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The Dietary Culture of the Turks of Western Thrace, Past to Present
Vahide Kalyoncu

From 9:00 to 11:00, housewives get together with friends and neighbors and drink Turkish coffee, usually accompanied with some food such as cookies or börek. Passionate about Turkish coffee, the Turks of Western Thrace (Greece) say, “Sometimes we even put the cezve on the fire as soon as we wake up in the morning, and drink a hot coffee on an empty stomach.” There are people who drink seven or eight cups a day.

Lunch is the most important meal, and lasts from 2:30-3:30 p.m. In Western Thrace, people work a half a day followed by a siesta. The meal generally consists of a single main dish, along with other foods that may include soup, some legume with meat, vegetables with meat, dolma/sarma, pasta, a baked goods, yogurt, pickles, salad and fruit. It is notable that people consume little bread in proportion to other foods.

Meals are eaten either on the floor, from a tray placed on a cloth spread on the floor, or at a table. In the western areas and especially at ceremonies such as weddings and readings of the mevlit, food is brought to the tables in a single dish. Spoons are more used than forks. As food is brought on a single plate and just a single type of food, the platters tend to be rather large.

As the midday meal is also the meal at which the family gathers together, it is important as a place where children learn table manners.

After the meal, the girl or the daughter in law makes Turkish coffee for all who want it. After the meal is the siesta, and for this reason people don’t visit each other or even make phone calls before 5:00 p.m. unless absolutely necessary. From 2:30 to 5:00 even many restaurants are closed, with only a few cafes and other such places remaining open. Since lunch is a late meal, supper generally consists of leftovers from lunch if there are any, along with a light accompaniment such as soup or yogurt. Meals for small children, old or sick people are given higher priority.

Another subject I’d like to touch upon briefly is the places outside the home where people might eat.

Men young and old often get their dinners at fast-food type places which sell döner, grilled sandwiches etc., or go with their friends to tavernas (Greek style restaurants that serve alcohol), and have grilled meat, fried potatoes, salad etc.

Though few city families eat all their meals together as a family, in the villages they take care to eat together, especially at dinner.

In Komotini (Gümülcine), the evening meal usually consists of yogurt with or without garlic and bread, fruit, milk, crackers, börek, and herbal teas.

If people get hungry late at night before going to bed, they generally have something light such as milk and fruit.

In addition we should mention the places that sell a single type of food. While restaurants serve a choice of dishes, there are also places that make only one sort – selling sweets, soup, chicken, döner / grilled sandwiches, köfte, kebab, börek, pastries etc. In addition to these restaurants, there are also the “kantinas,” which are vans adapted to sell food. These are especially common at village weddings, and sell a variety of foods such as döner, köfte, fried potatoes, nuts etc. as well as various drinks.

The most preferred restaurant foods for breakfast are soups of feet, tripe and head, as well as chicken soup. In addition to soups, the börek shops do a brisk business in the morning, selling börek (bougatsa) with meat, cheese, spinach and a sweet cream filling. During the siesta, the döner/grilled sandwich places as well as pastry shops, tavernas, fish restaurants and places with alcohol and meze stay open. In addition, places which do not sell alcohol have food on the weekends and from 7:00 to 2:30 p.m. during the week. In these alcohol-free restaurants, generally run by Turks, Tekirdağ köfte, lahmacun, shish kebab, roast chicken, chicken and beef/lamb döner, pide with kashar or feta cheese as well as ground meat and pastırma have become common in recent years. They also serve foods to go. The favorite drinks are hot or cold instant coffee, chocolate milk and fruit juices.

At the restaurant by the historical Çukur café, make sure you try the gömlek sarması filled with iç pilav, a pilaf with pine nuts and currants. All the restaurants serve dishes such as okra, green beans, mousaka, imam bayıldı, tas kebab, güveç, roast chicken, grilled köfte, chicken with orzo, stuffed peppers and tomatoes, fried potatoes, braised meat, türlü (a sort of ratatouille), white beans, winter squash sweet, revani (a rich syrup soaked cake), tulumba (a raised egg batter extruded through a mold into hot oil, then dipped in sugar syrup) and semolina halvah. The most preferred drinks are ayran followed by carbonated beverages.

Today, food shopping is mostly done at large supermarkets and other stores; in the smaller towns and villages, people go to local grocers and vegetable markets. In the villages especially, itinerant salesmen drive through in trucks, selling vegetables, fruit and other staples, and announcing their presence with a loudspeaker. In the mountain villages, some people travel in their cars selling their own eggs, vegetables, butter, cheese etc., sometimes bartering for the goods they need.

For those who want to buy milk in bulk, there are salesmen with large milk canisters attached to their bicycles or motor bikes, who sell door-to-door, measuring out the desired amount.

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