My Pork Hunt

When I lived in Istanbul, I  smuggled substances into the country. I practiced my nonchalant face in the mirror, coolly handed over my suitcase at check-in and tried not to look nervous at the customs declaration point at Sabiha Gökchen. What would they have done if they’d found it?

Sausage smuggling.

No, it’s not a euphemism.

What began as one little pack of bacon, buried in my case on the return leg of a trip to the UK, turned into a fully fledged operation. Realising bacon could actually be obtained there with not too much trouble, if you knew where to look, my bags went home half empty and came back crammed with slices of spiced deli ham and herby sausages.

My freezer was stocked with cling film wrapped, one meal sized portions as I rationed it out until the next supplier/visiting family member arrived. Torn between wanting to share the glory of the British Banger and hoarding it all for myself, I very occasionally allowed a special dinner guest one sausage or a slice of ham. Only one though.

I probably ate pork products more when I lived there than I ever did when they were freely available. Like anything forbidden or hard to get, it can become an obsession, so, when I was let into the secret of Turkey’s only pork (domüz) butcher, maybe I  started the recovery process by sharing the information in this article which ran in Time Out Istanbul in March 2008.

Kozma Kozmaoğlu’s** unnamed deli was hard to find even with directions. For 30 years it has hidden near Bilgi university’s Kasımpaşa campus, next to the shell petrol station. The shop clearly caters to foreigners with its French mustard, Asian noodles, Swiss cheese and Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce, but it’s none of these things that are the main draw. Prosciutto, salami, Hungarian sausage, frankfurters, boiled hams, pork chops, bacon, smoked bacon, pancetta, what makes the place such an Aladdin’s cave is that none of it (except the parma ham) is imported.

Bred on farms in suburbs near Izmir and Antalya, the animals are as rare in Turkey as snow leopards in Mongolia, and much tastier. In 2008, only 2 or 3 pig farms remain of the 26 there were prior to AKP coming into power in fact. It is not surprising that, in a Muslim country, there’s not much call for pig rearing as consuming the meat is expressly forbidden by the Qu’ran and it is almost unanimously considered to be parasite ridden, filthy and associated with low morality.

The urban myth that diet coke poured on a raw pork steak will bring the worms inside crawling to the surface strikes as fearful a blow to the drink as the meat. Or it would if it were true. Loathe to part with a piece of my precious hog flesh, I refrained from replicating the experiment but, even if it were true, no-one advocates eating raw pork anyway. Thanks to progress in hygiene and disease control in swine, parasites like trichinosis are no longer the threat they must have been in Biblical times. As long as it is exposed to hot enough temperatures (160 °F) and cooked all the way through, pork is as safe as any other meat. Modern religions would have to ban beef and chicken after Mad Cow Disease and Salmonella if they were concocting similar Food Commandments today.

The logical arguments for pork’s inclusion in a diet fall on deaf ears when a person believes the animal to be as repellent as most people might find rats. Pigs are believed by some to be dirty animals that eat their own excreta. Mr Kozmaoğlu, dismissed this as lies, although, he said, chickens do dine at home.

Pigs as scavengers will eat anything if forced to, as will goats but, properly fed livestock in clean conditions go for the same “Hmmm, waste for lunch?” choice that humans would. Ultimately though, the disgust instinct is triggered early in life and a deep seated belief in the vileness of an animal is not easily overcome. If a butcher were to present me with the highest grade of cured rodent, it is unlikely I would find myself reaching for the mustard and tucking in.
Anti-pork propagandists point to the pig’s shamelessness and wife swapping as another reason to abstain from ham with your eggs. Apparently, pigs show no jealousy and pass their mate around their friends, probably so they can chow down on sewage in peace. Countries that consume pork also happen to be those with high teenage birth rates, single mothers, sexual licentiousness, and promiscuity.

Someone obviously needs to explain Anthropomorphism and the difference between Cause and Effect but, who says jealousy is the noblest of human emotions?
Asked what positive character traits he has observed in his pigs, Mr Kozmaoğlu, pointed to their friendliness. Opting not to dwell on this as I picked out my ham and salivate over the almost English-esque sausages secreted in the back fridge, I preferred to think of the pig as generous.

Thank you.

** I can’t work out from the internet if this shop has managed to survive the AKP’s tightening grip on all things unIslamic so if it’s still there, it’s here:

Kozma Kozmaoğlu
Dereboyu Caddesi
Katermli Sok. No 6/8
Y. Şehir/ Beyoğlu
0212 235 7865
Open daily, except Sundays

The interviews below were 100% not made up. I couldn’t have made it up and had them been funnier. Well meant, but ridiculous really. Pig fat…mmmm.

TOİST: Have you ever eaten pork?
Informed:Ne?
TOİST: Pig meat.
Informed: Ugh! No!
TOİST: Would you eat it?
Informed: Disgusting! No, never!
TOİST: Why not?
Informed: I am Muslim.
TOİST:Yes, but why wouldn’t you eat pork?
Informed: It eats its own dirt.
TOİST: How do you know that?
Informed: I read it somewhere

TOİST: Have you ever eaten pork?
Inexperienced: No, I don’t like it.

TOİST: Have you ever eaten pork?
Experienced: Yes, in England at Christmas.
TOİST: How was it?
Experienced: It’s OK but I felt bad when I ate it.
TOİST: Bad how?
Experienced: Bad reputation, dirty.
TOİST: No, how did you feel?
Experienced: I couldn’t enjoy it because of its reputation.

TOİST: Have you ever eaten pork?
Free-thinker: No, it’s a dirty animal; it eats its own shit.
TOİST: Actually that’s not true, people just have the wrong information.
Free-thinker: I can read your article and it will be the true information but nothing changes my mind about eating it.
TOİST: That’s very open-minded of you.
Free-thinker: I am always open-minded.

 

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3 responses to “My Pork Hunt

  1. Pingback: Behind My Pork Hunt | Istanbul Restaurant Reviews

  2. do you have the name of the place? I do want to find a place to eat decent pork in Istanbul

  3. Only the address I posted above at the end of the article. It might well no be there any longer as the laws have tightened up considerably and he was already being squeezed out as they restricted licences on his pig farms in the south of Turkey. Let me know if you find it!

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