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Elazığ Cuisine and Regional Foods

Ebru Şenocak*

The Turkish people have migrated through many different countries from their original exit from Central Asia up to the present. As they left the horse-nomadic lifestyle and adopted a settled lifestyle, both their traditions and customs as well as their eating habits underwent many changes. Naturally, the geographical characteristics of the regions in which they settled, the cooking traditions of the local peoples and local tastes were cause for this diversification. As an example, we can contrast the mostly vegetable- and fish-based cooking of the Black Sea with that of Central Anatolia, which is based chiefly on grains. Another link in the rich cultural chain of Turkish cuisine is that of Elazığ.

In the cooking of Elazığ, the tasty fish from Hazar Lake hold an important place. Many restaurants have now opened along the Elazığ-Diyarbakır road on the shores of the lake. Restaurants such as Çamlık Restaurant, Turpol Tesisleri, Osman’ın Yeri, Mavi Göl, and Harzo Dayı specialize in fish,but also serve other dishes as well. In addition, Keban Alabalık Tesisleri, a restaurant specializing in trout, is one of the most popular of the fish restaurants.

Another very popular food among the people of the Elazığ region is çiğ köfte, or “raw köfte,” made with raw pounded meat and bulgur mixed with pepper and spices. There are restaurants devoted to çiğ köfte, including Eyvan and Şişko’nun Yeri among others. For local Elazığ grilled meats and other dishes, the best places are Kilis, Altın Şiş, Havuzbaşı, Şelale and Polatlar restaurants, as well as others. One specialty that is available only here and which is included on nearly all these restaurants’ menus is Harput çorbası, a special soup of the nearby city of Harput.

The main foods that come to mind at the mention of Elazığ are its leblebi (roasted chickpeas), orcikli şekeri (walnuts dipped in grape syrup), pestil (mulberry leather), mulberry flour, walnut candy, and Buzbağı wine, as well as stuffed köfte, Harput soup, Harput köfte, patila, sırın, gındık, kellecoş (a dısh of meat and pounded wheat), ışkınlı yumurta (eggs with wild rhubarb, Rheum ribes), dilim dolma and others.

The Arrangement of the Kitchen

Most village houses are two-storied. The kitchen generally opens into the şanşene (living room). In homes with out refrigerators, the foods are sometimes stored in pantries under the house, on shelves within a screened cupboard. Preserved meats and butter are kept in small earthenware vessels, and in larger ones, bulgur, cheese and other foodstuffs1. In some areas, sine if the main winter staples are stored in covered metal canisters with painted lids2. In other areas stones are placed in water flowing from a spring and on top of them the pots of food are placed for storage, protected from spoilage by the cool water3.

In the villages, kitchens are divided into two sections. One section, with benches and cupboards set in the walls, is used for the storage of implements such as washing basin, a chest where infrequently-used pots and pans are kept, table clothes, the hasavan, a large piece of cloth used for collecting mulberries, etc. and another box where frequently-used pots and pans are kept as well as shelves and cupboards for bowls and glasses. In addition there is a screened cupboard and a round grill for cooking food. The plates were washed with water brought from a spring in two separate basins, and pots were scrubbed with sand or clay from the streams. The basin could also be used as a bathing area as well. A small storage area carved into the wall called a taka was generally used for thread, string, underclothes, towels etc. In the other section of the kitchen were large kuşhanas (pots) for water brought from the spring, as well as more screened cupboards and the hearth.

In nearly all houses, the hearth (ocak) is in the kitchen. In some villages the hearth is outside in the garden. In the village of Tepecik, the hearth is known as the paja4. It is made of adobe and stone and in a “C” shape. Iron tongs and a poker are used to place the wood and stir it. Bread is usually made on a sac (a lightly convex griddle) or in a tandır, an oven in the floor. Sometimes wood burning stoves with a cooking surface known as kuzine are used.

Kitchen Implements

Today, many tools used in the kitchens, as well as their names, have either been forgotten or are only very rarely used. For example, although the large villages houses have a paja or hearth, they have been replaced now by natural gas and ranges. For this reason the old flavors of foods have also become uncommon. For example, our elders say that the flavor of foods cooked in copper kettles, coffee prepared over the grill or on a very low flame, the ayran soup cooked on the hearth and even the peppers cooked on the coals had a completely different flavor.

Table Manners

The ways meals were served changed according to whether there were many guests, the wishes of the guests and the daily eating habits of the family.

In general, we can say that there were four different kinds of sofra or food serving arrangements.

a) floor sofra,
b) floor sofra but using a large broad tray on a short support
c) Somat
d) Western-style dining tables (Sunguroğlu 1968:269)ç

In the villages the floor sofra is generally preferred, i.e. a cloth is spread out directly on the floor with the food laid out on it. Eating at a table is not practiced in almost any of the villages. For a floor sofra, specially printed cloths are used. The foods are brought on a broad tray that is set onto the cloth. Forks, spoons and bread are distributed to everyone and the diners sit around the sofra either with their legs crossed or kneeling.

Sometimes guests are presented with a tray containing everything from honey to stuffed grape leaves, or as they say, “with only bird’s milk missing.” These kinds of feasts are known as “Zekeriya Sofrası” or “somat çekme.”

There is a particular etiquette for sitting at the sofra and beginning the meal. An old proverb says, “water to the young and food to the old,” meaning that first the elders must sit and begin the meal. When there is a guest, he is kindly invited to begin first. In large families either the old people or the men sit and eat, followed by the women and children, or the men eat separately from the women and children in another room. The food is usually served by the woman of the house or young girls; in the men’s quarters, the owner of the house. In the villages, a few different types of food are put on a broad tray and everyone eats from the same dish.

As it is considered sinful to talk at the table, nobody speaks. (Today this rule is no longer practiced in most places). At feasts, people do eat during the meal (Taşkın 1997:13).

The meal always starts with the “besmele,” the invocation “Bismillahirrahmanirranim,” or “In the name of Allah the merciful and compassionate.” At the end of the meal, the diners thank God by saying “elhamdulillah” (praise to Allah). Sometimes they also compliment the cook by saying “ellerinize sağlık” (health to your hands), “Allah ziyade etsin, yerini doldursun” (May Allah give you abundance and fill your place), “geçmişlerinize rahmet” (peace upon your deceased/ancestors), or “baban nurda yata” (may your father lie in heavenly light). It is customary to wash one’s hands before and after the meal. It is believed that these practices will increase the abundance of food among the people.

Meal Times

People generally eat three meals a day. However the fast lifestyle and lack of time is gradually doing away with our breakfast cutoms, though it is a very important meal. Our elders always said “Eat well in the morning, and then if you like, eat nothing else.” But today we are doing practically the opposite.

In some places, in Harput in particular, only two meals are eaten per day. The first is in late morning, and the second is in early evening. In addition to these two meals, people often eat fruit or nuts at night (Sunguroğlu 1968:296).

Bread holds an extremely important place at meals. A glance at the variety of breads makes this even clearer. There is a saying that “without bread, I could eat all the food in the world and still I’d be hungry,” and as if to prove it, some people eat bread even with pasta. And one of the best summer foods is bread, watermelon or grapes and cheese. Sometimes our people are happy with hot bread fresh from the oven and roasted peppers.

Summer foods:

We divide the foods in to two types, summer and winter foods.

During the summer we eat a lot of vegetables, especially tomatoes and peppers.

Morning: Breakfast generally consists of cheese, çökelek (a type of curd cheese), butter, olives, honey, kaymak cut in large pieces and topped with sugar, yogurt, yogurt kaymak, oiled bread or yufka spread with butter, kavut (flour toasted in butter), roast pepper, preserves, tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers etc.; and tea to drink. In the old days there was soup (lentil) at breakfast, and large köfte. People rise for morning prayers and go to work in the fields, and the women bring breakfast out at 9:00.

Noon: The midday meal is generally eaten between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. The meal may include beans with meat or olive oil, purslane, söğürtme, güveç, tirit, peppers fried in oil, kavurma and other dishes. Along with the meal there is always ice cold ayran made in the yayık, a churn made from an animal skin. During the summer, the most important dish is ayran soup (cold Harput soup), yayla soup, bulgur with yogurt and gıldırıklı köfte.

Evening: People come back in from the fields at 8:00 p.m. Dinner includes dishes like stuffed köfte, sarma, dilim dolma, Harput köfte, and beans with garlic. There is always a salad and ayran at meals.

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