On the train back from Selçuk to Izmir we begin to debate. “I really need some,” my friend Kamini says. She brings up the map on her phone, tracing a potential route with her index finger. “Well, if we get off at the station, take this metro, and then walk till there we could get to the Kemeralti Bazaar.” I open the paper map in front of me. It looks like the route could take ages. “But it would be totally worth it,” I say. It’s almost evening and we have just spent hours on our feet perusing Roman ruins on a 37° day. Our bodies are slumped on the train seats, our esophagi dry, our minds focused on that one thing. We haven’t had our full daily fix yet.
In Turkey there is something that is cheap, easily available on the streets and provides a neural symphony of euphoria. Crack cocaine. I joke. I mean juice. Or as the Turkish seem to call it: vitamin.
You have probably heard plenty about Turkey by now, a partly-Mediterranean country of monuments, mosques, ruins and hüzün —that Pamukian, lingering melancholia. You may have heard of raki, Turkish coffee, and those wonderfully flavoursome cups of çay (chai). But you have probably not heard about the juice.
It might be odd to write Homerically of pulverised fruit served in a plastic glass with a straw through it, but hear me out. It’s multi-coloured. It’s cold. It sometimes costs just one lira. There is the ubiquitous orange, or portakal, a single note classic, but a giant of the juice canon. There is the greyfurt, the grapefruit. There is the portakal and greyfurt duet, a flavoursome punch of sweet-sour-sweet. There is the apple, the melon and the pomegranate. I could call these garden-variety options, but I wouldn’t think to insult the gardens that produce them. Turkish fruits are obscenely flavourful. When they come together, it feels like black magic.
Before going to Selçuk and Izmir, I had my first juice in Istanbul, ambling down the pedestrian-only road that unfurls from Taksim Square to the edge of the Bosphorus Strait. There is a very real danger of being sucked into the souvenir shops where nazar beads, nazar magnets and nazar key rings make eyes at you. But after stopping for my first glass of juice, I have eyes only for the vitamin shops on the other side of the road. Their front ends heave under partially cut orbs of oranges and melons, intricately patterned pomegranates, and globes of watermelons containing the promise of a good time. Their ceilings are jammed with dangling pictures of fruits and prices. “2 liras! 2.5 liras! 3 liras!”
Turkey produces over 17.2 million tonnes of fresh fruit yearly, including varieties that grow in both tropical and temperate climes—the commercial juice industry went from exporting six tonnes of fruit juices and concentrates in 1970, to about 130 tonnes in 2012. It’s no wonder that high-quality fresh juice is also freely available in restaurants, cafés and stand-alone stalls.
Often it’s simply the greed of seeing a vitamin stall that prompts an order, or three—because juice is an aesthetic, not a digestive need. On a winding street that forms the axis through the Kemeralti Bazaar of Izmir, there is no other reason for stopping three times on the way to the ocean. At Vitaminci Hane, the lady glumly waits as we teeter between options, wanting to taste everything at once. Kamini picks Tropikal (kiwi, apple, orange, pineapple, and a kind of melon), I go with the strawberry-mulberry-pomegranate-blackberry mixture, also known as Doping. That’s not the only winning name on the catalogue. There is the Tsunami (banana, milk, honey), Gökkuşağı or rainbow (blackberry, mango, banana), and the orange-melon-apple-carrot-I-lost-count combo called Atom, a bomb of a drink. By the time I return to Mumbai I would have loaded up on Vitamins A, C, K and D. I have not seen this kind of a fresh-juice culture—one that is not limited to one city—anywhere in India, or even Europe. It is, perhaps, amplified here by the needs of summer.
At a small café outside the railway station in Selçuk on a Friday evening, the square is spilling over with people. Mostly older gents nursing cigarettes, coffee and conversations, and we are perhaps among the few—if not the only two women in sight. The big screens have the Brazil-Mexico World Cup match on, and we sit down at a place that is showing us the football game but also has a juice game.
To be honest, it’s only got the portakal, but this will do for now. Knives are sharpened; hemispheres are diced up and plunged face down into the metallic knob of the juicer. Kamini looks at me wistfully. “Do you think I could buy one of these to take home with me?” she asks. Together we appraise the heavy metal, make a half-hearted attempt at lifting it, and conclude that this will probably outstrip the baggage limit.
Once back in Istanbul, before heading to the airport I need to get rid of four liras. But around me is juice worth five or more. Finally I walk up to the first stall I find near the Nuruosmaniye Mosque and hesitantly point to the portakal sign with five on it. “But I have four,” I say, in a combination of English and baleful self-pity. The man in charge sighs and directs me to the counter anyway. “It’s okay,” he says. A few minutes later he hands me something tall, cold and orange.
Reader, hüzün is a scam. If it is possible to buy joy in a plastic cup at any street corner how can this be a city of cultivated gloom?