Eating Habits
Eating Habits of the Turks and Their Associated Behaviors
Foods of Ramadan and Culinary Culture
Food in the Harem
Turkish Culinary Culture in Literature
Special Occasion / Holiday Dishes
Food in the Religious Orders
Laz Cuisine

A. The Influence of Agricultural Structure and Nomadic Culture

In most of the Turkish tribes, and within this context, in the foods of nomads, plant were of little importance. The chief staples of the Old Turks were mutton and milk products (Rasonyi, 1971). Chief among milk products was kımız (kumiss), or fermented mare’s milk. Though with an alcohol content of 2-6% it is not extremely nutritious, it is refreshing and relieves hunger. With quite a high caloric content (450 calories per litre) due to its butterfat, it had a one-dimensional nutritive value. In the agricultural economy, it is especially grains that comprise the majority of Turkish foodstuffs. Dry beans or chickpeas, bulgur pilaf accompanied by an onion, have become practically the symbol of Turkish food, and are the most popular foods among the rural people. In restaurants along the roads of Anatolia, isn’t the most-heard order, “bir kuru” (one dry [beans])? Even if we eat it in the Army till we’re sick of it, and as many jokes of which it may be the subject, it’s still an indispensable food in Turkey.

Contrary to European and American culture, Turks most often eat foods cooked with water; so much so that “sulu yemek” (foods with water) comprises a distinct category of dishes. Most vegetables an grains are cooked in water with ground or cubed meat and onions. For this reason the Turks have developed a very rich variety of soups. Even today, soup is the preferred breakfast food in rural areas.

One of the most common Turkish foods is tarhana soup, made from tarhana, a highly nutritious product made from yogurt and flour or wheat. Other very common soups are yogurt soup, flour soup, red lentil and rice soups. “Kaşıklayıver” (“spoon it up”) is an expression of “sulu yemek,” is it not? Sulu yemek naturally encourages the consumption of lots of much bread. For this reason, bread is very much eaten in our country; it is a very common belief that one cannot leave the table satisfied if there is no bread. For this reason bread is made either at home or bought from the bakery and eaten in large quantities. The lack of commercial bakeries in the villages makes it necessary to make bread at home. The making of tandir ekmek (yufka-paper-thin flatbread) or various types leavened bread (bazlama) on certain days takes up a great amount of women’s time. Commercial ovens mostly sell the loaf types which are not so much made at home. For Turks, bread is a sacred food. It has a religious quality. The Prophet Mohammed had this to say about bread: Show respect to bread, a holy figure, the symbol of the fruitfulness of the heaven and earth. For this reason, fragments of bread are not thrown on the ground. One who has bread to eat, gives thanks to God. The prevalence and popularity of bread and other grain products is an indication of the agricultural economic structure.

The chief types of breads made by Turkish villagers are yufka (paper thin bread), home bread, saç bread (cooked on a convex grıddle), bread cooked between two convex griddles, leavened pan bread, tandır bread (cooked on the walls of an oven that opens from the top), stone oven bread, sourdough bread and ebeleme (a leavened bread cooked on a convex griddle). Other bread-like products include corn breads, pide (an open-faced pizza-like dish), bazlama (a thick, flat leavened bread), gözleme (unleavened bread dough rolled thin and folded over a filling, then cooked on a griddle), cızlama (layered yufka with a filling), kete (baked layered bread filled with buttered flour), çörek (egg bread), kurabiye (cookies) and börek. Although nutritionists state that surviving solelly on bread is harmful, a 1964 study in the U.S. showed that eating only bread had no ill effects on the health. (Tekeli, 1970). Prof. Tekeli also reminds us that contrary to popular belief, breads made in the villages contain much more than only flour; they are made with the addition of other foodstuffs and are eaten with other things as well. The use of yeast in bread making also changes according to ty pe.

Baking of bread is mostly done on convex griddles (saç), on the walls of clay ovens (tandır), in village ovens or in modern ranges. Various types are baked daily, weekly or even monthly. The long-lasting varieties are made with different methods. The large batches and long shelf life of village bread is due to the fact that the village woman has so many duties.

Another clear indication of an agricultural economy among the Turks is the prevalence of dough-based foods. [Translator’s note: foods based on dough, whether pastries or pasta, are recognized as a distinct category in Turkish food, and known as hamur işi, literally “dough work.”] One of the most popular is “mantı,” similar to ravioli, with meat, yogurt and butter, which is mostly made at home. In recent years, special country style restaurants offering mantı and gözleme have become extremely common.

Other hamur işi includes erişte (homemade noodles), cooked both by themselves and in soup. Börek (pastry made from dough rolled to paper thinness) filled with vegetables, meat, cheese or potatoes is another popular dough-based dish. A sweet pastry, Turkish baklava, which may be filled with walnuts, pistachios, other nuts or cream) is known the world over.


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