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

The woman’s role

We should mention here that in the area of Turkish cuisine, the woman bore the greatest load. Kitchen is practically synonymous with woman. Both in the villages and the cities, women spend a great amount of their time preparing food. Although in the cities, prepared foods, the canning industry and technological developments have reduced the time women spend in the kitchen, cooking is still woman’s work, and very few men enter the kitchen. Wedding feasts, the mezes to accompany drinking, and food for guests are all the products of women’s labor.

In some villages bread is baked daily. Women wake up before dawn when their husbands are still asleep to knead dough and bake the bread they need for the day. Making fresh bread in time for breakfast is considered one of the village woman’s duties.

In some provinces, women are hired to bake bread. In Van for example, these women are called “keveni” (Türkoğlu 1969). They are paid either with money or other goods such as wood, old clothes etc.

Foods such as kadınbudu köfte (ladies’ thighs meatballs), and sweets such as dilberdudağı(sweetheart’s lips) and hanım göbeği (ladies navels) are reflections of women’s humor into food names. The good taste of food is a measure of a woman’s skill as a housewife. For this reason the expression, “Health to you hand” said in appreciation for a good meal, is a proof of this skill.

D. Regional Variation

Across the various regions of Anatolia there are great differences in types of foods and ingredients used.

In the southeastern provinces, sweets based on dough are very common. Rich flavors such as that of pistachios are very popular here. Highly spiced kebabs are another clear specialty of the region. Other dishes characteristic of the area are kısır (a salad based on fine bulgur), as well as stuffed and raw köfte.

In Western Anatolia foods based on greens are common, and in the Istanbul and Aegean regions, milk-based sweets are plentiful. Fish is dominant in the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Marmara regions. Hazelnuts are used in the preparation of several savory as well as sweet dishes.

In Central and Eastern Anatolia, foods based on dough and grain, rice and baked foods are most common. Olive oil is not popular in Eastern Anatolia. In addition, each region has its own unique dishes which are not found in other regions. For example, the “Humus” of the cities in the Çukurova region is unknown in other areas. “Meftune” is a dish prepared only in Diyarbakır, and nobody makes “çiğ köfte” better than the people of Urfa.

E. Table Manners

One of the traditional behaviors is to eat quickly. In rural areas, the habit is to eat as quickly as possible and get up from the table. In the old days, children were told that “you can tell a person who will be successful by how he eats.” It was believed that the child who ate quickly would be skillful and successful in his work. Another explanation for this is that as everyone ate out of a single plate, there would be nothing left for slow eaters. This may have encouraged quick eating. Another factor was that there was much work to be done in the fields and thus no time to waste eating. Today, country people still eat quickly. Eating and filling the stomach is considered a duty that must be completed as quickly as possible. However in the cities food is eaten more slowly, and more attention is paid to the elements of enjoyment and esthetics. A writer who was observing the Turks between 1552 and 1556 said: “When they take spoon in hand, they eat so quickly that if you disturb them you’d think they are exorcising a devil. One of their good habits is not to talk and entertain themselves while eating. When satisfied, one says “Thanks to God” and gets up to leave his place for someone else.” (Sanz: 1552–56).

In the country, people generally sit on floor pillows, on their knees or cross legged around a round tray known as a sini. Whatever there is to eat, is brought on this tray; foods aren’t brought separately from the kitchen. People eat from a single dish, while in the cities people eat at a table and on separate plates. Nationally, 63.9% of families eat from a common dish placed on the table. 26.1% eat from separate plates (Köksal 1977). In large cities, the proportion of families which eat from separate plates is 70.8%.

When food is eaten from the sini, a cloth is spread on the floor first, and the sini is placed on this, on a round ring or a low stool. In this way the sini is slightly raised. Wooden spoons and yufka (paper thin) bread is set. Generally copper plates and bowls, and pottery is used (Yüce 1967). Among the Oğuz Turks, foods were eaten on a leather spread called a kenderük(Gökyay 1973). Everyone sits around the sini with one leg folded underneath and one bent vertically in front. In this way twelve people can fit around one sini. Cloth napkins are used (Lewis 1973).

Nowadays tables have entered the villages. But villagers still eat on the floor. In the villages, tables are more often used as a status symbol, placed in the corner of the room and decorated with various ornaments. For example, though 45% of families in Hasanoğlan near Ankara had tables, only 3% of them ate off of them; 96.5 of the families ate on the floor (Yasa 1969).

Though through cultural blending tables have entered the villages, it will be a long time before elements of urban culture such as separate plates and glasses, and eating with a knife and fork, will be adopted. The ease of setting out and gathering up a floor cloth, and the way it facilitates togetherness of the family make it more popular than tables. In thegecekondus (houses/neighborhoods built quickly by rural immigrants to the cities), the proportion of people eating from tables is higher (Yasa 1969).

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