Barracks become the preserve of the bees
WILCO VAN HERPENThis week was a social busy week. First of all, a friend invited me to try the dinner on the new menu in his restaurant, Asitane. It was the first time that someone invited me for such a test evening here in Turkey and I felt honored. When I arrived, I was in shock; Batur Durmay had invited around 50 people for the evening. During the cocktail, Batur gave a short speech and spoke about the new menu. Again, after some intense research, he found some dishes that would be perfect for his restaurant. The idea behind the whole evening was to get an objective idea of the people he invited about the food.
Therefore, after finishing a dish, we had to fill in a form with the numbers 1 to 10. For every dish, we had to eat, judge, score and make comments about the taste and presentation of the food. I had seen this plenty of times in the Netherlands where I worked as a chef in several restaurants, but I had never seen this in Turkey. Batur takes his profession very seriously and loves to do research for his new menu. It’s a trip back in time.
The food was served and before I realized it, we were already eating our dessert. The starter, Kapak Böreği, was exactly the kind of food that I like. It surprised me; it’s so simple from the outside but so refined from the inside. Batur pays major attention to the taste of the food. This Kapak Böreği (a dish from 1844) was such a nice surprise and very sober (the Turks have a beautiful word for this – sade).
But then there was the moment you put it in your mouth. It was a dashing combination of smells, tastes and bite. As you might know, in a restaurant, the most important dishes are the hors d’oeuvre and the dessert. The appetizer gives the guest an impression of what might come, while the dessert is the last dish you eat. You will remember this one the best. It’s your last impression of the restaurant before you go back home. Then the main dish came: oğlak (goat)! It was melting on my tongue.
Accompanied by three different kinds of rice, this was a perfectly prepared main meal. The desert, portakallı taş kadayıf (1828) and Bal helvası (a dish from the 15th century), which was my favorite (honey and sesame made into a thick paste). In the Netherlands we have a saying for such beautiful food: “It is as if an angel is peeing on your tongue.”
This was a perfect dinner and I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I did.
A trip around Zekeriyaköy
Then, during the weekend, my friend Cengiz Kurt came over. “Wilco, fancy a trip around Zekeriyaköy,” he asked? Although it was cold and windy, I felt like joining him. Driving around without a plan, just choosing some unknown hidden roads can bring you to some interesting places (as it did for us). On a small road that leads from Zekeriyaköy to Çayırbaşı, we found a little farm. Halfway down the hill the man was living in the middle of nowhere. Two dogs, a couple of goats and 40 chickens were the only company he had. But the view was gorgeous. Wherever I looked, I saw the forest. Far away were the foundations of a project that was started but never finished by the former prime minister, Tansu Çiller, standing there like skeletons. In front of it was a big school with some nice villas surrounding it. The man looking after the place told us that during summertime, they have all kinds of fruit except bananas.
This place looked like a hiding place for people who had become fed up with city life and just wanted to be alone. You must be a kind of hermit to be able to live there. In summertime, it might be fun, but such a place is a bit hardcore in the winter.
About three years ago, the gendarmerie in Zekeriyaköy moved partially out since there was no need for a big group of gendarmerie anymore. After a reshuffle by Sarıyer Municipality concerning the tasks of police in the area, the gendarmerie was slowly moved out. Together with its departure, the restricted army area was opened. Nowadays, a big construction company is building another big compound on the area where the army was once stationed.
Cengiz wanted to show me the barracks where the soldiers once slept, ate and trained. This was modern archaeology I was going to see. I learned this expression from an archaeologist in İzmir, Professor Akın Ersoy, who works on different projects in İzmir’s Agora and includes recently abandoned items in his archaeological research.
It was strange to enter the “forbidden” zone that actually still is forbidden to enter. But the reason has changed. Once it was the gendarmerie that occupied the place, nowadays bees and dogs are the inhabitants of this area. Right at the entrance there is a sign that says: “Caution, Bee crossing!” But before you meet those bees (it’s still a bit early for them to be active) you will be welcomed by at least 20 dogs.
The gendarmerie had stripped all the buildings. No electricity cables, hardly any signs, no chairs, tables or beds; everything was taken with them when they left. Big was my surprise when I entered a room in one of the buildings and found piles of shoes, belts and some jackets. It was lugubrious. I, although I have never visited the place, had to think about pictures of the horrible Nazi camps. Before Jewish, Roma, homosexual, people with Down Syndrome and others were sent to have their “shower,” they had to undress. All the clothes and shoes were placed in a pile. Here, in the barracks of the gendarmerie, I saw many shoes lying around in one of the rooms. The glass of the windows was broken and the paint of the walls exfoliated, while it was a cloudy and windy day; altogether these elements created a surrealistic and horrifying atmosphere in that room. For me, taking some pictures of it, this was an unexpected and unforgettable photo opportunity.
The excursion brings me back to a key question: Where does travel start? During speeches at universities and other places, I always tell people that you don’t need to go abroad to travel. Travelling can start the moment you close your front door and start walking around. The thing is, although I had given people this piece of advice countless times, it was the first time I had traveled around Zekeriyaköy.