Monday, August 5, 2013

Globalization. Hamburgers and Falafel

Before I left home my dad asked me what I was most excited to experience on my trip to Istanbul and Rome. Immediately I answered the food. At the very beginning of this trip we landed in Istanbul and went out to a small restaurant in the neighborhood of our hotel. I took a look at the menu and realized I was definitely not at home anymore. I did not recognize any of the words and ended up just pointing at a picture on the menu. When it was brought to me, I realized it was meat, when I had thought from the menu it might be eggplant; I’m a pescatarian. But curiosity got the better of me and I tried a small piece. When I got back to the hotel I looked it up on google and realized I had accidentally ordered lamb heart cooked in tail fat.  It was then that I knew I needed to be more careful with just pointing at food items.
               Upon our return from Rome, I was excited to step away from the more familiar world of pizza, pasta, and panini, and into the unknown. I was specifically hoping to find falafel, an originally Arab deep-fried ball made from ground chick peas and/or fava beans. I understood that Turkey was not an Arab country, but it was located closely to Arab world, and since Istanbul had been described to me as a highly globalized and diverse city, I was hoping to find some. However, after our orientation I asked one of the women if she knew of a place where I could find some and I was told, “That’s not a Turkish thing”, which was disappointing but fair.
             As we come closer to the end of the three weeks I have come to adjust to many food customs  Turkey.  Istanbul is not very accommodating to vegetarians, which honestly is not that surprising. While there are definitely options available, such as salad bars, the predominance of meat made finding food on the streets difficult at times. Everything smells so delicious and well seasoned; I was tempted to end my 2 year pescatarianism for a dӧner or kebab several times. This was further exacerbated by the several cold dishes I was served by our dinner restaurant, Murat, which made me crave the hot meat dishes my friends ate even more. Being here during Ramadan also meant that many restaurants were closed during the day. However, I could not expect the city to change for my dietary preferences. I became accustomed to new foods such as Spinach with yogurt sauce, lentil soup, eggplant stuffed with onions and what I believe are raisins, and eating lots of tomatoes and cucumbers.
            What was slightly perplexing though, was the prevalence of hamburgers, not only in McDonald’s and Burger King, but on the streets as well. I accepted that I was not going to have falafel but certainly if falafel was not a thing, hamburgers could not be, or so I thought.  While Turkey is geographically located closer to the origins of falafel rather than the origin of the hamburger, Germany, Turkey has historically been more western than the Middle East despite also being a predominantly Muslim state. Today the question was raised about whether globalization really meant Americanization, or rather Westernization. We characterized globalization not only as opening of and entering into global markets, but also cultural integration. While originally I thought that the more conservative Middle Eastern states would be judgmental of Turkey for being more secular, especially in Istanbul, it was told to us by our guest lecturer that in fact these states look to Turkey as a sort of role model, to being integrated with the West but also still keeping with the culture. While there may be more hamburgers instead of falafel, you can also get chick peas and rice, boza, or a balik ekmek, a fish sandwich, right off the pier, real Turkish street foods, much more easily Western fast food.  This indicates that while Istanbul has definitely adopted many Western customs, it still has a strong identity of its own. 

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