Maybe there is a god. While the Chimp is safely holed up with his Old Grand-Dad, Panchito his enabler is sentenced to hang with the sort who, to paraphrase a very angry man on Bleecker Street one night who had had about enough of the “Sex and the City” tours, promise: Buy me drinks and you can micturate where the sun don’t shine. Somewhere Johnny Rotten is laughing.
All my good stuff gets Twittered away, but I’ll repeat that I was amazed at the e-release I got using culinary as a noun. The stupid word should be banned even as an adjective. And I didn’t Tweet this but have thought about it ever since wasting good credit on lunch at an old favorite: You will never get great fries in an empty restaurant.
Eater National had a pretty good take on the Schnorrer’s new gig as etiquette expert: Essentially, he’s a capitalist tool, his advice spread over multiple clicks to generate page views for advertisers. My question is why these old curs are doing new tricks as 21st-century Miss Mannerses to begin with. Especially when they don’t even know the polite way to ask for a check.
I’m also starting to wonder if the big hometown paper might not have a hidden interest in the over-the-top restaurant at Lincoln Center. How much more coverage can be lavished on a place being created primarily for people who want to get in and get out before or after a very expensive evening of entertainment? If there were a market for great food around there, it would have been filled back when Robert Moses was ripping up the neighborhood. Also, too, someone in Rome should open an American restaurant called Dante.
Midway through listening to ceaseless remembrances of Daniel Schorr on NPR, I Tweeted that it was almost like hearing obituaries for journalism itself. No one seemed to see him as inspiration to fight back against stenography and the wingnut noise machine, only as “we’ll never see his like again.” And so the world is left with nonsense like the NYDaily News piece on a few old fat white people in Flushing who are bitching because their Key Food shut down for lack of business in an increasingly Asian neighborhood that is thriving with markets selling anything a real American would need if he/she weren’t too “Gran Torino”-threatened to go shopping.
Their gripe is that “other grocery stores that carry mostly American products” will be too far away. Hate to tell the overfed, but sriracha is now as American as soy sauce. The reporter, whose name sounds like someone who would have been brutally discriminated against in an earlier era, dutifully regurgitates the silly fear that Asian markets do not sell pet food (cue the “cats are for stir-frying” meme).
The sickest part of the whole tempest in a handbasket is that, despite the “food fight rages” headline, the last graf quotes the manager of the store that will replace the one they’re bitching about. Who says they will get everything they are whining for. So the News, once a paper that championed immigrants to build a circulation base, is just pandering to Teabagger jingoism. The tape wasn’t even edited and the reporter fell for it. She should be banished to Arizona to explore the state cuisine: Mexican.
Over at the competition, the one that that reports aperitivo bars in Florence come alive after dinner, you could see the whole downsized system rotting from the inside out with the Nocturnalist nonsense on some pretentious potluck in trendiest Brooklyn. As RuthBourdain observed on Twitter, it had to be the best satire going. The triple-threat byline described dicing cilantro, a lip-smacking melting pot, globules of pudding, chefs who became busboys by scrubbing pots, slashes of powdered saffron. And on and on into total idiocy. The second time I worked there I always marveled that other sections of the paper never sent their vulnerable stories through the Dining desk for vetting. Now I know too much about how the sausage is slopped together. Crap destined for the blogs gets published with a click. Once it’s online, it’s golden. And the next thing you know it’s in the paper edition for which some suckers still pay $2 an issue. To filch a cliché from a cat critic, the world will not end with a whimper but with one too many sloppy food references. What in hipster hell is spinach baklava?
Just back from Istanbul, I have to say I’m ratcheting back on my fear of reincarnation. If I have to come back, I hope to allah it’s as a Turk. This is a country where you can be pretty certain the majority of people you pass are Muslim, the believers our country is doing its damnedest to make look unhinged. I went there expecting to totally dry out, but the bars are hopping. And not only are most of them churning out mojitos in multiples, at least half of them have blackboards out front touting “sex on the beach.” It’s live and let drink.
I should be embarrassed to admit I may know less about Turkish food than I did two weeks ago when I was suffering through the passenger chutes at JFK that Delta really should hire Temple Grandin to redesign. It’s a surprisingly complex cuisine and still evolving. I could resist acting like a typical American and making any pronouncements, but I will say it struck me that Slow Food is not a movement much needed there. Almost everything I ate was locally grown/produced; what was on my plate was what I saw in the gorgeous markets. So it was pretty sad that the food on the flight home, which my consort and I were actually looking forward to, appeared to have come from that universal supermarket in the sky, all little packets of processed crap arrayed around my “cannelloni” and his “chicken.” Thank the alcohol deities for the latest innovation on high. Box wine has to be a carbon offset, no?
Bob, who got there first by way of Phnom Penh/Bangkok, warned me Istanbul had lots of cats, but he forgot my old rule swiped from a New Yorker cartoon: Always exaggerate — it makes life more interesting. Otherwise I would have been prepared. Cats were literally everywhere. By the second day I was counting (72), and on the last, when we took a ferry over to the last of the Prince’s Islands, I saw 125 by the time my math hard drive melted down (three hours). Most of them were well-fed and cared for, although I noticed that once I started taking pictures for a Feline Turkey Tumblr, I ignored the ratty-ass ones. Mostly, though, I realized yet again the superiority of cats over dogs — the latter also run wild there, and are fat and healthy, but they need masters; without someone to obey they are sad sacks in fur. Cats, even street cats, always have staff. One night at dinner alone at a sidewalk cafe I ordered the house specialty, minced meat baked into pastry, and could not eat more than a couple of forkfuls because it seemed too close to Alpo. I managed to communicate that I would like to take it with me, with those sorry dogs in mind, but the first two I tried to foist it off on would not touch it. Cats saw a butler coming and hoovered it up.
Language was a real barrier. Almost no one spoke English, including cabdrivers and waiters. Luckily, the amazing Attaturk made everyone switch from Arabic letters when he force-birthed the republic in 1923, so at least it was relatively easy to decipher signs (the only two words I was sure of after seven days, though, were Bay and Bayan on WCs). And so I shouldn’t laugh that I spotted a hip Mexican restaurant with a sign outside promising “Borderline Cuisine.” Talk about truth in branding.
I was, however, happy to realize my suspicions about the most inescapable street food were correct: One of the young masterminds behind Istanbul Eats agreed when I said the grilled corn on the cob had to taste like burned starch. Because of the heat, he and someone else warned me off the tempting stuffed mussels for sale everywhere. And I can’t remember who killed Bob’s appetite for the grilled mackerel sandwich he was lusting after in the fish restaurants under and near the Galata Bridge by saying the main ingredient comes from horrifically polluted water. I didn’t know until just now that My Biggest Fan did an Istanbul episode. Apparently he too had reservations.
I broke my self-imposed internet rehab only long enough to connect with the smart guys at Istanbul Eats and learned that not everyone is happy to see the local cooking school training students in soufflés and other “Continental” conceits. My three years without using my passport must have made me more tolerant of globalization, because I could see why those skills may be needed; locals can get tired of local food. But I learned something from our lunch on the terrace of the Museum of Modern Art, where the menu was all over the shower curtain map. We tried to order stuff that at least seemed rooted where we were, and Bob got fabulous lamb kebabs with a warm grain salad and a mound of arugula tossed with herbs while I plowed through a “four-cheese dumpling” salad (not four cheeses but four fried balls on mixed greens). As we walked out, I saw sad pizzas and other travesties on other tables in the shadow of the monstrous cruise ship docked alongside the museum and realized we had ordered very luckily. And before we walked out, my chair faced an American-looking guy wearing a T-shirt reading: Fuck yoga. He wasn’t as ridiculous as the local girl we saw with bosoms behind “I’m not normal,” who clearly did not need a caption. But he made me think a whole style of food could be called Catering to the Fuck Yoga Crowd.
I was also ridiculously unprepared for the whole trip but did spend enough time skimming our (outdated) Eyewitness guidebook to get nervous about Turkish toilets. So of course the first one I encountered, in the airport that makes JFK look like Rwanda, was beyond super-sleek (and no wonder: when I got in line to hand over my $20US to pay for my “visa” and the clerk winked at me, I understood where shakedown money goes). And the second, in the restaurant where we headed for our first lunch, had a sit-down, flush-easy toilet equipped with a Japanese-style plastic-seat-covering doohickey. I had to plant my feet in the proper spots only twice, once at a shop on the island where a pit stop cost one Turkish lira, again in a cafe where the food was about as retro as the plumbing. But those were good experiences. To the point that four days later I felt brave enough to venture into a Port Authority toilet for the first time in the nearly 30 years I’ve lived in Manhattan. Trust me: Primitive was better.
Probably the biggest surprise in Istanbul was how easy it was to feel like a ghost. People flowed by in tsunamis in that city of 17 million (by one estimate), but Bob and I might as well have been invisible. I wore sundresses and only got flak at the Blue Mosque, from the flesh police; otherwise I was unhassled except in restaurants (women eating alone are not quite the respected customers they are in Sydney or Rome or Paris). Hucksters outside the cafes in the alleys off our hotel and on the “fish street” would relentlessly do the “lady, lady” come-on, but otherwise I walked in peace. And I found my Canon G9 was a essential interpreter. One day I snapped a cat hiding under a couch on a staircase lined with cafes and a woman darted out, scooped him/her up and posed, then said: “E-me, E-me.” I had no idea what she wanted till she ran back inside and brought out a business card with her email address. The same thing happened a few nights later at Ismet Baba in Uskudar, on the Asian side of the city: The waiters posed perfectly, then brought over a card with the email address. Near the end of the trip I stopped to take a mocking photo of the sign on the window at Bambi Cafe off Taksim Square and a counterman inside grabbed a co-worker to pose, both with huge smiles. So I’ll resist any jokes about venison kebabs.
Only on the last two mornings at a table overlooking the water, I’m not sure in which direction, did I pick up any hint of what was happening in the world as I stayed disconnected from Twitter/email/the Internets. And that was only because Bob finally noticed there was an English-language newspaper to be had in the hotel’s breakfast room. So maybe my eyes were just a little too fresh when I picked up the hometown paper on Food Day. And saw exactly one outside ad in the whole dreary section. Guess the sales staff had the same bored reaction readers would: Sometimes a clam is just an excuse for overwriting.