There’s no hiding the fact that I love me some Istanbul and I would go back to visit a million times over if I could. For those of you who either A.) don’t know me or B.) haven’t made your way on over the the Know The Girl tab at the top, I used to live there for a hot second and the title of this blog is a little nod to the time I spent there as siyah is the Turkish word for “Black.”
Some days I look at all the pictures I took while I was there and reminisce on my beloved Byzantine/Ottoman paradise. I think about how much I liked hearing the call to prayer, I think about how I loved being surrounded by old historic buildings, and I think about how nice it would be to sit down near the docks at Eminönü on a chilly day and drink salep once again.
Up until recently, the only taste of Turkey I could get in Peru were the wildly popular Turkish novelas dubbed in Spanish that run network television. So imagine my surprise when I was wandering the streets of Arequipa and I saw a restaurant called El Turko. Amazed, I walked in, looked at the menu and said to myself, “…I know’d there is a Gawd,” in my best Ms. Sofia voice.
I was kind of full so I didn’t want to to eat anything super heavy like a doner (a turkish sandwich) or super sweet like baklava but I had this craving for ayran, a traditional Turkish drink that I used to really dislike when I first arrived in Istanbul. Ayran is simply yogurt mixed with salt and ice water to make it cold. You can add a hint of mint if you’re trying to be fancy. I know, it sounds weird to most of us westerners who are used to sweet, not savory yogurt products but I really grew to love it.
So I looked around and spotted the guy who seemed like he could be the owner and said, “I don’t see this on the menu but do you have ayran?” He immediately got really excited and asked me how I even knew what that was. I gave him the whole rundown about how I used to live in Turkey and how I’m living in Peru now and he told me all about how he came to live in Peru (all in spanish, btw. Spanish skills on fleek).
His all-Peruvian staff looked on and one of them finally asked, “Que es ayran?” The owner then took the opportunity to show the entire staff what ayran was and how to make it. After I finished drinking my ice cold cup of salted yogurt, I got up to pay and the owner
wouldn’t take my money. Instead he said he was grateful that I was able to help him in sharing his culture with his Peruvian staff and that that was payment enough.
One of my favorite things about Peace Corps is that 2/3 of the Peace Corps goals are about cultural exchange. Goal 2 is about sharing American culture with people from your host country and the Third Goal is about sharing the culture of your host family with people back home. But I think its really cool when I get to share my experiences in another country, like Turkey, with people right here in Peru.
At a time when Turkey is going through a rough patch and the media is constantly bombarding us with negative images of such a beautiful country, I feel like I’m doing my part by sharing a story about that part of the world that isn’t all ISIS and tragedy – and by sharing one ayran at time, maybe, just maybe, I can make a small difference.
If you want to a little piece of Turkey, check out this aryan recipe.