Nairobi is a good place to eat out in. There is food from everywhere in the extended neighbourhood, even as far afield as France and Italy. MONT and The Family planned a day of shopping, and I tagged along. There is wonderful stuff from local artists is various shops: Nani Croze has mentored many through Kitangela Hot Glass, and the artists’ cooperative of Kazuri makes beads and pottery which looks totally different from what I’ve seen before. But the high point of my discovery of Nairobi’s shopping that day was to be the lunch. Sure enough, we found a wonderful cafe. The lentil soup, the falafal, a small chicken salad, certainly. Would that be enough? No, maybe I should add a burger with fries. You would prefer a kabab? Maybe both then. A smoothie will go well with it, don’t you think? Before we knew we had over ordered. Who realized that the pita bread would be so large? Maybe a little dessert? Let’s finish with an espresso. You want a Kenyan tea instead? It wasn’t a light lunch, but it was good: fresh and flavourful ingredients made well.
When we were preparing for our trip to Turkey, The Family, who usually disdains the preparatory stuff that I read, picked up the article on food and read through it. Two phrases that she repeated were lokanta and ev yemekleri. We were to find out that a lokanta could be anything between a Turkish equivalent of a good dhaba and a reasonable self-service restaurant. Ev yemekleri was more interesting, since it meant a place which served home-cooked food. So, after two days of airline food, when we were in Göreme, looking for our first Turkish dinner, coming across a place which was both was a stroke of luck.
An Indian will find some things quite familiar in a Turkish menu: Çorba (pronounced shorba) clearly means soup, köfte are obviously meat balls and Çay (pronounced chai) is, of course, chai. The family running the restaurant was welcoming and all smiles, and if the boisterousness of the man was not fueled by a little Raki, then he was the most outrageously extroverted person I’d ever seen. We chose to start with the lentil soup, Mercimek çorbası. You can see this in the featured photo. It became an instant favourite.; The Family and I oscillated between this and the tomato soup through the rest of our trip. An order of köfte was an instant follow up. A basket of soft white bread appeared on the table, and was a lovely way to soak up the gravy.
The evening had turned a little cold outside, and the stove in one corner of the lokanta kept the place cozy. A couple of pots on the stove were clearly being kept simmering. When we asked we were told that this slow-cooked meat was a specialty of the house. It takes eight to ten hours to cook, and what we saw here was the next day’s meat being left overnight to be done. Today’s was ready in the kitchen. Both the husband and wife spoke English, although the man was more fluent. We liked the vegetables and meat being cooked together, so we asked for a plate.
This came with a rice and salad. I would get used to this combination of salad over the next few days. Every plate of rice would have a glob of chopped onions with parsley and another glob of chopped cucumber and other leaves. The tomatoes were served either on the plate, as here, or separately. Combining a curry and rice with chopped salads is a fairly standard way to eat in India, so I guess most Indians who eat meat will not find Turkish food very alien. The tastes are pleasantly different though.
The lady came along to tell us that the Çay would be on the house. We’d had Çay for breakfast and knew that it is unsweetened. The Family asked for şeker (pronounced sheker), an easy word to remember. I have tea without sugar, so şekersiz was fine with me. The lokanta was very basic, furnished with plastic chairs and tables, but the food was excellent. We would go on to try many different kinds of places, but this first experience made us come back to lokantas again. We never found a reason to regret it.