Wednesday, 13 December 2006
Turkey for Christmas
Alex Horne – 13th December 2006
My way of staying in touch with my friend Mike (a different Mike, not the Mike whose job it is to edit fruit-based journalism on a monthly basis) is to meet for lunch every few weeks. He has a job, I don't really, so a midday meeting is convenient for his work and makes me think I'm giving my day some 'structure'.
Mike works in Highbury and Islington and we've tended to eat at the very British 'Manzies Pie and Mash Shop' round the corner from Angel on Chapel Market. It's what people call a 'good, honest, no thrills caff'. You don't really have any options when you order, except single or double pie and whether or not to have a ladleful of liquor all over your generous potato helping, and you only need a fork to eat it with. Perfect for catching up on each other's lives over.
Today, however, I tried to set a trend which I hope will last just under a year, by asking Mike to 'find me some foreign food!' Upper Street, the trendy but drunk-and-scary-at-midnight-when-everyone's-drunk road that links Angel and Highbury Corner, is full of international bistros. It specialises in world cuisine. It's ideal. I figure that if we visit a couple of eateries a month we'll get to eat a lot of different foods, have slightly more animated conversations as a result, and hopefully tick off about twenty countries in the process.
In what I suppose was a victory for the company's Starbucks-like clustering policy (see Owen for more details) our first choice was a Turkish gaff called Café Gallipoli. A remarkable 16.6% of all buildings between 102 and 120 Upper Street are part of this chain so after walking past Cafe Gallipoli (No. 102) and Café Gallipoli Bazaar (No. 107) we finally succumbed to Cafe Gallipoli Again (No. 120), mainly because it had the same adverb in the title that we'd thought of just 13 buildings previously. Ok, we're through a tricky numbers-based paragraph.
I like going to restaurants at lunchtime because it makes me feel sophisticated and frugal at the same time. You often sit next to businessmen making business decisions but you know they're probably choosing from the same "two courses for five pounds lunch deal" as you. Cafe Gallipoli Again was no exception. Mike and I went for a whole load of Turkish meat for hardly any money, my favourite being the Troy Chicken which was described as 'fried chicken dipped in egg' - a complicated moral recipe for poultry fans to get their heads round. It was all pretty Turkish, except for the Abba Greatest Hits playing throughout the meal and the large table full of female office workers celebrating Christmas with too much midday wine and paper hats singing along behind us.
But if that's what it takes to fill your restaurant at lunchtime then Murat, this particular restaurant's manager, has clearly done what he had to do. At the end of our delicious, filling and economically viable meal, I approached him with confidence drawn from catching his eye a couple of times during starters and some brilliant banter with our mains (Him: "Watch out, the plate's hot". Me: "Uh oh! Ok!" Not bad. Him: "Would you like some chilli sauce?" Me: "Uh oh! Yes!"). Thankfully, he was more than happy to help.
In the short time since Murat has moved to London, a lot of things have happened. He arrived about twenty months ago and started working for Armani. A few months later he followed the same insistent call of the Gallipoli chain as we had earlier and moved into the food industry. Almost exactly twelve months ago, civil partnerships became legal in the UK. Six months later Murat and his partner were among the first gay couples to tie the knot in Islington Town Hall, just yards from this very restaurant. Yes, it's another number-based paragraph but I like it when things add up and work out.
"It's much easier here", he explained animatedly. "They've introduced a system and it works. It's very simple". I guess it is. In all honesty, I'd never really given civil partnerships a lot of thought but when he went on to describe the sort of anti-gay discrimination common in Turkey I felt strangely proud that Murat's life is so obviously a happier one here in London.
Unfortunately I then made things a bit awkward by not being that good at conversations. Murat originally comes from Istanbul. I've recently been to Istanbul and as often happens in this project, I resorted to sport in a bid to find some common ground: "Ah, I went to Istanbul on May 25th last year to watch Liverpool's miraculous victory over AC Milan in the final of the Champions League, probably the best European Final ever and possibly one of the greatest football matches of all time. Do you like football?" "No." "Ok".
I tried again. "When we were there a lot of the fans went to the line that runs through the city dividing Europe from Asia and jumped from one side to the other shouting: "Oi, look, I'm Asia! And now I'm in Europe! Oh no, I'm off to Asia again! Bye!" in a scouse accent. Do you do that?" "No." "Ok" (he's from the European side, by the way).
In the end it was Murat who got things back on track by diverting the 'interview' back to the more important issue of relationships. "The main thing in my life now is my partner. Since coming here I've changed the priorities in my life", he said patiently. "It's difficult in the food industry not to work all hours. But now, I'm putting my relationship first so I don't work in the evenings or the weekends. My personal life is my priority".
After that we bonded a bit about how much better it is to spend time with our spouses than working (although we agreed that sometimes you've just got to spend time apart otherwise you wouldn't make any money). My Rachel's coming down to Sussex for her first English Christmas next week. Murat's off up to Nottingham with his 'very English' partner's family. We're both very much looking forward to Christmases with our other halves and without petty distractions like work, football or aggressive homophobia.
*While legal now in Turkey, male homosexuality is still outlawed in 83 countries including India, Cyprus, Jamaica, China, Malawi, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tanazania and Iran.