A few nights ago James and I went out to eat for our anniversary. Oh, the dining choices we have here in the capital, Ankara. . . so vast, so amazing! The smaller city we moved from didn't have near the selection. When we went out in Kayseri (which was rare) the choice was Turkish food, or Turkish food, or that other kind of Turkish food, plus some hit and miss chinese at a Turkish restaurant or pizza (but don't picture a pizza like you'd see at Pizza Hut or even Murphy's Take n Bake... it really doesn't compare), or McDonalds. . . can't forget McDonalds.
Anyway, the other night we chose Chinese. We ordered a main dish and then pointed to the first item on the rice page of the menu, asking for the plain steamed rice to go along with it.
Waiter: Tilting his head slightly and raising his eyebrows, That rice is cooked in steam.
James: I understand, that's what I want to order.
Waiter: Lowering his pen and pad of paper. No, I don't think so... it doesn't have any salt on it.
Me: Right. That's what we want.
Waiter: It's not normal rice. It was cooked in steam, it wasn't cooked in butter or oil.
James: We understand. We want to order the plain steamed rice from your menu.
Waiter: I just want to make sure you know what you're getting. It's flavorless. Are you really sure that's what you want?
James and I: YES!
Waiter: Reluctantly writing our order on a piece of paper while shaking his head. Okay, if you're sure.
Two things were going on here.
First, Turks LOVE rice. They eat it all the time. It's a great side to almost any Turkish meal. But they (obviously) DON'T love steamed rice. Turkish rice is pilaf. It starts with melting plenty of butter or oil in the bottom of your pan then frying up some small noodles until they're brown and crispy. Next you throw in your white rice (sorted and washed) and fry that in the butter for a while before adding water and salt (or bullion) to the whole thing. It's flavorful, it's oily, and it quickly adds inches to my thighs. Steamed rice is plain. It's flavor is subtle. My Turkish friend Isil told me it was disgusting when she happened to stop by right around dinner time one evening.
Second, in general, Turkish waiters LOVE to make suggestions based on their own tastes. They would probably feel really horrible if a customer got some really gross food and they could have prevented it. Since James and I had asked the waiter to describe a few of the main course items, maybe he assumed we were new to the whole Chinese food thing and had no idea that plain rice is actually repulsive. And even after it was crystal clear, he still could hardly bring himself to have any part in bringing the yucky stuff to us.
In the end, our food came, our rice came, we enjoyed our meal.
Hmmm, I just remembered that in Kayseri, at the hit and miss Chinese place, steamed rice was always on the menu, but never available when we tried to order it. I guess they just couldn't bring themselves to actually make it.