Us: Günaydın. Köfte var mı? (Good morning. Have you got köfte?)
The waiter turns away from us and shouts towards an unseen kitchen.
Waiter: Serkan, köfte hazır mı? (Serkan, is the köfte ready?)
Serkan: Hazır, hazır. (It’s ready.)
The waiter turns to us and informs us that the köfte is prepared and we can go and take a seat. And then he once again turns to the kitchen and shouts.
Waiter: Yabancı. (Foreigners are here.)
Let us set the scene, here. We’re in Odunpazarı in Eskişehir and we’ve not long since arrived in the city by bus from Fethiye. At around 6am, we’d eaten a börek, we’d found the lovely SRF Hotel, sat around for a bit in the lounge before check-in, got bored and so went for a walk with no real aim. We ended up in Odunpazarı, one of the places on our to-see list, and it was 11am. Feeling a bit peckish, we spotted Köfteci Ahmet, and decided brunch was in order. But first, as it was so early, we needed to check the köfte had been made.
Now, at this point you might be wondering why the waiter felt the need to shout ‘foreigner’ into the kitchen. It vaguely crossed our minds, but we were too tired to care so we just flopped into our chairs. The waiter comes over, smiling, setting out knives and forks, fixing serviettes, do we want a drink? He’s keen to please. We order an ayran each and a plate of köfte. Off he goes…and someone else brings the ayran to our table. He’s looking at us, too, smiling, keen to please. We turn round towards the kitchen and there’s the köfteci (he who makes the köfte), peering round the corner, looking at us, smiling. It seems everyone has come out to look at the yabancılar.
Our waiter returns, so we ask if they have piyaz. He giggles that we know what piyaz is and brings some over. A good start. We hope the köfte is as good as the piyaz looks. This is the first morning of what ended up being a 17-day trip and our first experience (of what was to be many) where people were interested in us because we were foreign.
Of course, foreigners do visit Eskişehir but it’s not really on the travel agenda when people plan trips to Turkey. We were carrying with us a lot of novelty value on this particular morning and in these situations, Turks are never shy of openly displaying their interest in you.
Near Edirnekapı in Istanbul is Durak Rumeli Köfteci and that’s where we had our best ever köfte and piyaz meal. Any other köfte and piyaz always has to try and live up to that experience – and it’s a tough job for it to even come close, sometimes. But Köfteci Ahmet surprised us with his ‘special köfte plate.’ Warm pide bread smothered in a light tomato sauce and yoghurt and topped with six, juicy köfte. A couple of chillies on the side and we’re good to go.
Remember, it’s only 11am, we’ve been in the city for five hours and we’re already on our second meal.
And what a memorable second meal, it was, too. It didn’t beat Durak Rumeli Köfteci but it certainly matched it. And then we look at each other. We’ve let our guard down and not asked for prices. We go to the cashier to pay, wondering what number is going to be thrown at us. The cashier’s smiling, too. Everyone’s smiling.
“14 Lira,” says the cashier.
“No, 14 Lira for your meal.”
Hmmm, two plates of köfte, piyaz and ayran: 14 TL. Think we’re going to rather like Eskişehir. More tales to follow…View the location of Köfteci Ahmet centred on our map of Turkey.