Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Six Months in. . . #5
TURKISH COFFEE FLOWS THROUGH MY VEINS
The font used above is supposed to approximate the level of caffeine in my body at all times. Between roaming packs of street dogs, scooters, traffic madness, and Roma children, living in Macedonia requires an extremely high degree of awareness of your surroundings. Survival in Skopje means that you need to be able to walk arm-in-arm with someone down a sidewalk, dodging potholes, parked cars, and moving cars, smoking a cigarette with one hand, texting on the phone with the other, and hissing at street dogs while still holding a conversation. This is only possible with Turkish coffee.
Turkish coffee is common throughout the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East (although in Greece, it's known as Greek coffee - kafe hellenikos - but don't let them fool you), spread by the Ottoman Empire. It's somewhat similar to 'cowboy coffee', in that you boil the the grounds directly in the water, as seen in the disastrous picture above. Unlike American filter coffee, though, the coffee is ground down to a powder. After bringing the water to a boil, the coffee foams up at the top and spills all over the stove, which after six months leaves a light dusting of coffee over all the surfaces of your apartment. That's not necessarily the traditional way to prepare it, but such things happen. After pouring the coffee, the grounds settle at the bottom in a sort of sludge, and you drink the delicious, delicious liquid energy off the top.
Whenever Macedonians have guests - especially in the villages - they always prepare Turkish coffee. It's a very social drink, and Macedonians can sit on a cup for hours, smoking and gossiping. As an American, I drink it like a weak cup of Folger's, and buzz right through two or three cups in the same amount of time. It's often difficult to find Turkish coffee in the trendier, "European" cafes on the square or the pedestrian street. They serve the typical run of espressos and capuccinos, and view Turkish coffee as a sort of backwards, village drink - despite the fact that everyone drinks it anyway.
Needless to say, it's very, very strong. And if you take it without sugar, you'll impress all the older folks. My best advice, though, would be not to even start down that road. Ask for tea instead, becuase once you start drinking Turkish coffee, it's impossible to function without it.