I just tortured a perfectly nice Turkish man who’d done me a favor, for my own pleasure. He was clerking the desk at the Embassy Suites where I’d been gifted these beautiful flowers from Caterina Rando‘s Shero Summit event. I asked him for some tape to secure them in their coffee cup. He over-delivered then I pegged his accent as ‘Stambouli and began talking with him about food – Iskender kabab, Beyti and Soltani kabab and my personal favorites, Karides Guveč and Imam Bayildi.
The poor man hadn’t had Turkish food in over a year and the look of a starving dog shown a meaty bone came into his eyes. He enthused about the different varieties of dolmas and his mother’s pilav, listing ingredients and writing down dishes I should try. I mentioned cacič and he almost came apart.
He got a faraway look, and a bit of gravel crept into his voice as he spoke of how his grandmother would carefully gather damask rose petals before dawn for the rosewater that flavored her special baklava. “Like this?” I said, showing him a picture of my last basket of rose petals put to the still. “Yes, exactly!” he said and turning to his fellow female desk clerk said “See? She understands! Ah if only I could get such food in America!”
Then I put him out of his misery by telling him about the most excellent Imam Bayildi, Iskender Kabab (happily, from his hometown) and Guveč at Cafe Baklava in Mountain View, and he kissed my hand in thanks.
“I want some of what she’s got” said the female clerk, looking a tad jealous. “I’ve been trying to get him to open up for a year and you just did it in two minutes!”
It’s not the longevity of the approach my friend, but the perception of safe space, fine-pointed focus and genuine interest that gets people to open up quickly. Also… I never ask them to. They always volunteer. Just extend kindness, that’s all most people are looking for, want or need. Just a little opening where love can be glimpsed. A genuine love of ethnic cuisine doesn’t hurt either.
And now I’m off to nail a plate of Karides Guveč or Imam Bayildi to the wall. Wish me luck!