(A preparation of kokorec in Istanbul, Turkey, a photo by Huseyin Aysan)
I have been a vegetarian for almost eight years now. It all started slowly. I didn’t watch any films about butchered animals that would influence my decision and I didn’t have a pet goat that was killed for a birthday stew. Although, as a child, I stopped eating crayfish after I saw my dad dropping them, still alive, into a pot of boiling water and they were squealing and bulging their eyes at me. But even though I couldn’t look into the eyes of crayfish, I could still look into the eyes of a regular fish and even enjoy my time by the pond, sitting over a fishing rod.
What made me go vegetarian was a feeling. I started practicing yoga and awareness of body sensations and noticed that, actually, my body didn’t feel quite all right after eating meat. So, I decided to make an experiment. I would decrease the amount of or stop eating entirely those products I wasn’t comfortable with and see what happens. I promised myself not to force it. If I craved for meat, it would be ok for me to eat it, I thought. Vegetarianism was for me just an experiment and nothing else.
Gradually I cut out pork, beef, poultry, seafood and eggs out of my menu and never craved for any of those ingredients for a considerable amount of time. Since I didn’t crave for them, I didn’t enjoy the taste and texture of fake meat either and, by the way, I still cannot.
My parents and friends wondered whether I would survive without meat. How was I going to do without it during my travels or at a party, where everybody eats meat? Well, party was a challenge, I agree, but travels were not. I was pretty comfortable in any part of the world and managed to survive on my meat-less diet everywhere, including Ukraine, Tibet and Mongolia. I didn’t miss anything. My body didn’t crave for anything, except for one thing – a hot dog.
Yes. I made a promise to myself and I broke it. I craved for that piece of processed meat rolled into a sausage for a number of years and didn’t let myself have even a bite of it. Poor girl, you would think, and I would join you.
In fact, with the time I let myself eat eggs and fish again when I felt like I wanted them. Hot dog was something different though. It was processed meat, I told myself, it is nothing else than a heap of flavored nonsense. Better eat that piece of fish or beef if you REALLY crave for something out of an animal. But neither fish not beef were the thing I was craving for.
It is not as desperate as you might think. After eight years of being a vegetarian I did try that coveted hot dog, generously covered with mustard and mayonnaise and ketchup. And what would you think? My craving was gone, as if it was never there! But… in the moment when I succumbed to my temptation, I sold my soul to the devil, so to say. I promised my dear H. that I will try the best food ever during our oncoming trip to Turkey. And that marvelous, heavenly dish straight out of paradise happened to be nothing else but – kokoreç!
“It is not meat,” my dear H., tried to comfort me, “So it doesn’t count.” It isn’t quite meat, I agree. It is a dish made of thoroughly cleaned and then fried sheep’s intestines. I had no craving for meat, let alone intestines, but I made a promise and promises are made to be fulfilled. So, I decided to make the best out of it and make another experiment. Besides, kokoreç was proclaimed the best thing one can ever taste. So, why not taste that piece of heaven?
The best kokoreç is made in Izmir, I was told. So I simply walked past all those kokoreç stalls of Istanbul, while my dear H. was stuffing himself with not so perfect Istanbul kokoreç, “just to prove that it’s, after all, inferior.” I was watching and getting myself ready.
The humiliation of a vegetarian reached its climax after we have spent almost a week in Izmir without trying that damned kokoreç and I started almost begging for it! A sizzling roll of intestines, pepper, salt, herbs, a loaf of bread soft as heaven and I turned into a vegetarian that eats eggs, a bit of fish and… kokoreç, which, mark it, is not meat.
I want to tell that despite the not bad at all taste of fried intestines, it was the right time to stop my experiment and go back to my veggie diet. Spinach and beans and tofu and almonds taste for me now better than ever.
I am still open for meat if I would ever crave for it, but to be frank, I have started thinking about animals. I still eat fish, though once in a while I would feel uneasy, looking into those unmoving eyes that are bulging at me from under a blanket of veggies.