Have you had "demirhindi" in Istanbul?


On June 16th 1999, the last Wednesday of our stay in Istanbul, my daughters, Daphne, Denise and I headed for one final time to our favorite place:  The Spice Bazaar area, the market place in Bahcekapi, where my father worked in The old Building, 4cu Vakif Han, right across the Famous candy maker, Haci Bekir.    

We started our journey as usual with a bus trip to Besiktas from Levent and then took a second bus to Eminonu, the area of the city where the Golden  Horn that divides the European side of Istanbul.  When we arrived to Eminonu it was already past noon and steaming hot.  I found myself in despair, again trying to figure out how to cross the busy and divided avenue.  Crowds were rushing in all directions and Daphne and Denise seemed to follow me passively, counting on the fact that I knew how to cross the streets and I was familiar with my birth city. Having come to the end of the trip, my feet seemed to walk backwards. Something was telling me that my journey was incomplete and there was still so much for me to visit and remember.

This was one of those days that I kept thinking I should have never put myself through this emotional turmoil. Yet, I felt as a last duty I had to show my daughters those places that had meant so much to me growing up. When I brought them 7 years ago, Daphne was 12 and Denise was 9. Even though they were old enough to remember Daphne seemed out of touch and Denise seemed enthusiastic but too young to absorb it all. This time at 19 Daphne was totally rebellious and disdainful, Denise again was showing great curiosity but was annoyed by older sister's uncaring attitude.

Daphne was mainly interested to come to this place because she enjoyed the old bazaar style shopping, the bargaining and the interaction that went on inside the covered bazaars.  The friendly shop keepers often showed us the most fascinating carpets and kilims.

As I stood confused under the hot sun, pulled and pushed by the streaming crowds, about to collapse in the Eminonu side walks,  I saw and older gentleman. Because he reminded me of my father I took the courage to slow down and asked him how to cross the road to reach the Spice Bazaar, the old spice bazaar known to us as Misir Carsisi.  He said, "follow me" and only looked at me with the corner of his eye to make sure I was keeping up with him. As he walked hurriedly, he mumbled to himself and then he pointed to the hoards of peddlers, and hoards of shoppers with a nod and he said," look what they have done to the city!" Suddenly I could not stop my tears. I just looked ahead to make sure that neither my daughters nor my elderly friend noticed my tears. As he spoke, I had noticed his Jewish accent and had this feeling that I was the little girl following dad to his office on the same route. I was having this supernatural, out of body experience where my father was giving me strength and pulling me out of the crowd into the opening and few minutes later we head reached the side of the road. The older man shook his head as a sign of goodbye and we found ourselves in front of the old Building, 4cu Vakif  Han, the one my father worked for 50 years.

Right accross the century old building, Haci Bekir the candy shop was standing in all it’s glory. The windows were adorned with the familiar candy and cold drinks as usual: Limonata and Demirhindi.

There were no diet cokes, dr. peppers, mountaindews and cappuccinos at this shop, unlike the hundreds of other kiosks surrounding the area.

Out of will and out of energy, I decided to give it a final chance and tell Denise the story I had just told Daphne when I came to the same spot a week before Denise arrived: I told her how my Father always brought me to this shop and asked me if I wanted to have a Demirhindi? I told her how the name of the drink never sounded enticing, and always preferred to have Lemonade. The name "demirhindi" means "an iron turkey" in Turkish and it's meaning somehow must have affected my rejection of the drink.  Denise looked at me with amazement and said:

" Mom, you mean you never tried "demirhindi"? Suddenly all the heaviness from my heart lifted as we started laughing and we both decided to order lemonade and a demirhindi and give it a try.  Deep inside, I knew that I had to treat this as a lifetime chance to capture everything I had missed in the last 20 years, before going back to my present home in St. Louis.  Demirhindi seemed to symbolize it all and more.  It symbolized the last burg before the surrender to everything that was Western and modern.

Demirhindi turned out to be mildly sweet soft drink.  Finally I had paid attention and fulfilled my father's wish and had the same comfort, he had refreshed himself at the very same kiosk, on a late afternoon of a hot summer day.               

At this moment, I was able to be in my father's shoes and feel his tired knees. Denise quenched her thirst with the demirhindi and said she liked it. Daphne, of course, was reacting exactly like I did to my father in 1956, and she too did not taste demirhindi in Istanbul in 1999.  The trip to Istanbul, at last had become worthwhile, as I utilized my last chance to capture the glory of the past memories in a fast changing world, all in the cool sip of the refreshing demirhindi, the exotic drink made of the tamarind tree!



I was born in Istanbul in 1949. I spent my childhood in the Jewish neighborhoods of Istanbul: Sishane, Kuledibi.  I am the product of both my ethnic background (Sephardic Jew) and and my homeland Turkey. I graduated from  American College for Girls in Istanbul 1969 and later spent 6 years in Israel, partly going to the Art academy in in Jerusalem. On my return to Istanbul after 1975 I worked at various technical drafting jobs and immigrated to the United States in 1981.

Since then I have lived in New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri. Currently I work as a Reference Assistant at the Washington University in St. Louis and I am in the  process of completing a graduate degree in Library Science.  My hobbies are painting, Turkish Cooking, helping the Turkish student community organize activities, and recently writing short stories  In Judeo-Spanish about my childhood memories.

BAHAR sayisi web'dedir.



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