Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey


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trotters1It was early in the morning and I was rushing through Malatya’s bazaar on my way to catch the bus to Darende. It was too early for anyone much to be working except, rather surprisingly, in the forge section which was already abuzz with activity. As I rushed past I was surprised to notice large piles of sheep’s heads and equally large piles of sheep’s feet lying on the ground in front of the shops that were open. But my bus was about to leave. There was no time to lose.

A couple of days later I crept back to see if I’d imagined that rather grisly scene. But no, there they were again, the same grim piles of animal offcuts piled up in front of racks on which skulls sat as if in some grotesque parody of genocide.

Hasan was taking time out for a glass of tea and was happy to chat.

“What are these skulls doing here?” I asked him.

“Soup!” he replied which I found a tad disconcerting.

“I don’t understand…”

“Soup, soup!”

“Yes, I understand “soup”, but what do you mean? Are you making soup here?”

“No! They bring them here. We burn off the fur. Then they’re ready for soup,” and he gestured behind him. Belatedly I spotted the sign. Kelleci, it said, and at last the penny dropped. Paça çorbası! Trotter soup! Better still, kelle paça çorbası. Boiled sheep’s head and trotter soup.

“How do you make it?” I asked nervously.

“Lots of garlic,” said Hasan, smacking his lips.

Aaagh! Sheep’s head and garlic. Two of my least favourite cookery ingredients. I wished Hasan all the best and made off very swiftly.

Later that day it occurred to me that I should perhaps try the soup and find out if it really did taste as nasty as I imagined. In a high street restaurant a portion was conveyed to my table in a metal bowl. I sipped a spoonful of the liquid. Garlicky, yes. Then I tried a mouthful of the meat. It was not an experience I wished to repeat.

trotters2Seeing no further sign of eating action on my part despite the still-full bowl the waiter rushed over to offer tea. “Could you put the meat in a packet?” I asked him, thinking of all the hungry street dogs and cats that might relish a few chunks of garlicky trotter. “Just the meat, not the liquid,” I added to be on the safe side.

The bill came. It was twice the sum I was expecting.

“I don’t think this is mine,” I said to the waiter. “It’s too much.”

“Yes. This is for your soup,” he said pointing to one figure, “and this,” – pointing to the other – “is for the soup to take away.”

“But I didn’t want a second soup! I just wanted the meat from the first one put into a packet. I’m going to give it to a dog.”

The waiter gave me a less than friendly look but off he went to retrieve and package up my leftovers.

With a napkin. With a fork.

For a dog.


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