Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday, April 14, 2013 - No comments

The Last of the Winter Chestnuts

My two favourite things about winter here are sahlep and hot roasted chestnuts.  Preferably enjoyed together on a Bosphorus ferry.  Sahlep is a creamy drink made of crushed orchid roots, drunk hot and with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon on top.  And roasted chestnuts are, well, delightful little bits of winter all wrapped up in a shell.

It's hit and miss finding chestnut carts downtown where I live, but in Istanbul, they are all over the place in the winter, and I find them very hard to resist.  I think I am probably more attached to their sweet, smoky smell and the personal significance they have to my own heart than I am to the actual eating of them.  I love their flavour, but often they've cooled off or are underdone and get stuck in my throat.  It's not unlikely for me to buy a packet, eat a few, and then walk around the rest of the day with a half-eaten bag in my purse.  Still, I just like knowing they're there.  

Last week I was in Istanbul on a layover and was set to meet a friend and head up the Bosphorus to check out the Tulip Festival at Emirgan Park.  (Photos to follow.)  I had some extra time before she got out of class, so I got off the tram at Karaköy and took some picture of the fishermen on the Galata Bridge.  And lo and behold, there at the foot of the bridge was a chestnut cart!

It being April, I wasn't sure if they'd still be out.  We'd long since had our last "chestnut party" at our neighbours' house, and they've put their woodstove back in storage until next year.  But apparently Istanbul, even as its millions of tulips were bursting into bloom, was still enjoying the last of its winter traditions.

I always get a little sad at the change of every season, wanting to hang onto the last one as long as I can before welcoming the next.  (Actually, that's not entirely true.  Since I moved to the humid Mediterranean, I have never been sad to trade summer for autumn.)  So I was more than happy to give this guy some business and buy a comforting little bag of "transitional grace."

I've still yet to take the winter blankets off my bed, but judging by the appearance of all the Russians in bikinis who have appeared at the downtown beaches, summer is practically here.  Today we enjoyed a wonderfully lazy morning of catching up over pancakes and strawberries on the sunny terrace with a friend visiting from England, and not one but TWO loads of laundry dried on the line, proving that the seasons truly have changed.

Still, rumour has it rain is on its way tomorrow and the warm weather isn't quite here to stay.  And all this talk of chestnuts has me thinking I might should break out that carton of sahlep in the cupboard and bid winter just one more ceremonial farewell.....