Kayla’s Travel Journal-Turkey

The Honey Hunt

April 22, 2002
by Kayla Summers

Whilst I was sitting in the shop on the divine Bagdat Caddesi, Kalianna, who is always encouraging me to give up on the elixir of life in Turkey , commonly referred  to as chai, suggested I get some “nettle tea” from an herb and spice store just up the street. I had not been there for a year, and was delighted with the idea of seeing my mild-mannered spice man. Despite our language barrier, I always got all the spices I wanted.  We communicated by pantomime: pointing, gesturing and repeating the name, of the spice, in our own tongues, until some good-natured person, would intervene. As a last resort, we would consult the fabled yellow English/ Turkish dictionary, which rarely had the name of the spice that I wanted. Kalianna, had written the words for “nettle tea”. 

Under that, she wrote the word for honey, “bal”,  and a specific brand , “Anzak”, with a soft disclaimer, sighing, “he may not have it”, since it was rare and very expensive.  Off I went.

Arriving at the shop, I found it delightedly, unchanged, jars and jars of all spices, and herbs, lined the walls, millet strung from the ceiling (for bird owners), peppers, from all over the world suspended likewise, baskets, lining the perimeter of the floor, brimming with loose herbs that I had never heard of and, of course, the mild-mannered spice-man, seemingly happy to see me, physically bracing himself for our ritual. In no time at all, we were back to our pointing and pantomiming, all in good spirits, and then I remembered my mission, pulled out the list of words, pronouncing the “nettle tea”, Isirgan Yapragi”, well enough; he found it, discussed the merits of packets vs. bulk, etc.

Remembering my Turkish, I asked for “bal” (honey), and he showed me a few jars. Not seeing the name Anzak, I referred to the list and said the fatal word: “Anzak”.  He replied softly, “Anzak yok” with a little sigh. At first he was quiet, standing still, head down, as if, ignoring a faux pas.  Since I had not, to my knowledge asked for anything wrong, I thought perhaps the word was mispronounced.  (The accent can be tricky.) I repeated my request, showing him the word, Kalianna had written. He showed me a few more jars, and then unable, to contain himself, any longer, this mild, mannered, spice man went ballistic, repeating, loudly Anzak yok”!Yok” means that which does not exist.

Well, Kalianna, had some, strange requests.  She is, after all, a “born again” Hindi in an, albeit secular, Muslim country.  But, never has she sent me on a mythological mission!  So I repeated, “Anzak yok?” which prompted, a five-minute tirade, all in Turkish, naturally.

Beginning very softly, then getting contemptous, gesturing, at the other honeys as if they were all manure, building his story to a creshendo, almost spitting out the last part and ending sadly again with the words, Anzak, bal yok! (Anzak honey does not exist!)

Realizing, that, for what ever, reason, ‘Anzak bal’, would not be found in this shop today, I looked at the other honeys. There were about a dozen varieties: the viscous, golden, amber fluid, oozing out of the combs onto the wooden boxes containing them.  I settled for a bottle of honey, which he agreed was a good choice and returned to the shop.  Business was brisk until closing, and I never got a chance to tell Kalianna about upsetting, my mild mannered spice-man.

Later that evening, I spent the night at Suzetes, my Turkish lifeline after the children were put to bed. We sat around drinking the exquisite Turkish coffee. I remembered my nettle tea purchase, replaying the event for possible enlightnment. Suzete, smiled a sad, sort of smile, saying  Kalianna, did not tell you?.... Maybe, she does not know....Anzak bal yok”.   She murmmured, “Yes, well, I read about it, a while ago in the Gazette,” and related the story of Anzak.

It seems there is a little village or Koy” in Turkey , called, Anzak, a very arid mountainous region. They are, as you might guess, famous for their honey. The villagers would have to climb these mountains finishing their arduous journey with ladders, to get to the hives (due to the, extremely difficult and dangerous conditions to obtain the honey and a limited supply of bees).  The honey was always in short supply, apparently used for medicinal reasons, and it had proven to be toxic if too much was taken, and, yes, very expensive!

Suzette reminded me of an old woman I had met earlier. A few years ago, the old woman’s, daughter, had purchased some of the fabled Anzak honey for her mother, who, as little old ladies will, began nibbling and nibbling at the honey.   A few tablespoons, was all she ate, but hours later, she became very ill, and had to be taken to the hospital.

She did recover. I have no idea what the toxin is, nor the remedy for it, but it is known throughout Turkey for its value and toxic effects. When the advent of the health-food industry grew throughout the capitalistic countries, the desire for Anzak bal” rose. Well, you know supply and demand theories: the price began to rise dramatically, but the supply end could not be budged...the honey, was still very difficult to get. They could do nothing about that, for the bees, would only bee…(heh heh) wherever, they liked  and that was far, far away from man.

So the founding fathers thought and thought, what could they do? How could they, increase the supply of honey? More honey meant more money. There were only so many bees, life was hard, and they did not seem to increase their population, despite whatever efforts were made to encourage them.

 Someone had an incredible idea! What if they brought in another variety of bee that could withstand the climate and get friendly with the Anzak bees, that would mean, more bees, more hives, more honey and yes, yes, more money for all!

So without too much consultation, from “bee-ologists” on the ramifications of mixing the mix, and worse still, no “tertiary plan”, the founding fathers settled on some “X  bees.  Lo and behold! It was a dream come true.  The bees got along famously! More hives  were created, and for a time, there was more honey, and everybody was happy. Until the villagers, and more importantly, the customers, noted the honey was not quite the same.  It tasted different, but no real problem, honey is, after all, delicious.... But the medicinal people noted, the honey did not have the desired effect it used to have. It was no longer strong, no longer toxic, and after empirical lab tests were performed, it was noted that it was no longer, ‘Anzak honey’.

And now, there are no longer, any real Anzak bees. That is how Anzak ball” became Anzak bal yok”.

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