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

4. Drinks

Water is sacred. It is especially drunk at meals. The tradition of richly decorated fountains, or çeşme, reflects the important place of water in the Turkish mind.

Turkish coffee, made with powdered coffee beans, is an indispensable and popular drink of coffee houses, traditionally served to guests

Tea is another beloved hot drink, common throughout the country. In Erzurum tea is drink by the glass, without sugar. Tea is the main drink served in coffeehouses.

Other popular drinks are Ayran (yogurt mixed with water), şira (lightly fermented and spiced grape juice), lemonade, sherbets (fruit drinks) and various fruit syrups which are mixed with water, boza (a fermented drink made from boiled, sieved and sweetened millet or bulgur), and salep (a hot winter drink made with milk or water, thickened with a starch obtained from the tubers of certain orchid plants). Boza was made by the Oğuz Turks as well.

Hoşafs, or cold compotes, are made from raisins, apples, plums, and sour cherries as well as other fruits.

The term çerez includes all nuts and dry or nut-like snacks such as peanuts, roasted chickpeas, hazelnuts and parched corn but also raisins, dried mulberries etc. An important part of Turkish food culture, they are also known as kuruyemiş or “dry nuts and berries.”

5. Alcoholic drinks

The alcoholic drink of the old Turks was kimiz (kumiss). Made from mare’s milk, it was slightly astringent, like the flavor of not-quite-ripe cornelian cherries. This drink was entirely a Turkish invention (Gökyay 1973). Prof. W. Eberhard writes, “We can say that wherever kumiss is drunk, Turks dwelled.” Kumiss is not drunk only for enjoyment but also as a cure for certain diseases such as tuberculosis.

Other traditional Turkish alcoholic drinks are rakı and wine. The Göktürks made a type of alcoholic beverage called “beğni” out of wheat and millet (Kafesoğlu 1977). When alcohol is drunk, care is taken that there is much variety on the table, and from developed the culture of meze, small dishes eaten along with alcoholic drinks. Meze, which may consist of various spicy foods, melon, cheese, dishes prepared with olive oil, grilled meats and nuts/dried fruits are prepared with great taste and carefully placed on the table. Drinks and meze are accompanied by hours of friendly conversation, song, music. A separate meyhane (tavern) music developed, which has now been much replaced by “arabesk.” Getting a little “lit” is one of the greatest pleasure of Turkish men.

Typically at a table of drinks and meze, one drinks till he gets drunk. We basically drink to get drunk; it’s expected to drink until you no longer recognize yourself. For this reason, a bottle of rakı or other alcohol is drained to the last drop; one who drinks little is scorned and accused of “not being a man.”

B. Influence from Other Cultures

Turkish food has both influenced and been influenced by other peoples; this is a reciprocal relationship. The foods, cooking utensils, fruits and nuts, plants etc. are not only the invention of Anatolian peoples; they were also influenced by neighboring nations. Several types of food, nuts and alcoholic beverages arrived via this neighborly relationship, and most were adopted by the peoples of Anatolia. Characterizing the foods of Anatolia as “Byzantine Cuisine,” as several western research institutions have done, is completely mistaken (Eyüboğlu 1981). Research shows that most of our foods were present long before the Christian faith began to spread through Anatolia (Eyüboğlu 1981). What Europeans fondly call “Byzantine” cuisine is actually Anatolian cuisine. The foods of Anatolia have undergone a constant development from ancient times to the present and increased in variety.

Researchers state that our cuisine has been very little influenced by Asia (Eyüboğlu 1981). What influences exist are mostly in the area of kebab, yogurt and milk. The Asian Turks’ culinary skills were so little that they could almost be called nonexistent; they also had few utensils such as pots and pans. Records show that the plants used in making bread in Anatolia today were known to the Hittites (Eyüboğlu 1981). For example, the Hittites were familiar with beans. Another important fact is that many names for foods used in Anatolia today do not exist in Asian Turkic languages (Eyüboğlu 1981). Examples of these are pırasa(leeks), marul (lettuce), biber (pepper), patlıcan (eggplant/aubergine), pancar (beet), fasulye(beans), şeftali (peach), armut (pear), kiraz (cherry), fındık (hazelnut), ceviz (walnut),ıspanak (spinach) and bezelye (peas).

C. Differentiation According to Economic Class

Eating habits also are different according to families’ socio-economic class. The level of food consumption increases with income. For example, a nationwide study indicated that as income increases the amount of bread and other wheat products decreases, and more rice is consumed (Köksal 1977). However there are regions, especially in rural areas, where differing socio-economic level does not affect eating habits. For example, it is interesting that research conducted among the villages of the Muş region showed little significant difference in the quality of foods consumed between poor and wealthy families. The lack of difference between the eating habits of such families can be explained by the fact that eating is tradition-bound. Carbohydrate-rich foodstuffs (grains) tend to be sufficiently by village groups as well as in both rich and poor people. In contrast to this, protein and especially protein of animal origin is much lower than normal, which can lead to an imbalanced diet (Yıldırak 1974).

Historically, this socio-economic differentiation was expressed as a dichotomy between the saray mutfağı (palace cuisine) which originated in the palaces and mansions in the Ottoman capitol and large cities, and the local folk cuisine. From the standpoint of variety, the culinary traditions of the palaces, mansions and yalıs (seaside mansions) were extremely rich, and maintained this wealth through banquets. However the folk cooking was simpler.

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