Waiting for Gözleme
by Pier Roberts
In a race against time, hunger is everything.
We'd been exploring the wonders of Cappadocia in Central Turkey, marveling at the man-made and geological beauty of the area. Bright, colorful frescoes adorned the walls of churches, the oldest carved from the rocks more than 1,300 years ago. Beautiful rock formations known as fairy chimneys filled valleys with their strange forms. From the soft porous rock of the area emerged Zelve, a whole village of troglodyte dwellings that had been inhabited until quite recently.
Throughout the long day, my friend and I had forgotten about eating, distracted by the sights around us. Finally, as we headed to the bus stop in Zelve to catch the last bus back to Ürgüp, due in at six o'clock, we remembered that we hadn't eaten since breakfast. A typical Turkish breakfast offered massive amounts of food—bread, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs—and was usually enough to tide us over. But not today. When the hunger pangs hit we immediately started to talk about what we'd eat for dinner once we arrived.
We got to the bus stop with little time to spare, and that's when we saw two women sitting on the side of the road, a mother and daughter team, selling fresh gözleme. Both were beautiful, with long dark hair, loosely covered with a simple beaded headscarf. They were wearing the traditional dress of the area—a gauzy peasant blouse on top and baggy colorful pants on the bottom. They smiled at us and pointed to a large griddle by their side, offering to cook us some gözleme. I'd never tasted gözleme, a mixture of cheeses and spices wrapped in fresh dough and cooked over a hot griddle, but Kenan had, and he said that we should try it. I looked at my watch; I looked at the women and the griddle, a bowl of dough sitting next to it. I told Kenan that we didn't have time, but in the spirit of adventure, he said, "Let's try. We'll pay the women anyway if it's not ready when the bus comes."
Kenan explained to the mother that we had to catch the six o'clock bus back to Ürgüp, and immediately I saw something sparkle in her eyes when she met his gaze. I saw that she was determined to take on the challenge, to work against the clock. She looked back at him, intensely, gravely, seriously—the way that Turks can often look—and told him, "You will have your gözleme." Then she stood up and ordered her daughter to a shack a hundred or so feet away, and the daughter went off like a gazelle.
The mother turned up the heat on the griddle and took out two clumps of dough from the bowl. She began to roll out the dough, an expert at the task, this way and that, back and forth, a miracle before my eyes: in seconds, the thinnest, most perfectly round pieces of dough I'd ever seen. Just as she finished rolling, the daughter returned, panting, with a bowl of the filling—fresh cheese, parsley, red pepper, other spices, salt and pepper. The mother quickly flipped the dough onto the griddle, turned it once, sprinkled the filling over the dough, and I saw it beginning to happen: the birth of my first gözleme.
And then we heard it, all of us, in the distance, the dolmus‚—a minibus whose name means stuffed—on its way to Zelve. We all looked up to see it, rattling over the narrow road, working its way down to where we stood, suspended in the moment. It still had a few curves to take, a hill or two to climb and descend before it would arrive. But we all knew in an instant that we wouldn't make it; that it was a good try, but it wouldn't work; that the filling in the gözleme wouldn't melt just right; and the raw dough over the filling wouldn't cook just right in the amount of time that we had left before the bus arrived in Zelve.
As the bus approached, we tried to stop the women, tried to give them money anyway, tried to thank them for a valiant effort. But they wouldn't hear of it, and they insisted on continuing, the gözleme beginning to sizzle on the griddle. When the bus driver opened the door, Kenan and I stood still for a moment, not sure what to do. But the mother, she knew. Maybe she has done this before, I thought. She jumped up and asked the bus driver to wait for a moment.
He resisted some more.
She implored. "Lütfen, lütfen." Please, please, she nearly wailed. Wouldn't he please, lütfen, hold on, rest a moment, wait until the gözleme was finished. It wouldn't be a huge problem now, would it? "And look," she pointed to us, "the visitors are starving."
We put on sad faces and tried to look really hungry, while I added in the best Turkish I could, "Çok aç" (very hungry) as the bus driver roared and moaned, protested profusely, claimed that he couldn't wait at every bus stop on his route for meals to be made. But she argued her case well, and she argued it long, and all the time she argued, the gözleme sizzled and sizzled, and the aroma from the griddle rose up from the side of the road, wafted through the open doors of the bus, and made its way slowly and purposefully down the aisle. Suddenly, I heard a sympathetic voice rise up from the back of the bus: "Oh come on, I don't mind waiting a little bit. Let them have their gözleme." And soon another voice joined that voice. Until eventually we had the support of everyone on the bus to wait out the cooking of the gözleme. "What's the big rush anyway?" someone from a front seat asked.
The bus driver turned to face the mutinous crowd of passengers behind him, and finally shrugged his shoulders, turned back to the mother, and said, "Okay. Okay. Tamam. But don't ask this of me again."
And so the bus waited at the Zelve bus stop while the women finished cooking our gözleme. The mother folded the dough over the filling as if she were sealing an envelope with a secret message inside. When it was all done, the dough was perfectly cooked, light brown spots dotting the outside, the cheese soft and warm, the spices just beginning to send out their flavor. The daughter wrapped up one and the mother wrapped up another as we paid for the food and then jumped onto the bus. Someone on the bus cheered as we sat down, and a few other passengers joined him. I smiled at everyone on the bus, a little embarrassed, but happy too to have my gözleme. We turned and waved to the women on the side of the road, now settling back down, squatting next to their hot griddle.
We sat on the bus, and the sun sank further into the Cappadocia landscape as we ate our gözleme, one of the best, and certainly one of the hardest won meals I had in Turkey.
Pier Roberts lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Her stories have appeared in Travelers' Tales Spain, A Woman's Passion for Travel, Escape, and Atlantic Unbound
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Waiting for Gözleme
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