Now I want to make it clear from the beginning that I am not a culinary snob or hung up on American cuisine which, as most people born somewhere else, seem to think is exemplified by the hamburger and hot dog (though the hot dog, or frankfurter, is actually German in origin but I must admit I am a bit of a snob when it comes to them but I’ll leave that for some other post). Hamburgers, though, should be judged by an objective panel who understands what constitutes the basic ingredients: ground beef, a bun, and ketchup, pickles and/onions optional.
So anyway, I’ve had 3 hamburgers now in 8 days here, which is a record for me since I didn’t eat 3 hamburgers in 8 days while living in the US, but that’s besides the point. The point here, or at least the one I’m trying to make in my usual way, is about what it’s like to eat what passes for hamburgers here in Turkey.
Now it started last weekend when I went to a former student’s (whom I have always been fond of) girlfriend’s art gallery. The art gallery, Space Debris Art, by the way, is new, as is the girlfriend who I found very charming, not only because she lived in the US for 10 years, and had been living in my grandparents’ old neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, near, I might add, the best steak house in all the world, Peter Luger’s, or because she has an artistic nature, studied theatre, art, sculpture, etc and got her MFA in art from Parsons (my Uncle Dominic’s old alma mater) but because she is charming. And the reason I bring this up, and there is a reason, is because below her gallery is a cafe where the owner, who also studied in the US, is trying to duplicate American cafe cuisine, and the one thing he has introduced is the bagel, which, according to Seyhan Musaoglu (Tunc’s girlfriend, Tunc Suzer being the former student), who is his food taster and critic, he doesn’t quite have it right. I explained it’s the water, which she immediately thought could be the reason, and well, not to get too involved in all this, let me say that after the art gallery, Tunc and Paul Hallam (a fellow writer/expat living here who teaches at Istanbul University to keep the wolves at bay while he does the things that matter to him most) went to a bar Paul frequents and I drank some wine, had some of the cheese platter, and finally left to meet another former student, Baris Keser, who also worked as a tutor for me while getting his MBA at a college in NY where I ran the ESL program, in Taksim where I took him to a bar I know and he drank beer, I drank more wine, and we shared a platter of French fries.
Okay, the point. After consuming 2 bottles of wine over the course of the afternoon, early evening, I made my way back toward the ferry stop at Karakoy and spied the newly opened Fatburger here in the city. Now I can’t remember if they use the original one word spelling or separate it into two words–Fat Burger–because my mind is a little unclear about that part of the evening, but I do know that when my fatburger arrived, it did not taste like what my memory felt it should have tasted like, from way back in the 70s in LA (and for those of you who think that’s an awfully long time to remember accurately what something tastes like, well all I can say is that you never lose the memory of taste, smell, sight, sound, touch of the things we learn to love in this world, including hamburgers). Of course in those days there was just the one Fatburger on Western Avenue which Rip Crystal introduced me to. It was a bit of heaven to find something that deliciously juicy for you in a city devoted to being young, beautiful, and healthy.
But back to my story. So I was disappointed and swore I would never do that again, except I did do it again but not at Fatburger, but at Burger King in my neighborhood a few nights later, where they pronounce the Whooper as rhyming with cooper instead of the way we pronounce it as rhyming with hopper (“we” being people from the US who know about these things) and lo and behold, I’m disappointed again. It’s not that they have the size wrong, it’s just the taste is almost tasteless when compared to the way it tastes back in say Hempstead, NY.
Okay, so last night on the way back from watching a high school production of Oliver which I had to do a Steve Cohen on (Steve Cohen, my dear, dear friend who worked for 20 odd years as associate producer for Joe Papp at The Public Theatre in NYC was infamous for leaving plays after the first act) because I couldn’t stand it any longer and on the way home, I stopped at Bambi Burger because for 4 years now I’ve been passing this place and wondering just what a Bambi Burger would taste like. Well, I tasted it last night and still do not know what I ate. I mean, apart from the potato salad with peas, pickles, tomatoes, and I think mayonaise, there was something that looked like meat but it was reddish in color, and I could not distinquish a taste. It was certainly not hamburger, but hey, this is a country where they put ketchup and mayonaise on your table when serving pizza.
Okay, so here’s my point. Some food does not necessarily transfer well from one place to another, and if you don’t believe me, ask Rita Wu who will tell you most Chinese food even in places like NYC are what she calls “junk” Chinese food, changed to appease American taste buds. There’s something lost in the translation, sotospeak. Think Mexican food in the US served at Taco Bell, for instance. Or what passes for pizza in Ohio.
Now there is one place that does serve a pretty good hamburger, though it’s a bit dry which breaks your heart when you bite into it and do not get the grease you’re expecting, but it’s the best I’ve found here so far. It’s in Hamburger Haven a block up from the Rex Theatre on Bar Street in Moda in case you come to Istanbul in the near future. It’s not quite the real thing, and thank God no one has dared tried to open up a White Castle here because heaven only knows what that will be like (and I know my brother Johnny and his wife Cecelia, who both have their birthday dinners at White Castle each year, would be outraged), but it’s the closest thing to a hamburger that I’ve found.
But you know, it’s kind of like that bagel in Karakoy. The people making them are trying to do the right thing, their hearts are in the right places, and it’s close but no cigar, as we like to say. I think it just has to be the water.
18 thoughts on “on what passes for hamburgers in Turkey”
Reblogged this on Leonard Durso and commented:
Once again just because I had a hamburger tonight on the way back from visiting with Ali Esmen and, well, this is still very, very appropriate. I also might add that Paul does not teach at Istanbul University any longer (by his choice, I might add), Tunc no longer goes out with Seyhan, the bar Baris and I drank at no longer exists, and the owner of the cafe below Space Debris Art has given up trying to duplicate the famous NY bagel. But they still put ketchup & mayo on the table with pizza. Sigh.
Nice ramble. Loved it.
I remember the first time I tried a hamburger while vacationing in Croatia – I almost cried. Everything up to that point had been delicious.!! The fresh seafood, the risotto, potatoes, cevaps (croatian sausages). But the burger was horrible. For starters, it was flat like a pancake. There was no juice and no flavor. Very disappointing. And my very last burger there. I hope you find a good burger soon 🙂
There was one place in Izmir that was pretty good but I can’t remember the name. When I go back there, I’ll try to find it again.
Oh good.! At least there is one place 🙂
Yes, at least there is that. But plenty of good places to eat Turkish cuisine.
Yes! No one but you can transform the mundane to miracle! Superb, Len!
Now I have to go to the local White Castle here and taste a REAL burger!
Bon appetit, good friend!
We had a White Castle only a few blocks away from the house we grew up in and so they have always had a special place in our family mythology.
Serves you right for going for American food in Istanbul. Turkish meatballs are delicious. Now if you are in Sydney you would find authentic American AND Chinese food here. Hurry though as we’re trying hard to squeeze all foreign culture out of this country. Soon we’ll be back to the good old days of grey meat and soggy vegetables but not so far back as the aborigines. They’ve almost been wiped out but the effort is still on.
I will have to try to get there one day yet. As for American food here, I think I really only try it when I feel I need for a recharge of my roots.
You’ll have to learn to cook American 🙂
I actually prefer cooking Italian.
Giggles. Labyrinthine ramble. 😉
That’s my other middle name.
This was the perfect little laugh today! Yes, food can be quite funny when it tries to travel….
Even food can get lost in translation.