Between the stuffed lamb intestines, the sodden ıslak burgers, the suspect seafood peddled on the street I ordered a pizza to a hotel room and ate it with room service Heineken before my last night out in Istanbul. Sometimes, that happens.
On trips I stay alert, almost obsessively so, for the popular eats and among those the unique ones. Bonus points if the dish has been around for a while. More bonus points if it actually tastes good. Most of the time I find something, a culinary tradition passed down or borrowed, a new one invented to meet a new demand. I cross rivers, rocks and crocodile lakes to try what has been deemed best by a critic, a friend or a stranger. And I search long and hard to find the story (because there’s always a story) behind what a group of people eats. I ask when and since when, where, why and how. But sometimes there is so much novelty and so much to learn that I get overwhelmed and crave for something simpler. After an exhausting day at a market or a multicourse tasting menu, I want something static with no tale to tell, something that stays the same no matter where you go.
And so it happens that I find myself in line at Subway in Hong Kong, a Burger King in Bangkok, a Starbucks in Buenos Aires pointing lethargically at the menu and ordering, say, a “#4” with no enthusiasm or joy in my tone.
It was just too easy at the Marmara Beyoğlu to dial “333” and grunt, “The Special. Room 1754.” It was heaven to keep watching 22 Jump Street on pay per view in my fluffy white robe. Ten minutes later my pizza arrived at my door and I signed hastily. No fiddling with lira, no apologetic smile, no awkward modesty whatsoever on my end. A scribble on a line and a “Hey, thanks, bye” to the guy. Then back to my movie, my bed and my epic view of Istanbul at night, with my arms wrapped around a steaming cardboard box.
It was a good little pizza too, one that did its job and didn’t try too hard to impress. I was alone my last night and had a few hours to kill before heading out to meet some folks at a bar nearby. It had the average, thin-ish crust of a frozen pie but one that was at least baked in an oven and thus crunchy. It had thick, goopy rolls of provolone that mimicked mozz and barely any tomato sauce underneath. There were tomato slices though, dried out from the oven but appreciated nonetheless. There were also some limp slices of browned button mushroom, sweet kernels of cooked corn, black olives from the can. The cheese bubbled nicely. It gathered itself in golden, caramelized patches of crunch with creamy smooth dairy hiding underneath. I also encountered an unexpected surprise: thin slices of Turkish sausage called sucuk pinned on. These were wonderfully tender and crumbly, milder in flavor than pepperoni or chorizo would have been. Interesting but not intriguing, a local ingredient that nevertheless did not threaten to complicate a perfectly plain meal.
I downed half my “Special” and left a bit for later. I scattered nibbled crust pieces wildly across the box. I scalped a few more slices, ripping cheese and toppings off bread base into greasy, glorious clumps of goodness. I ate those colorful topping lumps without remorse and with no one there to judge me. Then I stretched my limbs, the box still in bed with me, took a sip of beer and lay back against the headboard. A dumb movie with a dumb meal, a necessary rest for palate and brain.