Previously in Atlantic Abroad:
Caffe Sebilj (Jeff Koehler, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 7, 2001)
Matsutake Fever (Lawrence Millman, Canada, January 10, 2001)
At Home With Mayor Baby (James Ross, Philippines, December 6, 2000)
Crossing to Kinshasa (Jeffrey Tayler, Zaire, November 16, 2000).
Among the Ruins (Tom Haines, Serbia and Montenegro, October 27, 2000).
Only Today (Michael Carr, Morocco, October 4, 2000).
Going to Meet Aleksandrovsky (Tom Haines, Ukraine, August 31, 2000).
Snowed-in in Shangri-La (Mike Meyer, China, August 2, 2000).
India's Road Cool (Mike Youngblood, India, July 7, 2000).
Manhood and Bureaucracy in Ozyory (Jeffrey Tayler, Russia, June 1, 2000).
Soccer in the City (Erik Barmack, Italy, May 10, 2000).
This Goat Goes to Market (Joshua Kurlantzick, Oman, March 29, 2000).
For more, see the complete Atlantic Abroad index.
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Atlantic Unbound | March 8, 2001
We'd been exploring the wonders of Cappadocia in Central Turkey, marveling at the man-made and geological beauty of the area: rock-carved churches, some created more than 1,300 years ago, painted with bright colorful frescoes; valleys where strange and beautiful rock formations rise up from the ground, fairy chimneys they're called here; and our last stop of the day, Zelve, a whole village of troglodyte dwellings, inhabited until quite recently, carved into the soft porous rock of the area. Throughout the long day my friend and I had forgotten about eating, distracted as we were by the sights around us. Finally, as we headed to the bus stop in Zelve to catch the last bus back to Ürgüp, due in at 6:00, we remembered again the normal things of life, like food. The hunger pangs hit us, and we started to talk about what we'd eat for dinner once we arrived.
We got to the bus stop with little time to spare. Two women were sitting on the side of the road, a mother-daughter team, selling fresh gözleme—a mixture of cheeses and spices wrapped in fresh dough cooked over a hot griddle. The women were beautiful, both of them, with long dark hair, loosely covered with a simple beaded headscarf. They were wearing the traditional dress of the area—a gauzy peasant blouse and baggy colorful pants. They smiled at us and pointed to a large griddle by their side, offering to cook us some gözleme. I'd never tasted gözleme before, but my friend Kenan had, and he said that we should try it. I looked at my watch, and it was 5:56. I looked at the women and the griddle, a bowl of dough sitting next to it. I told Kenan that we didn't have time, but he said, "Let's try. We'll pay the women anyway if it's not ready when the bus comes."
Kenan explained to the mother that we had to catch the six o'clock bus back to Ürgüp, and immediately I saw something sparkle in her eyes. She was determined to take on the challenge, to work against the clock. She looked back at him, intensely, gravely, seriously, and told him, "You will have your gözleme." Then she stood up and ordered her daughter to a shack a hundred or so feet away, and the daughter went off like a gazelle.
The mother turned up the heat on the griddle and took out two clumps of dough from the bowl. She began to roll out the dough, an expert at the task, this way and that, back and forth, a miracle before my eyes: in seconds, the thinnest, most perfectly round pieces of dough I'd ever seen. Just as she finished rolling, the daughter returned, panting, with a bowl of the filling—fresh cheese, parsley, red pepper, other spices, salt and pepper. The mother quickly flipped the dough onto the griddle, turned it once, and sprinkled the filling over the dough. The daughter stood by attentively, helping her mother when needed, adding more butter to the griddle, sprinkling on more spices. Before long I saw it beginning to happen: the birth of my first gözleme.
And then we heard it, all of us, in the distance, the dolmus—a minibus whose name means stuffed—on its way to Zelve. We all looked up to see it, rattling over the narrow road, working its way down to where we stood, suspended in the moment. It still had a few curves to take, a hill or two to climb and descend before it would arrive. But we all knew in an instant that we wouldn't make it; that it was a good try, but it wouldn't work; that the filling in the gözleme wouldn't melt just right; and the raw dough over the filling wouldn't cook to a golden brown in the amount of time that we had left before the bus arrived in Zelve.
As the bus approached, we tried to stop the women, tried to give them money anyway, tried to thank them for a valiant effort. But they wouldn't hear of it, and they insisted on continuing, the gözleme beginning to sizzle on the griddle. When the bus driver opened the door, Kenan and I stood still for a moment, not sure what to do. But the mother, she knew. Maybe she has done this before, I thought. She jumped up and asked the bus driver to wait for a moment.
He resisted some more.
She implored. "Lütfen, lütfen." Please, please, she nearly wailed. Wouldn't he please, lütfen, hold on, rest a moment, wait until the gözleme was finished. It wouldn't be a huge problem now, would it? "And look," she pointed to us, "the visitors are starving."
We put on sad faces and tried to look really hungry while I added in the best Turkish I could, "Çok aç"—very hungry, as the bus driver roared and moaned, protested profusely, claimed that he couldn't wait at every bus stop on his route for meals to be made. But she argued her case well, and she argued it long, and all the time she argued, the gözleme sizzled and hissed, and the aroma from the griddle rose up from the side of the road, wafted through the open doors of the bus, and made its way slowly and purposefully down the aisle. Because suddenly, I heard a sympathetic voice rise up from the back of the bus: "Oh, come on, I don't mind waiting a little bit. Let them have their gözleme." And soon another voice joined that voice. Until eventually we had the support of everyone on the bus to wait out the cooking of the gözleme. "What's the big rush anyway?" someone from a front seat asked.
The bus driver turned to face the mutinous crowd of passengers behind him, and finally he shrugged his shoulders, turned back to the mother, and said, "Okay. Okay. Tamam. But don't ask this of me again."
And so the bus waited at the Zelve bus stop while the women finished cooking our gözleme. The mother folded the dough over the filling as if she were sealing an envelope with a secret message inside. When it was all done, the dough was perfectly cooked, light brown spots dotting the outside, the cheese soft and warm, the spices just beginning to send out their flavor. The daughter wrapped up one and the mother wrapped up another as we paid for the food and then jumped onto the bus. Someone on the bus cheered as we sat down, and a few other passengers joined him. I smiled at everyone on the bus, a little embarrassed, but happy, too, to have my gözleme. We turned and waved to the women on the side of the road, now settling back down, squatting next to their hot griddle.
We sat on the bus, and the sun sunk further into the Cappadocia landscape as we ate our gözleme, one of the best and certainly one of the hardest won meals I had in Turkey.
Pier Roberts lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Among other publications, her work has appeared in Travelers' Tales: Spain; A Woman's Passion for Travel; and Escape Magazine.
Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.