Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Day 388: Eating Out In Istanbul For 11 Lira

It's common while travelling to encounter scams, and it's something I'm always tuned into. Travelling around Asia with Burness, we ran into a few fairly minor ones. So far, with Danielle, we've not really encountered any. Upon Burness's arrival into Istanbul, we thought we encountered one straight away.

Staying by the ferry ports in Kadikoy on the Asian side, very near our hostel was a large mostly-pedestrianised area of shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. It was packed every evening, with locals and a fair smattering of tourists, and so it was to one of these restaurants that the three of us went on the evening of Burness's arrival into the city. He was keen on kebabs, I was happy to comply, so we found a pleasant-seeming restaurant sprawling round a corner of a block, sitting outside.

Fairly typically for these kind of bar-restaurants, the menu was a laminated one, with the prices written on in marker pen. I guess this makes sense in a country with high inflation and with prices likely to change - it means you can just rub off the numbers and put in new amounts: no need to print a new menu. The drawback of the system, as we found with our menus at this restaurant, is that the prices can get smudged and hard to read. But it wasn't a big deal - most prices were pretty clear, and we could cross-check in the case of uncertainty. Beers were 9 lira (a little less than £3) - a typical price - and most dishes were about 20 lira. But to the delight of Burness and I, the kebabs were all a very reasonable 11 lira. They had a little section to themselves, and all except for the first-listed and oddly more expensive kebab, had the price in pen; even if occasionally smudged, it couldn't be clearer. Danielle too was delighted. She's not a fan of beer, and a Sex On The Beach cocktail was also a very reasonable 11 lira.

Our waiter seemed new, and frankly pretty incompetent. His English wasn't great, although of course good English is neither expected or essential in a Turkish restaurant, but it was more his manner of general incomprehension. With the help of a more senior waiter, he managed to take our order. The food took ages to come - so long we thought our waiter might have dropped his notepad and entirely forgotten about us - but when it did, it was delicious. These were a lot better than your typical street kebab, with some actual culinary flourishes. If I was to draw up a league table of kebabs, it would be right up there, perhaps even in the number one position.

All was good, and with food and beer drank, we got the bill. I immediately spotted the discrepancy - it was almost twice as much as I'd expected. Kebabs were suddenly all 22 lira rather than 11. Danielle's cocktail was 20 lira all of a sudden. The only price that was unchanged was the beers. I called our waiter over to explain that these prices were wrong, but he seemed to barely grasp the situation, insisting the bill was correct. He brought out a menu to show us - suddenly the kebabs were all 22! The cocktail was 20! All suspiciously in clear, unsmudged ink. I was outraged, and insisted that these were not the prices we'd been shown.

He went to get a couple of other menus but upon looking at them didn't bring them to us, instead looking for the more senior waiter. But Danielle was sharp, and collected them. There, in definite ink strokes, were the 11 lira prices. No doubt at all. It appeared - we all agreed - that we had accidentally been given "local" menus, rather than the double-price "tourist" menus. Only the beers were unchanged because their prices are advertised on the restaurant walls.

The more senior waiter arrived, but to our astonishment, he too insisted the bill was correct, in defiance of the menus right in front of us. He kept pointing at prices of 22; we kept pointing at the 11s. The two of them were sniggering a little, which we interpreted as a cheeky "we've been caught out" type of snigger. This had now all gone on for around five minutes and we realised we had the exact money to pay the correct amount, so politely but firmly we told them so, put the right money down, and marched away filled with righteous fury. We got a drink elsewhere and discussed the events, all agreeing we had acted correctly in the blatant face of a scam.


The next day we were having a drink nearby, at another place with a laminated menu. We joked that we better watch the prices, and went to the back page of two menus, both showing prices for nargiles, aka sheesha, aka hubby-bubbly. On the first menu, the top one listed was apple flavour - 16 lira - but all the rest, including double apple, were 11 lira. But on the second menu, the top two were listed at 16, with all the rest 11. And then the penny dropped.



All hubbly-bubbly was 16 lira, the "11" was in fact simple quotation marks to indicate all were the same price. The 11 lira kebabs were actually all supposed to be the same price as the top-listed 22 lira kebab. Danielle's Sex On The Beach must have been the same 20 lira price as whatever cocktail was listed above. The menus and the system was confusing, even seeming misleading to the unsuspecting consumer, but the world had definitely shifted all of a sudden. There had been no scam, only over-suspicious, easily-outraged foreigners, unfamiliar with a menu style. We were mortified.

I'm not sure what the moral of the story is, except: absolutely nothing is certain. And, perhaps, to any Turkish restauranteers: write your numbers a little more clearly.

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