Bath TIme

January 27th, 2011

The recent trend in food is conceptualizing our dining experience. At O.Noir in Montreal, customers eat their entire meal in the pitch dark. Eating out has become an experience. And perhaps with Hamam Zamani, the trend has gone too far. Hamam Zamani (Turkish for Bath Time), a new Turkish restaurant on Dorchester, was converted from one of Montreal’s oldest Turkish bath houses. Originally built in 1911, the building has been faithfully restored by the restaurant’s owners who are seeking to create a “unique experience”. The “tables” are in fact enormous concrete slabs large enough for two dozen people to sit around. We marvelled at the décor and the undeniable authenticity. Folded towels were being handed out for us to sit on. The table clothes were also towels. Oh and the napkins—hand towels.

After the waiters had taken our orders, a large man emerged (asked to be regarded as the tellak), he then climbed onto our table to begin the process of washing and massaging the meat that would then be served to us. Suddenly, I felt the room getting hotter and I began to sweat. Then the tellak began to sweat. And his hands and his meats began to sweat. The waiter I think sensed our confusion and told us that the heat helps tenderize the meat. Then they served us a refreshing appetizer of eggplant and peppers with yogurt and sheep’s cheese and we ate as we watched the tellak prepare our now perspiring meats.

Our entrees arrived on kebabs and we were encouraged to hit with our hands. Another couple asked for cutlery and they were met with faint sarcasm. Suddenly the temperature was raised even higher. I looked to my neighbours. The sweat and the greasy meat on my fingers made me hate them. I wanted to stab them with my kebab prong. Studying their opened seeping pores, their gungy rabid eyes, I could tell they hated me too. What was Hamam Zumani doing to us? We had become animals, vagrants. At any moment, we could have erupted into an Eastern Promises style fist fight. Is this what Hamam Zumani had intended?

Suddenly, we tumbled onto Dorchester street, remembering only portions of our night together. But the parts that can be remembered will not soon be forgotten.

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