We cross the Black Sea to the southern shores and visit two Turkish cities, Sinop and Trabzon.
Neither offers much in the way of excitement and the Fabulosity Meter would have been retired once more, if it weren’t for a completely unexpected and totally fabulous lunch, followed by an equally unexpected and fabulous dinner.
We are walking along the unprepossessing waterfront of Trabzon, which is a little grimy and pays no attention to the few tourists that venture that way. It is full of small local shops with small locals sitting outside on even smaller stools drinking tea from tiny glasses, smoking and pleasantly passing their day. No one pays us any attention.
We pass a shabby restaurant, full of elderly, poorly dressed locals sitting at long communal tables. Normally we would pay scant attention to the place and walk on by, but as we are doing just that we notice a huge bowl of sardines sitting on a rickety table outside on the sidewalk. They had obviously just been caught and were still glistening with water. We turn to the restaurant door and are greeted by the very elderly Patron who it appears is chef, waiter and dishwasher. We ask if he is serving the sardines and he nods, offers a friendly smile that shows a lot of gum and very few teeth, and gestures for us to sit down at one of the long tables. He then takes a large handful of the sardines, shows them to us for our approval, sprinkles them liberally with Turkish spices and drops them into a very hot frying pan. Meanwhile he chops a totally fresh salad of cabbage, tomato, peppers and cucumber onto a large old discolored plate and offers it to us along with a huge tupperware container of sliced baguette.
Presentation is not his strong point.
Then he goes outside and alarmingly fills our glasses with water from a spring that was bubbling up through a spigot in the middle of the sidewalk. So far we are doing fine with this little culinary adventure, but the water seemed to be taking it a little far, to say the least. But he is such a lovely old man that we don’t want to seem rude. Plus everyone else seems to be drinking it, so we recklessly risk life and limb (or stomach) and join them. Two minutes later the most delicious plate of sardines is put in front of us. It is one of the best lunches we have had on our journey.
However, half way through it we remember the lesson we learned in Istanbul where the waiters and restaurants mercilessly overcharge tourists. We realise that this restaurant has no menu, there are no prices posted anywhere, and when other diners pay their bill the old Patron just tells them how much it is and they pay him. When it comes time to ask for the bill we are prepared for a shock. The old man just looks at us, raises all 5 fingers on one hand and one finger on the other hand and grins another toothy smile. He is asking for 6 Turkish Lira, less than 4 US dollars. How fabulous is that.
Fabulous on a totally different scale awaits us that evening. We have booked a table in one of the ships specialty restaurants. Polo is the ship’s Grill, decorated like a club house, with dark paneled walls, oversized leather arm chairs, framed photos of old movie stars and huge windows offering panoramic views out to sea. We have become friendly with the Maitre D. His name is Georgiou and his home is Corfu where he and his family own a restaurant that caters only to Greeks, and not tourists. Due to the Greek economy the family has decided not to open the restaurant this year and he has taken the job of Maitre D on board ship. He is what could politely be called a character. But I am rarely polite, and would in fact call him totally whacko.
He does a totally unconscious but spot on imitation of Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers. He is tall like Basil, with a slightly weird walk, taking huge strides to reach your table He approaches with hands wringing and grovelling for a little appreciation. He hovers alarmingly, cutting your steak to see if it is cooked the way you wanted it, unwrapping pats of butter, basically doing everything but chew the food for you. And all the while he is offering a commentary, and making inane jokes which he follows with a slightly manic laugh. He is truly eccentric and many people on board are unnerved by him, but our English upbringing allows us to embrace him, and he genuinely seems to appreciate us.
That evening he tells us that they have some wonderfully fresh fish bought dockside that very day. We tell him about our lunch at the local restaurant and he asks if we like all types of seafood. When we say that we love seafood, he suggests that we do not look at the menu and allow him to put together a few things that are not on the menu. We readily agree to this and wait to see what happens. Our waiters and table neighbours are fascinated. Our waiter says this has never happened before and she is at a loss to know what cutlery to put out for us.
Georgiou returns a little later and takes away the magnificent Versace dinner plates and replaces them with simple oval white ones. And then the food starts arriving. It arrives on platter after platter which he places in the middle of the table for us to share. There is a lobster soup and a fish soup. There are oysters, giant shrimp, lobsters, crab and different pieces of fresh fish, all displayed beautifully. Giant prawns lean on a piece of beautifully cooked salmon trout, crab meat sits on top of grilled sea bream, and so it goes on. When one is finished another arrives. Georgious even produces a plate of foie gras in case we want meat. It is an unbelievable feast, and we love it. What we love even more, is that the other diners are all slowly catching on to what is happening at our table and cannot understand why we are getting this special treatment. We can’t either.
Unless of course, it is just because we are fabulous.