkey and Stuffing (turkey with pork, sage and onion stuffing, cranberry chutney, mayo and spinach on malted bread)

Brie and Cranberry (brie cheese with cranberry chutney, mayo and spinach on oatmeal bread)

Prawn Cocktail (prawns with cocktail sauce and lettuce on oatmeal bread)

And suddenly, as I was standing there with a full stomach (from the turkey and stuffing sandwich I’d just purchased pre-security) looking for an excuse to buy this amazing trio, it occurred to me that, since my roommate had also been away for a week, there would be no food in the house when I got home.  Excuse found!  

And so it is that my British sandwiches found their way onto both my lunch and dinner plates once I was back in Turkey.  And, man, they were good.

I might just become a regular at the bakery.