It only took me three stores and a possible cultural faux pas to get them, but the pickled turnips have been acquired and I’m well on my way toward making my own Middle Eastern food at home.
It took more than a little coaxing to get Mr. CPQ to try them, and he choked, sputtered, gagged, said something about this is how terrorists are made let’s just say that he didn’t appreciate them as much as I did, but this is also the man who thinks Spam is a delicacy so please take his reaction with a grain of sodium nitrate.
The store that had them was near NC State’s campus in a shopping center that also contained an Ethiopian restaurant and a hookah bar, so let’s just say my lily white English-speaking self might have been a little conspicuous, but I was on a mission and didn’t let a little minority status stand in the way of food nirvana.
After about .6 seconds in the store I realized that my two years of high school French weren’t going to get me very far with the monolingual Arabic man behind the counter who seemed concerned to see me with an uncovered head and unaccompanied by a male, but this is America and I had fresh highlights that I paid too much for to hide so I just flashed a winning smile and kept saying “turnips” slowly, loudly and repeatedly until we managed to find a jar.
It was not unlike when I was living in Little Rock right out of college and my friend Robin and I saved our money and drove to Memphis for a girl’s weekend and on the spur of the moment decided to get a massage at the spa in the hotel where we were staying. The therapist was Russian and the only word I knew in Russian was “Perestroika” and all he could say was “Reagan” which he said over and over and loudly and that has absolutely nothing to do with this story except for it just flashed in my head as I was typing and, wow, did I think I had arrived at the ripe old age of 22 by getting a massage in a strip mall Howard Johnson’s Hotel with a stunning view of the interstate.
The shop keeper asked me what I was going to eat with the turnips and when I told him, his eyes lit up and he proceeded to tell me about the right kind of chickpeas to use and how long to boil them and between his broken English and a little translation help from another customer, he managed to give me a recipe that sounds delicious and also invited me to come back sometime to taste their lamb.
It was a beautiful sight; an American girl and a Muslim man, bonding over food.
Our own little perestroika moment.
Peace. Love. Falaffel.
Have a nice day.