Tuesday, January 12, 2010
However, Kemal Bey said it first, so we are officially friends. Yesterday was my big birthday (wheee), and I decided to treat myself to my favorite neighborhood dish: cig kofte. Mind you, this isn't the "true" cig kofte with raw meat, rather the veggie kind, which is equally delish. First, I must explain the joy of cig kofte. When ordering a "full order" (which costs the equivalent of $7 and feeds two people), you receive a generous amount of cig kofte (my guess would be about a kilo), a full head of iceberg lettuce, a full quartered lemon, some nar eksisi (pomegranate vinegar), and if you like (which I do like) a side of burn-off-all-tastbuds pepper paste. To consume this delicacy, tear off a leaf of lettuce, place one or two koftes inside, pour on some pepper paste, lemon juice and nar ekisi, wrap it up like you swaddle a baby and get that baby in your belly!
So on my birthday, instead of cake, I wanted cig kofte. I walked in to the tiny tiny tiny store that Kemal Bey runs, called Meshur Adiyaman Koftecisi (The Famous Koftemaker from Adiyaman). He knows my hubby and I well already, seeing as we frequent the place far too often for our own good. He also already knows that when either of us go alone, it's usually for a half-order, so he asks, "You'd like the usual?" I said, "Absolutely--this is my birthday treat to myself," to which Kemal Kofteci responds, "Then I will give you an abundance of kofte today and you won't pay--it's my birthday treat." Somehow the excitement of birthdayness and the prospect of eating cig kofte clouded my judgement. I should have known better than to mention my birthday. A guy like Kemal Bey (and many many other Turkish people in similar situations) would not even consider letting you pay on a special day like a birthday. I merely mentioned my birthday in hopes of complimenting Kemal Bey that I chose his place for my birthday treat for myself, not in hopes of getting free cig kofte. I insisted, in a futile attempt to explain the reason I mentioned by birthday, that I should pay like any other customer, but was given the response, "If you set one coin on my counter, I don't want to see your face again." Pretty severe threat. Enjoying conversation with Kemal Bey and his cig kofte as much as I do, I humbly put my wallet back in my bag.
I wish more people were like Kemal Bey--sincere, generous and life-loving. Sometimes, his rapidfire Turkish comes at me faster than I can comprehend, and on the occasion that I do, I can barely get a word in to respond edgewise. But the gist of the majority of our conversation consists of how he hopes that God will never wipe the smile off my face; that he wishes for my health, my husband's health, my family's health, his family's health, and the grocer across the street's health; that people who abuse animals are just as likely to abuse people; that we should all step back from our religious beliefs for a second and see that what unites us is much greater than what divides us...that in the end, we all have one thing in common: we're human.
Thirty minutes had passed without my even looking at the clock once. He insisted that I should come back to drink coffee or tea with him sometime soon. I am confident that I will, because Kemal Bey is one reason that I know God keeps that smile on my face.