I’ll admit it. I don’t like baked potatoes. Usually haphazardly slapped next to a steak, the dry brown orbs seem better equipped for a game of catch in the backyard than a place on my dinner plate. Surely the simplest way to prepare a potato, but there was always something missing. Flavor perhaps? That’s a pretty big thing to be missing. Loaded with sour cream, butter, chives and if I’m lucky, cheese and bacon, the potato seemed to just be a carrying device for the fatty toppings piled on top of it.
When my mother said we were having potatoes with dinner, my fingers were always secretly crossed that she wasn’t making baked potatoes. Home fries, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes; anything but baked. As a child, I remember taking the baked potato completely out of its skin and mashing it on my plate with butter and sour cream, certainly creating a mess along the way. Maybe my parents thought it was my budding culinary skills, but I think I was just hinting that mashed potatoes are a hell of a lot better.
Or so I thought until coming to Turkey and eating the behemoth Kumpir. Somehow, the Turks have found a way to grow a potato the size of a small child, roast it, split it and stuff it with toppings I hardly thought belonged in the middle of a potato. Though Kumpir can be found throughout the city, the seaside neighborhood of Ortaköy is the place to go. It is also home to some of the most exclusive clubs and lounges in the city, so it seems like a strange place to specialize in baked potatoes. Nothing like scantily-clad, celebrity-filled dancing to work off those carbs I guess.
And oh boy, were there carbs. First the potato is picked from the special oven and split down the middle. Then the insides are mixed together with cheese and butter to create a smooth, mashed potato inside, (See, I had the right idea as a child). Then the fun part begins. On this particular potato, I went for green and black olives, corn, peas, sosis (Turkey’s pork-free version of a hot dog), relish, pickled beets, couscous, mayonnaise, yogurt and chili sauce. I also opted for a dollop of American Salad, which I have never seen in America before. It’s mostly peas, carrots, cucumbers, eggs and more sosis mixed with mayo. It’s also called Russian salad at some places, but communist resentment led many to call it American Salad instead. Nothing like a little politics with your potato.
Kumpir is one of those foods that you never think you will finish, until you do. And despite the fact that the toppings brought the meal to at least one kilo, you will finish it. Some people share them, but that’s only okay if you plan on ordering one of the overstuffed waffles after.
Under the shadow of the Bosphorus Bridge, the waterfront is filled with people eating these overstuffed potatoes. There is other food available in Ortaköy, but why bother? You know what they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. And here, they eat potatoes.