That day was one of the most adventurous of the entire trip. Our family had planned a trip across Turkey, including visits to Istanbul, Cappadocia, Antalia, and Ankara. We had just arrived at Cappadocia from Istanbul the night before. We spent the morning touring the spectacular cave formations and landscape in a hot air balloon, visited the local pottery bazaar, and took a walking tour of an ancient underground city belonging to the Hittites. Needless to say, by the evening we were ready to pass out on our cave hotel beds. The only thing stopping us from indulging in a long slumber was our growling stomachs. The innkeeper of the family owned cave hotel suggested restaurant down the street, supposedly another family owned business. We took his advice and headed down the street.
â–º honorable mention 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
By the time we arrived, the restaurant was about to close and we were the last customers of the night. Instead of ordering one meal, our waiter, who was the son of the cook, suggested the option in which every dish was sampled was a small plate, or a mezze. Keeping up with our adventurous spirit of the day, we agreed. Before sending in our order, our waiter told us about his mother’s cooking.
“She has magic hands”, he said proudly. Apparently, no one could even come close to her expertise in the kitchen. My parents, sister, and I just assumed that this was an exaggeration, an overly eager son who needed to sell the rest of the food left in the restaurant. But after about ten minutes, when all the dishes started coming to our table, we realized how wrong we were.
First came the bread and the sauces. Never have I ever tasted such soft, yet perfectly crispy bread. And with the yogurt and hummus sauces, it was like a symphony of delicious tastes. Then, all of a sudden, there were plates of lentil soup, eggplant curry, potato, salad, tomato curry, and spiced chicken overtaking our poor small table. All the colors and tastes were appealing to both the eyes and taste buds. The fresh ingredients and vegetables along with what was undoubtedly skillful cooking made my entire family fall in love with Turkish food. Quite evidently, his mom had very magical hands.
Our meal was so incredible that we demanded to see this mysterious cook for herself. Emerging from the kitchen was a small old woman with a large, warm smile. We introduced ourselves and told her that this was one of the best meals of our lives and she shyly accepted our thanks. The entire family was drawn into our conversation and soon we were all laughing and chatting about things to do in Cappadocia. It felt like home.
Over the years, I’ve learned that people from so many different cultures unite over food. As social beings, it is innate for us to share something delicious with a friend, introducing someone to a whole new culture. Maybe this is what travel is truly about. Understanding each other and learning about how even though we come from opposite sides of the world, we all do have a common thread. When I look back on our self guided tour through Turkey, it is not the luxurious hotels we stayed at or the tours through museums that I remember the best. Rather, I remember moments like this. Where we truly come to understand and share Turkish culture with the locals, realizing the true meaning of “magic hands”: the power to bring together two families over a meal.