Sunday, 21 July

Istanbul Diary: Restaurant "Hawkers" on Galata Bridge

Every incident, individual, object or place is indelibly registered in one’s memory by a set of clear pictures. When I think of how I will recollect Istanbul in the future, images of chestnut sellers on the street, loudly hawking their toasted wares, comes to mind.

Next, I’ll probably remember the young ice cream makers, pulling the milky sweet confection into long taffy-like pulls then whipping t around bars to the amazement of passing tourists.

The young people of Tbilisi impressed me with their liberalism. The guys in particular with their curly, red hair and unshaven faces. The Turkish guys are a bit different. They pay particular attention to their shaving styles, even down to the "soul patch" under the bottom lip. Many also sport an earring on the left ear lobe. Word has it that to wear one on the right ear is a sign of homosexuality. I can just picture how Armenian guys at home would react to seeing such youth in their midst. At the very least, a few choice words would be directed to the strangers.

Turkish girls and women smoke just as much as their male counterparts. Many compare smoking in Turkey to vodka guzzling in Russia. The World Health Organization states that 50% of Turkish males and 20% of females puff away like there was no tomorrow.

I’ll also remember the drivers here in Turkey. When it comes to darting in and out of the heavy traffic, these Turks are head and shoulders ahead of our drivers back home, who usually wind up in a road accident when attempting such crazy maneuvers.

You’ll frequently come upon someone playing a musical instrument on the street – a violin, saz, guitar, etc. It’s an accepted way of making some money. Old and young alike do it and, unlike in Yerevan, they aren’t despised as being bums or a step away from the soup kitchen.

People in Turkey make a living in a thousand and one ways. Young people are seen collecting garbage, waiting on tables, and doing other odds and ends. By the way, before I forget, Istanbul is a relatively clean city given its size.

You’ll see street sweeping trucks with their huge brushes underneath make their way up and down narrow lanes and wide boulevards alike.

Istiklal, Istanbul’s main pedestrian thoroughfare is meticulously cleaned by units of roving workers. They are on the lookout for a single cigarette butt or other discarded candy wrapper or trash. It would startle Armenians back home to hear that waiters and street cleaners here in Turkey are males.

The tradition of "hawking" in front of one’s store or shop is still alive in Turkey. People walking by are invited to step inside by a smiling store owner or employee ready to explain why should buy something from him or her.

The cries from those selling chestnuts, lottery tickets, newspapers, ice cream, etc., eventually grate on the ear.

Our little group of reporters from Armenia decided to go down to the seashore in the evening. We walked down to the Golden Horn and crossed the Galata Bridge. There were guys fishing on both sides. They would sell their tiny catch for a few Turkish Lira.

Restaurants are lined up along the undercarriage of the bridge. Here, tourists will be coaxed and cajoled to come inside and have a bite to eat and drink. Fish is heavily represented on the menu. And it seems that restaurant staff can advertise their wares in just about every imaginable language on earth.

We couldn’t hold back the laughs when one young waiter approached us and in a very emotional voice, pleaded for us to come inside and sit.

Our group ordered cocktails. What we got was plain orange juice. I called our soulful waiter over and explained the problem.

"Yes, this is a cocktail. It’s a fruit cocktail without the alcohol," he smiled back.

"But this is plain juice," I said.

"Yes...plain juice," the waiter replied.

It was time to blow that joint. We thanked the waiter, paid an arm and a leg for the plain juice and left.

As we were leaving, our waiter was back outside plying his trade. He had cornered a man and two women and was showing them the restaurant’s menu, effusively praising its contents.

Our group watched and chuckled. Another bunch of suckers caught in the trap, I said to myself.

This time our waiter returned from the sea despondent and empty handed.

Even though we were overcharged for the orange juice it was a price well paid for the show we were treated to under the Galata Bridge.

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Comments (2)
1. chello09:54 - 28 April, 2011
I wouldn't eat anything caught from the Galata Bridge-too risky. As to the lack of alcohol in the "cocktail" - did you specify what alcohol you wanted - vodka, rye, gin...?
2. shaqar00:21 - 2 May, 2011
ամենահամով, էժան, թարմ պատրաստած ձուկը այնտեղ եմ կերել: ոչ մի եվրոպական երկրում այդպիսի գեղեցիկ տեսարանով ռեստորանում այդպիսի զարմանալի գնով չես ճաշի, էն էլ թարմ ձուկ
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