A year in a jar

A year in a jar

In 2020 we were jarred. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit our lives like no other. In an age where we traveled freely and lived as if there was no tomorrow, our hectic life came to an abrupt end. Suddenly we were grounded. By saying that we got jarred, I am aware that it is an annoying term to use, describing a very unwanted and disturbing situation. Here is the explanation you get in dictionaries: A jarring experience is so different or unexpected that it has a strong and unpleasant effect. True, in every sense!

For many of us, it has been a year of living cautiously. We all have been taking precautions where some even continued following their usual routines despite the risks, to keep working and save their jobs. They had no other choice. But some pretended that life is safe and sound, and even merrier than ever. I remember getting overly annoyed, not once but many times, by many colleagues having their best times ever, raising toasts with free-flowing champagne, and dancing on the poolside. It was a surreal Instagram world. The tourism sector tried to paint a pink picture. Many lifestyle writers and influencers took on their duties to promote tourism under the clever disguise of supporting the sector. These merry-fool-around scenes created a false sense of getting back to normality, too soon -- too irresponsible. The result can be clearly seen in the COVID-19 cases of certain tourism capitals like Antalya and Bodrum. It is true that the sector needed support of some sort, but that should have come from the authorities first, not from journalists and social media celebrities with benefits.

Leaving aside this argument, the restaurant sector is in grave condition. Frankly speaking, they did their best to survive. When the whole sector was closed down, there were endless efforts and creative ways of finding a solution. The home delivery sector boomed. The little establishments had to resort to not plating their food but boxing their food. But some others found themselves in an awkward situation. “Meyhane” is one such case. A “meyhane” can be described as a cozy packed drinking hole cum restaurant, where people gather to enjoy the company around a table for long hours, forking an array of mezes between sips of rakı and water, and do lots of chit chat, whether it be gossip or talking about saving the country, and eventually the world. “Meyhane” is about conviviality. But how can one box conviviality? It is quite unimaginable.

On the longest night of the year, we witnessed a very creative zoom meeting. Although it was not the initial intention, we experienced a true “meyhane” experience. The reason we were gathered in front of our laptops was to taste a newly experimented distillation method. The idea was to gather on the longest night, to taste the longest distilled rakı, distilled five times for a total of 72 hours, with no restriction of time. I think this was the key for us, to feel as if one is in a “meyhane.” In a typical “meyhane” nothing is rushed. It is a place where people take their time at the table as the rakı bottle gets emptied and meze plates keep coming, and hours pass in a blink. And it was not just a tasting. We had wonderfully creative mezes from a Greek chef, Stathis Dapiapis, who chose to follow his love Nihal and continued his life in Turkey, in a way returning to his paternal ancestral land. We all had the same selection of mezes, sometimes commenting on the Greek style fava or the Peruvian ceviche, and the chef was among us, explaining about the ingredients he brought from the other side of the border.

The success of our longest night was curated by Nilay Örnek, a journalist who recently grabbed the limelight by her podcasts titled “Nasıl Olunur?” which can be translated as “How to become..?” It was a carefully and cleverly selected group of attendees. Örnek handpicked the guests, and I must say it was refreshingly outside the food world. It was a group of people who already know or have heard about each other, while some were totally alien to the group. Some more than 30 creative and outstanding people, including writers, publishers, producers, professors, journalists, researchers, academics, architects, and artists, were hosted by the most modest CEO ever, Levent Kömür, who is always open to creativity and new ideas. The intricate logistics were taken care of by the talented team of Kerem and Gözde Yolaç, the Hybrid organization. Örnek surely managed to gather an amazingly diverse and refreshing group of people. One clever idea of the night was hidden in a jar. The chef’s creations were put in jars -- now available as StathisJars - the conviviality of the night was made possible through one bottle and four jars of mezes only.

So, we got jarred, but this time not in an annoying and unpleasant sense but in the most enjoyable way imaginable. As the only other food writer among the guests, Hülya Ekşigil has put it, “this was a three-hour bracket, a colorful window opening into the darkness of the longest night of the dim year!” Kudos to all who made it happen!

Jars of the Week:

Everybody in media knows about Cibalikapı Balıkçısı, not just because its owner was a former journalist, but also because of its perfect location as it lies on the shore of the Golden Horn, and its good selection of delectable mezes. Now their meze selection is available in jars that can be delivered to your door. The reason I discovered that Cibalikapı Balıkçısı switched to Meze d’Or because owner Behzat Şahin was one of the guests of the longest night. Their jars are prone to be collectibles by their creative labels by Birol Güven. We all know that talks on a meze table are fuelled by that perfect ambiance created by the right kind of music. Cibalikapı Balıkçısı also puts a playlist on Spotify, just right to create a Zoom Meyhane. And there is no need to hold back on drinking or fear about acting zombieish. You can sit back and relax without worrying to drive back home.