When I was five we lived in Istanbul. For the first 6 months we stayed in the Hilton hotel. Living in a hotel is luxurious. No housework; the maid will do it. Never cook; just ring for room service. All very civilised.
There were 5 of us spread across our corner suite and although we had extra rooms, cabin fever soon set in. We had some toys but most of our stuff was in storage. During the day our floor was generally empty and I’d race up and down the halls playing made-up games with imaginary friends.
Food was a contentious issue. When you live in a hotel it doesn’t take long to exhaust the menu. As children we quickly got sick of the rich 5 star meals. We just wanted Heinz Baked Beans on toast. Brats.
Every day we’d walk past the hotel shop and every day the lady that ran it would wave and beckon for us to come to her. When we did she always offered us free Turkish Delight. The first time she did this I was delighted at being offered sweets and stuffed it in my mouth without a second thought. That’s when I learned that I didn’t like authentic Turkish Delight. I still don’t. After that I clearly remember avoiding her gaze for fear she’d give me some and expect me to eat it there and then.
Bored of the hotel food occasionally we’d cheat on the Hilton with the Sheraton, which was a short walk away. Their menu was different and therefore tremendously exciting. The highlight of dinner was always the hot fudge sundaes but the real treat for me was on the walk back “home”.
We’d always pass the same man on the street selling roasted chestnuts. My dad loved these and would usually buy a bag for himself. One evening he let me try one and I was instantly hooked. And so it became our little tradition. I’ve totally romanticised the whole thing. With my breath visible in the cold air, walking in the dark, the only light from the street lights and passing car headlamps, I would hold the hot little paper bag in my gloved hands, the heat warming them and we’d walk and eat our roasted chestnuts together. It was our thing, just my dad and me.
When we left Turkey I never ate roasted chestnuts again. I don’t know why. They weren’t something my mum ever cooked for Christmas and I kind of forgot all about them. Then a couple of weeks ago I came across these in the supermarket.
They come in a foil packet, washed, cooked and ready to eat. I put a handful in a bowl and heated them for a few seconds in the microwave. The first bite transported me back. Delicious!
No slicing or peeling or roasting required! WHY did I wait 33 years?!