Eating Habits of the Turks
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Eating Habits of the Turks and Their Associated Behaviors

Doç. Dr. Mahmut Tezcan

1. Meats

The Turks’ main meat dishes were yahni, a type of stew, and tutmaç, or meat cooked with strips of dough and yogurt (Kafesoğlu, 1977). Tutmaç was eaten by the Selçuks and in the Ottoman palaces (Sümer, 1972). The most commonly eaten meats include sheep, lamb, goat and chicken, and kebabs are made from all of them. Döner kebap and şiş kebap are now known worldwide. Also köftes (in this context, meatballs), meat pide and various kebabs(grilled/roast meat) are made in different ways according to region. The widespread kebab restaurants in the cities are indicative of the importance of kebab culture, which developed as a necessity of the nomadic lifestyle. The Turks’ centuries of nomadism and animal husbandry paved the way for a kebab culture.

Pastırma and sucuk (cured meat/pastrami and spicy sausage) are also Turkish foods which were created as a necessity of nomadism: as these foods keep for an extremely long time, they were extremely well fitted to the nomadic lifestyle. In addition to pastırma, dried meat and powdered meat were very important in times of war. In this way the Turks discovered the secret of preserving meat for long period (Kafesoğlu, 1977). This preservation technique made it possible to feed a Turkish army of over 300,000 men that set out from Istanbul and arrived at the gates of Vienna. Although there was no refrigeration technology during that period, the ability to keep the army fed no doubt played a role in the success of the Turkish army. The Turks are said to have brought these techniques from Central Asia (Irmak, 1965).

When slaughtering a sheep, we cook not only its meat but its head, feet and even its stomach. Delicious Turkish dishes such as tripe soup, feet, and head are also the result of nomadism. As these nomadic tribes survived by animal husbandry, they became experts at utilizing every part of the animal. In addition to sheep head, the Oğuz tribes also cooked horses’ heads (Gökyay, 1973)

But Turks have also been preserving fresh fruits and vegetables for centuries. The preparation of winter foods is also a necessity of the agricultural economy. Examples of this are the preparations of tomato/pepper paste and pickles. Preparation for winter was the Turkish woman’s most important work. In rural areas especially, the preparation of winter foods served to bring about solidarity, make sure free time was well used, and teach important skills to young women.

Anatolia is the homeland of olive oil. The Hittites and other Anatolian nations knew how to prepare and use this oil. For this reason Anatolia is the birthplace of all the olive oil dishes. Olive oil was also used in religious ceremonies. Grapes have also been an important crop since ancient times, and were made into wine. For this reason, both the olive and the grape were considered sacred.

The Chinese learned to eat oil from the Turks (Kafesoğlu, 1977).

All sorts of vegetables are cooked, either with or without meat. Vegetable dishes cooked with ground meat and water are popular in all parts of Anatolia. Vegetables are more consumed in Western Anatolia.

Another special Turkish food is yogurt, a thick, slightly sour and easily digestible milk product. It is completely a Turkish discovery. The word has spread throughout the world. It is a cultural product of the nomadic lifestyle. With the addition of water, it is one of the Turks’ favorite drinks, ayran. Relaxing under a tree during a hot day in the fields, a villager’s happiness would be complete if there is ayran. Millet with milk, cheese and yogurt were truly the foods of the steppes. A drink called “Li,” made from yogurt sweetened with cherries or apricots, was common among the Huns.

The preparation of food for winter gave rise to the work party tradition among women. In a beautiful expression of societal solidarity, neighbors would help each other in chores such as cutting erişte (homemade noodles), boiling pekmez (molasses from grapes, mulberries or other fruits), making tomato/pepper paste, pickles and tarhana.

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