24 Jun



These are “erik,” plums, or “can erik,” as some people call them (“life” or “soul” plums?).  They’re not a particular type of green plum.  They are just completely unripe, green ones and for a couple of weeks in June Turks go mad for them.  They must be the small fruit culled off the trees so that the more promising ones can grow to full ripeness and size.  I think they’re probably the kind of plum that the Japanese pickle and are so delicious with saké.  You don’t wait for them to ripen or anything.  You eat them in all their incredible, sour, mouth-puckering glory.  They remind me of the unripe krana we used to eat in my village.

Every time I’m here I discover some new quirk in the sophistication of Turks’ aesthetic sensibility that surprises me and fills me with wonder.

I was at the bar at the Hilton the other night.  Full confession: I love the Istanbul Hilton; of all the hotels built on that ridge and gulley between Ayaz Paşa and Maçka — one of the most abused pieces of Istanbul real estate — it’s the only one that respects the terrain; it’s a modernist classic; the engagement party scene from The Museum of Innocence segment that takes place there ranks right up there for me with most the brilliant ballroom/party scenes in War and Peace and Lampedusa’s The Leopard; and I have very emotional memories of staying there with my father once in 1983.

I was sitting there at the bar one night and the bartender brought a middle-aged British couple sitting next to me a bowl of these plums.  They each bit into one and looked at each other with their faces twisted into shock at the sheer unexpected sourness of them.  The woman said: “This can’t be right; they don’t really eat these, do they?”  I looked over and nodded.  “What? You mean, like this,” she said to me, “Completely raw and unripe?”  I nodded. They actually each gave them a few more tries and then gave up.  “Interesting…”she said to me and smiled.  I nodded.

Apparently for Queens readers, they’re available in Sunnyside markets these days too.


Vintage photo of the Istanbul Hilton.  Just once glance over to the Asian side.  Now nearly impossible to believe the City actually ever looked like this.

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