Turkish Friends #4 Esra

When I was in Dalyan recently I came across a small wine shop which offered the most amazingly wide range of Turkish wines. I strayed inside and when the proprietor discovered I spoke a little Turkish and that I knew my öküzgüzü from my boğazkere he proceeded to talk me into the ground about his passion for Turkish wines.

To my amazement it emerged in conversation that he did not drink and had actually never tasted the stuff! How can you develop such a passion for wine without tasting a drop? Weird.

2014-04-04 15.30.03In a similar vein, I have often wondered how Esra, owner of Vanilya Bistro and a great culinary talent, manages to remain stick slim with a waist I could (but would be in trouble if I did) get my hands around. 

Esra tells me “Because I love cooking not eating! My passion is to cook for others.”

How can you be like that? I know plenty of people that love eating but not cooking. I have never, until now, met somebody for whom it works the other way round!

Mind you, the Special’s long since deceased papa was once asked during an interview for a sales manager post with Rothmans

“Mr Deas, how can you expect to sell cigarettes if you do not smoke?”

“I know men who sell ladies’ underwear” he replied with great presence of mind “but they don’t wear it”.

So how did our paths cross? Well Esra was introduced to me by Turkish Friend #1 Mustafa as somebody who might be willing to help me with learning Turkish;  a task she has carried out with great dedication, for the last couple of years. When she told me, with ill concealed excitement, that she was going to quit her seasonal job at Yalı Beach Club to start up her own bistro I was less than encouraging. I have seen too many start-ups crash and burn to be anything but cautious.

2014-04-04 15.30.14How wrong! Ye of little faith! Esra opened Vanilya this time last year and as one Trip Advisor reviewer wrote

“We’d urge all visitors of Kalkan to visit this hidden gem”.

Long may it flourish. The Special and I are regular visitors.

We are ensconced at the “staff ‘n frendz” table at her laid back little eaterie on the Kalamar Road. As the interview is  conducted in Turkish, I have taken a few liberties in translating her responses, to allow for my limited competence in Turkçe.

CD Tell me about your childhood

E   I was born in Istanbul to a big family; my sister and I shared the house with mum, dad, auntie, uncle, and two nephews. Every summer though we decamped for Kalkan where my dad owned a gift shop and we spent three glorious months before returning to the capital for the rest of the year.

CD  How was Kalkan back then in 1987?

E   Amazing! There was only Old Kalkan from the taxi rank down to the harbour. Today’s Kalkan was, at that time, all olive trees. Kalamar was just a quiet little bay with one hotel.

CD  No restaurants and villas then?

E  Just Belgin’s Kitchen, Akın’s Restaurant, Korsan and Lipsos. The Pirat was the only hotel and a few pansyon. Truly it was beautiful.

CD  “On detruit ce que l’on aime” – we destroy what we love as the French say. What did you do when you left school?

E  I went to university in Ankara and studied landscape gardening and architecture? I also did all sorts of summer jobs: waitress, dental nurse, blah blah. Chrees, (this is approximately how Turkish peeps pronounce my name. Esra manages to make it sound particularly alluring), did you know Turkish for blah, blah is filan fıstık?

CD I do now. I write it down.  Esra is still, after all, my Turkish teacher.

E  I did not graduate though. I discovered landscaping was not for me and that I preferred, how do you say yaban? (Yaban is a new one on me and Esra comes back with a handful of weeds. My dictionary suggests wilderness).

I left for ideological reasons!

CD OK so what did you do next?

E  I had to get a proper job. I stayed in Ankara and started working for a property business where we sold investment property and land.

CD  A city girl then?

E  Yes. High heels (demonstrates) and lots of makyaj (make up). I did it for five years and then then had to escape. My husband and I fled to Kalkan, where my soul belonged.

CD  You had gotten married then (I do not miss much).

E  Yes. Serdan and I came here and both worked at Yalı Beach Club. But we got divorced after eight years.

CD  Öyle mi? Can I ask why you divorced?

E  It was me who wanted to separate. I am happier now. You cannot argue and fight on your own!

CD   How is life in Turkey for a divorcee? A friend of mine from Islamlar was told by his mother that it would be better for him to kill himself than to divorce. Harsh.

E  I was lucky because my family were supportive. Generally it is very hard. Especially in the East where attitudes are very conservative.

CD  Would you like to see that change?

E  Chrees, it must change. Along the Antalya and Aegean coastal regions and in big cities like Istanbul and Ankara ideas are more liberal. But in the Anatolian hinterland and the East of Turkey, women do not go to school or work. It is çok ayıp (disgraceful) for a woman to go out to work. We have to educate girls; in fact not just girls. We have to change the thinking of women and mothers.

CD  Incredible that such ideas are still so strong 90 years after Atatürk founded the republic and gave women the vote.

E  Yes but nothing has changed in these areas.

CD Tell me about Vanilya. Is not opening a restaurant a quick way to lose your money and your sanity?

E  It is a risk but I love making food. Even when I was three I remember being fascinated to see my mum or my dad making food. I would be up on a chair watching, asking questions and trying to help all the time. My own restaurant was my dream.

CD  What about your customers though? Surely we drive you mad.

E  I love my customers. The English are “çok gentleman”. Please this and thank you that. And especially they are not, how do you say kaprisli?

CD  (Out comes the dictionary again) Capricious. Difficult.

E  Yes. I love my Turkish customers of course (there are a large group on adjoining table) but they can be – whispers – kaprisli. My foreign customers are easier.

CD  No French customers then!

E  Ha! Ha!

CD  You share your house with your lovely mum but also 8 dogs and 7 cats. Is there a street animal problem in Kalkan?

E  There definitely is and we discuss it a lot in KAPSA. We neuter the Kalkan animals but they keep coming from the villages. We hope to work with the new mayor and get the administration to help with feeding and neutering programmes in the villages so that they can stay there.

CD  What is the secret of a good life for you?

E  Look after your health and be around nature.

CD  So are you Istanbuller or a Kalkaner?

In my heart I am definitely a Kalkan person. I love Istanbul to visit but I cannot live there. Too crowded. Too much noise. Too much pollution.

CD  And love? A knight in shining armour or as the Special once came out with, “a shite in whining armour”?

E  Laughs. Bilmiyorum Chrees! Gerek değil (I don’t know. Maybe it is not necessary)!

CD  Ha! Ha! Thank you Esra for brightening my Kalkan life, running the coolest little bistro in Kalkan and being a shoo-in for Nicest Woman in Kalkan (apologies to all other contenders).

Vanilya is on the Kalamar Road just above Chillies and is open for breakfast, lunch and supper.

Here is to an excellent second season kızım.

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5 Responses to Turkish Friends #4 Esra

  1. Alan says:

    . . remember the ‘Pirat’ when it was the only hotel in Kalkan. J and I had our first taste of this delightful country in your village/town and wandering the mountains was the aphrodisiac that really turned us on! We first arrived in Kalkan in the early hours after a journey of hours on the then winding roads. Exhausted, we slept the sleep of the dead until the megaphone on the mosque across the road fired up for dawn prayers – it took days for the adrenalin to drain from our systems!
    Preferring our life here to be away from the expat/tourism scene, we have never returned – I do believe you have given us a reason to divert down the hill next time we are passing.

  2. Karin Reutter says:

    Dear esra,
    first i would say, that i was very happy to met you!!
    My heard was open when i met peoble/woman who feels similar about animals. It was a family-feeling. Thanks for you love for the little puppy,
    I hope i see you in august and whish you a good season, karin from hamburg

  3. Eileen Mahoney says:

    Hi there. Would you by any chance know Esra’s surname (used to own Vanilya restaurant) in Kalkan?
    Thank you

  4. Eileen Mahoney says:

    Thanks very much. I will do if I can find her! Apparently she is now working as a chef on a yacht out of Fethiye. And she seems to have closed her facebook account. But I will keep on trying!


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