Mangal, its the hip new thing sweeping the ‘dağ. Rather than holding classes, my colleagues and our students have made dates to meet in the forest next to the university for mangal, or BBQ. With the temps up around 25 (75F) outside, our jail-cell classrooms are sweltering, and students have resolved to halt any and all learning until after the summer break. With only a few days left before exams, us teachers are at least as wiped as the kids, and we’re weak in the face of a class full of students promising charcoal-grilled chicken and fresh çoban salata.
I first fell victim to B-6’s scheming, and with my colleague Seda, we decided to cancel afternoon classes to provide ample time to relax under the shade of the trees, play jumprope and build fires. We met the students outside of the Maxi supermarket where our students had procured the worlds creepiest, if not largest van. 14 of us piled in.
We barreled down the highway, pulling a u-ey in the middle to dart down into the forest entrance. Smushed up against my students, with one (luckily female) wedged up against my chest, I felt my credibility collapsing around me. My fragile façade of serious-teacherness was totally abandoned, not that any of them had fallen for it before…
We piled out and the gender roles took over. The girls started chopping up the cucumbers, tomatos and onions for salad. Another whipped up a maranade for the chicken wings. While yet others laid out the various snacks meant to hold us over until the meat could be prepared. The boys set out for kindling for the grill, a little concrete box in the ground. They swept out the old ashes and piled up little sticks, dry pine needles, picking thicker branches and breaking them for later.
Seda and I, the guests of honor sat and watched the scene snacking: her on leblebi and I on roasted peanuts.
The girls had their task down and were quickly finished. They set up jumprope (yes, my students are 20.) The boys were having a significantly more difficult time with their gender-assigned task. Each time the fire began burning, they would dump enormous amounts of branches and leaves on the mess, hoping to build it up, but each and every time they smothered the smoldering pile. After watching this happen 2 times, with my stomach growling in anger, I finally stepped in.
Having grown up on Massachusetts’s South Shore, spending my summers BBQ-ing with friends and family, and in a house with three fireplaces yet no central heating I’m a bit of a fire-building champ. Whether in a firepit, in a fireplace, in an old-fashioned stove I can get one going.
One thing I have learned about a BBQ fire from my father is that the coals must be hot. The quality of the fire has little to do with its size, but everything to do with the heat it throws. Eying the raw chicken wings sitting in the sun, heat was exactly what we all needed if we hoped to escape the day without a serious case of salmonella.
After building a teepee with branches and slowly adding wood, I kept the overzealous pyros away from the pile until the larger wood had caught. In about 20 minutes the coals were hot enough to cook the food. The guys seemed little interested in learning about building a proper fire, especially from their lunatic foreign langauge teacher, but who knows, maybe one or two paid attention.
In any case we chowed like champs, and I got my first taste of the oft lauded Turkish mangal. I’ve got a date this evening with one last class to char some chicken on my last day as an instructor here at NKU. Bittersweet? Nah, smoke-infused meat is just what I want to celebrate the end to what has been an… interesting year.