My Turkish Travels- With Sheep Face Soup as an Appetizer, Who Needs Dinner?
Getting Stationed in Turkey
The Air Force sent me to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey in January of 1991, about 10 days before Desert Storm started. Technically we were in the theater of operations. I’m highly decorated with ribbons and medals just for being in the right place at the right time. But that’s another story for another day.
Before I got to Turkey, I was told a lot of stuff. Some of it was true, and a lot of it was total BS. One of the more bizarre things I was told was to always treat cats respectfully, because Turkish people think Ataturk could come back as an animal, such as a cat. Later I checked that little tip out with Turkish friends who just howled with amusement.
I was told that Turkish people are among the kindest and most hospitable people on the planet. If you’re asking me, that one is true. I was also told never to turn down food or beverage, lest they be insulted. I hope this one is not true. If it is, they are really good actors.
Who Can Resist That Face
Our First Home Dinner Invitation
Shortly after arriving in Turkey, my then-spouse and I started getting acquainted with some of the shops and shop owners near the base. One of the owners at one of the smaller carpet shops befriended us, and took us to dinner many times. Each time he would promise that the next time he would let us pay, but he never did. Later he invited us to dinner at his home. We thought this was nice. We would meet his wife and children.
On the day that we were to have dinner, Mürtaza told us that we would go by an Adana restaurant on our way to his house, and get some of his favorite soup to start off our dinner. We would all be going in our car. Like many Turks, Mürtaza did not own a car. He directed us to the restaurant. When we got there, Mürtaza got out of the car with his little bucket. As an afterthought, I said “Mürtaza, what kind of soup are you getting?” To my horror, he replied, “Sheepa face soup.”
Panic Sets In
I think my heart skipped a few beats and my stomach did a few back flips. My spouse knew I had not taken the news well. For virtually every food that I do not like, it is a matter of the texture. If it doesn’t feel right in your mouth, it doesn’t matter what it tastes like, right? I am known among my family members and close friends to “dissect” my meat before eating it. I only like 98% lean meat. Skin, gristle, and other “parts” are “yukkies”, and not to be eaten as far as I am concerned. And organ meat? Forget it!
My spouse tried to reassure me while Mürtaza was in the restaurant. Surely there would be vegetables in the soup that I could eat, and maybe they would not be too insulted that I could not finish off my soup. So my heart is pounding and I’m consumed with anxiety the rest of the drive to Mürtaza’s house.
No, It's Not Ataturk
The Dreaded Time Arrives
We arrived and met Mürtaza’s wife and three young children. Too soon for me, it was time to eat. I tenuously dipped my spoon in my sheep face soup. No vegetables in sight. I dipped and swirled a little more frantically. Still no vegetables! And worse, I’m pretty sure I saw tongue papillae! Holy hell, what am I going to do?! I don’t want to insult Mürtaza and his wife.
My brain is reeling. I’m trying to do a self talk, to calm my frazzled nerves. I think to myself, ‘I can sip the broth. It looks like it’s a tomato-based soup. Like vegetable soup without the vegetables, right?’ I took a sip and immediately started coughing and sputtering! It was peppery hot! Something else I don’t do well. There is no way I could eat this!
I said I was not expecting it to be hot spicy, and what a wimp I had always been when it came to spicy hot food. My spouse took over, supporting my claim, and insisted it was so good that he would eat both soups. Although he had no aversions to gristle, organ meats and the like, he confided when we got home that he could barely choke this soup down. He was my night in shining armor that night. Talk about taking one for the team.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
A Nice Dinner with New Friends
The rest of the meal went uneventfully. We had some foods we had not yet encountered in restaurants. Some were not typical restaurant food, but traditional Turkish food that families commonly ate. About the only other food I specifically remember is sarma, the Turkish version of stuffed grape leaves.
Most of the food was not particularly tasty, but at least it was edible, and there were no more texture crises. I learned later, after having eaten lots of traditional Turkish food, that Mürtaza’s wife wasn’t a particularly good cook.
Our hosts were very gracious that night, and if they were insulted by my rejection of sheep face soup, they never showed it. We remained friends and continued to see Mürtaza often at his shop, and made at least one day trip with the whole family.
Overall, I can remember this dinner as a nice gathering of new friends, but definitely not my favorite of my gastronomical adventures in Turkey. Geez, with sheep face soup as an appetizer, who needs dinner?!
Over Three Years in Turkey
Turned out that my spouse and I really loved Turkey. My assignment was two years, but I extended twice and stayed three and a half years. We made a lot of Turkish friends, and traveled as much as we could. There were other foods that I was not open to try, like the stuffed sheep stomachs, but overall, I found that I love Turkish food.
Fairy Chimneys in Turkey
© 2010 rmcrayne