Death of a Chili’s

Posted on March 24, 2011



            When you live in a mega city of around 14 million souls, the humanity can sometimes swell up and choke you. This usually happens for my wife and I about once every three or four months, and when it does, we go to Chili’s. All those who have lived for a period of time, without access to Mexican cuisine know the pangs that can hit you when you are struck with the memory of salsa like a bullet through your consciousness.

            So a few days ago , we set out to the last outpost of authentic-y Mexican food on a mission that was threefold: Order a never-ending (great American word) salsa and chips plate, a frozen margarita with actual limes, and expose Omer, our new friend, to some Americana.

           The Istanbul Chili’s is located in Etiler, a posh area of town where I’m told all the celebs live. If you saw the prices, you would know why it could only exist in this neighborhood. But the experience is worth every penny, and it is a real shock to the system. With one bite of salsa and real cilantro, long dead taste buds, like Lazarus, awaken in the tomb of my mouth. And the portion sizes can overwhelm you. Your body remembers the amount that you used to be capable of eating in America, but now you balk at the idea. I read a review of the Chili’s in TimeOut Istanbul, and found it quite hilarious:

“The menu was tested by over 1000 people and adjusted according to feedback; also, the servings have been minimized significantly! The fresh ingredients are supplied from Turkey, while the special sauces and corn (which is native to America) come from the States. The attention to detail here is so over-the-top you’ll have a hard time finding something to complain about. Even the music has been shipped from the states.”

            They actually reduced the portion size! Amazing, I would never have guessed.

            Anyways, for the last leg of an hour long pilgrimage we hailed a taxi. We hopped in the cab and told him our destination. What is it with cabbies? They are horrible at reading social cues. “Will we take this next exit?” is not an invitation to start a discussion. And why can’t they be more like barbers and just make pleasant small talk. The cabbie launched into a discussion with our friend about the dangers of eating pig and many other types of forbidden delights. On the plus side I got to practice my Turkish food vocabulary. It turns out that everything delicious is “haram!” or a sin. If I was in the Garden of Eden and the knowledge of good and evil was held within a bacon tree, I would be kicked out around breakfast time.

            This uncomfortable cab discussion was similar to one we had in New Orleans. Cari and I had just landed and we were full of excitement. We hired an airpost taxi. Unfortunately, before we could begin relaxing we had to undergo a lecture from the cabbie who claimed that Obama was in a conspiracy with the big banks to destroy the American capitalist system, and that Katrina wasn’t really that bad and everything was fine in New Orleans. However, Obama is ginning it up to accomplish some nefarious purpose only he and Satan know about. I managed to change the subject to the weight and girth of his copy of the Bible which was sitting between us. If you have had any similar experiences with crazy cab drivers I would love to hear them. Have you seen this classic YouTube clip of the French cabbie that BBC mistook for an IT expert? Funny stuff.

I love the way he just rolls with it.

            We crested the hill, and the cabbie asked where to drop us off. We said just look for a giant chili. Strangely, I couldn’t see it. I levelled my glance towards the taffrail the left side of the street, foreboding shivers ran over me. Reality outran apprehension, Captain Ahab an empty building stood upon his quarter-deck where the Chili’s used to be.

            We rode on in the cab crestfallen, when a Friday’s suddenly materialized in front of us! The mission was saved. Well, sort of. It turns out that Friday’s is even more expensive and very much inferior to Chili’s. However, one major goal was accomplished. Omer got to experience Americana in a very pure form. I’m talking walls splattered with kitsch and memorabilia. He even had his first look at uniforms with real pieces of flair. The toilet-bowl sized margaritas did not disappoint either eliciting a shocked “Haram!” from Omer upon seeing them. However, I cannot recommend Friday’s to any resident of this city. Not worth it. Still, the experience was beneficial for our friend. He made a few rookie mistakes, but that is to be expected. For instance he dipped his broccoli in the salsa! Now, THAT is haram!