Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fish Market

I've been keeping my eye on a outdoor fish store that is usually packed with people and loaded with piles of fresh fish. I love fish, but because the market is not close to my house, I needed to visit on a trip home from the mall when I was not laden with bags. So, last night was the perfect night. As usual, when approaching a mob of people in Turkey, I have two questions in mind: "Where is the end of the line?" and "What do I say in Turkish."

Lines are tricky in Turkey because they don't really exist. For example, it is chaos when boarding and de-boarding planes. Passenger in seat 15 B will remove his or her seat belt before the plane stops taxiing, hop across passenger in seat 15A, and be at the front of the plane before it stops at the gate. The rest will squeeze into the aisles and push themselves to the exit. It is chaos at the Walmart-like superstore because people feed into the line from both sides and, if I stand at my American-space-bubble distance of 16 inches, I will never get to the cashier. The fish market is no different. Actually, it's more chaotic. It took me 20 minutes to figure out that some people had ordered their fish and were waiting for it to be gutted and cleaned, some people had brought their own stainless steel pans from home and were waiting for the fish to be breaded and cooked in the large, hot ovens that I was finally close enough to see, and the rest were just speaking better, faster Turkish and reaching over my shoulder like I was a lamppost holding all while holding out their liras and shouting out what they wanted to order. On several occasions I heard, "I'll take 5 kilos of sardines." And, I'm thinking to myself, what does anyone do with 5 kilos (over 10 pounds) of raw sardines?

In addition to the time I'm spending trying to figure out the line, I'm also practicing what I will say when I actually get the courage to speak. Shouting out the name of the fish in Turkish is not the problem. I can just read the sign on the display. Trying to buy just one fish and not one kilo is the tricky part. So, I've watched and waited, and been jostled, bumped and ignored. I'm ready to order. I reach in my purse to pull out some lira and lo and behold, I've only got a 100 lira note. The fish I want to buy is 15TL per kilo and I don't want a kilo. Will I stop this entire operation if he can't make change? (I'd already been given a free coffee because the coffee store couldn't make change) After 20 minutes of observation, I actually contemplated leaving, but then I noticed there were several 100 TL notes in the cash box so I'was hoping it wouldn't be a problem.
I finally hold up my note, make eye contact with the fish monger and shout out "bir lekvent balik ve bir solmon". The buzz of activity stops...The fish monger gives me a quizzical look of non-comprehension. There are stares from all sides. (Do I really want fish for dinner?) Thankfully, the nice old Turkish woman standing next to me understood what I said and repeated in her native Turkish and emphasized that I wanted only one fish. I stood proudly, gave her a big smile of thanks, and accepted my tiny bag of fish and my 90 soggy, fish smelling TL in change....

By the way, the fish was worth the wait. It was delicious. And, no, I don't know what kind it was.

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