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Thanksgiving dinner in a Turkey without turkeys

Originally I was going to write about haggling with friendly, but aggressive, Turkish merchants over carpets and kilims, amidst endless rounds of little glasses of thé du menthe–until I realized everyone else had already exhausted this topic. The gist: you end up getting ripped off, but you like the carpet anyway.

Then I thought I’d write about the wonders of Istanbul, where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia eye each other uneasily across the chasm of historical religious differences. Been done.

So instead I’ll tell you about my thankless quest to find a turkey in Turkey, trying to celebrate a little Asia Minor Thanksgiving in the place where Europe ends and Asia begins.

It wasn’t actually November yet (but now may be), and I was feeling a little homesick. I had been away from the United States now for almost two years. I thought that spending an informal faux “Turkey Day” would be a good way to celebrate. I’m actually a Mayflower descendant, through my grandmother Helen Havighurst Edwards. I’m related to both Bradford and Brewster. So I planned to gobble-gobble my way through Istanbul, then eat my way right around the coast to Kusadasi, which was near Ephesus, the most spectacular ancient Greek ruins in the world. In Kusadasi I hoped to find my bird.

Arriving in the tourist mecca of Kusadasi I checked into a guesthouse and went out to explore the winding streets of pubs and eateries. At a little cafe I asked if they had turkey, and the owner laughed.

“Sorry, only lamb!”

I ordered some kebabs and an Efez beer. Though mostly Moslem, the Westernized Turks usually drink alcohol. I shot the breeze with the restaurateur, and the subject turned to Ataturk. “He was a great man! He is a god to me!” the restaurateur said, putting his hand over his heart. My guidebook mentioned it was illegal to insult the late leader and founder of modern Turkey. Wisely, I said that I, too, thought he was pretty neat.

Ataturk is the reason why most people are walking around in normal clothes and why you can almost read the signs, which use the roman alphabet. Thus Turkey is Turkiye. Easy enough. Even the currency is the Italian-sounding Turkish “lira.”

But is Turkey more European or Asian? The answer is both. Most people refer to it as part of the Middle East. But that hasn’t stopped Turkey from applying to become a member of the European Community. It’s already a part of NATO. Istanbul is literally part of both continents, European Thrace and Asia Minor, and you can take a ferry across the Bosphorus from side to side to celebrate that fact. During the crossing I sang to myself the They Might Be Giants song “Istanbul is Constantinople…”

In Kusadasi, however, with its nightclubs, bars, and discos, I felt a little like I was in Greece. Especially when I saw the marina on the blue Aegean filled with expensive yachts. But you’re unlikely to find any Greek millionaires here. As a reminder of where I was, I heard sporadically the wild ululations of the muezzins coming from the minarets of nearby mosques.

Still, at least this was once part of “Classical” Greece.

So did I ever find my turkey? After taking a dolmus to see the wonders of Ephesus (a city frozen in stone and time, which is rumored to have been the last residence of the Virgin Mary), I retired to an upscale restaurant near a caravanserai in town. Only a guidebook could do justice to Ephesus so if you’d like to know more, please buy one.

Ephesus, Kusadasi, Turkey

“I just got back from Ephesus!” I told the waiter.

“Ah, one of my favorite places,” the waiter responded.

“My name is (Upronounceable), and I will be your waiter tonight.”

“Do you have turkey?” I asked hopefully. “I’m trying to recreate a Thanksgiving meal abroad.”

“No, but I have something better,” Unpronounceable said. “Trust me. You will enjoy!”

Diet chicken

Seemingly hours later, the piece de resistance arrived: a whole roasted chicken with real mashed potatoes. Add to that the hummous and pita bread on the side, and we had a real Orientalist Pilgrim’s repast. One that made my mouth water and brought tears to my eyes. My pilgrimage was over.

“You are Christian?” Unpronounceable asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“The things I have seen here. Incredible things. Sometimes tourists have sex here right on the beach!”

“Really,” I said, wondering which way was the beach.

“You know, we worship the same God,” Unpronounceable said in closing. “There is only one God.”

Then I remembered that St. Nicholas, the legendary Santa Claus, was also no stranger to Turkey, and I began planning my next “Turkey Day”–this time to be celebrated with the correct fixings and spent comfortably at home with my extended family in America. . . .

Pictures courtesy of Shutterstock.

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