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Food and Sofra Culture of the Alevis and Bektashis

Adnan Demir

In Alevi-Bektashii communities, as in all of Anatolian culture, the concepts of Sofra (Eating area, whether a table or a cloth spread on the floor) — Ocak (Hearth) — Food are sanctified and have grown beyond their literal interpretations to take their places in all levels of folk life.

All these elements have entered the people’s life and experience in traditional ways in the form of literary subjects, traditions, ceremonies, beliefs and rituals.

Ocak culture among Alevis and Bektashis

The ocak (hearth) is not merely a place where food is cooked. The ocak is holy, it is lineage. The ocak is a sacred place that must not be extinguished. Leftovers are not thrown into the hearth, nor anything unclean. The fire at the hearth is never allowed to go out. If it does go out, it is believed that that it will bring misfortune to the house.

Among the Anatolian Alevis, the villages, tribes and lineages are bound to one ocak, and a dede (hereditary religious leader) descending from one lineage, and to his lineage. An Alevi is thought of in terms of the ocak of which he is a member.

At the same time, the ocak is a place of maturing, of education. Just as food is cooked at a burning hearth, a “raw” person is “cooked,” or matures, at the hearth. Expressions such as asker ocağı (soldier’s hearth), baba ocağı (father’s hearth) and pir ocağı (saint’s hearth) indicate the concept of the ocak as a place where people mature. The concepts of  ocaklılar, ocakzadeler (ocak members, those born of an ocak) are used synonymously with maturity, ripeness.

In the regions of Malatya and Maraş, water is never spilled on a hearth where food is being cooked; this is believed to bring famine and drought. It is also considered bad to throw salt onto the hearth.

Sofra Culture

Like the hearth, the sofra should not be thought of merely as the “place where food is eaten.” The sofra, the cloth spread out, combine with faith and literature to form a whole. Alevi and Bektaşi men and women sit together at the sofra. Only when there are large numbers of people is a separate sofra laid out for the children. The sofra is generally in the kitchen.

There are different types of sofras: the everyday sofra, the devotional sofra and a sofra for special days.

At the everyday home sofra, the head of the household has a set place which does not change; if a guest is present, he must sit at the host’s right. If there is no guest, or a religious leader such as a dede/baba, then prayer is not obligatory.

If such a person is present, then a prayer is always said. In this case, the dede or baba sits at the head of the household’s place. After the baba says the prayer, he says “aşk olsun” (may there be love), and takes the first bite; only then does the meal begin.

Beliefs

The Alevis of Anatolia have several beliefs concerning the sofra and foods as well as the ways food is eaten.

In Malatya and Adana, one does not take food away from the sofra, or eat kneeling.

Water is drunk in single sips, not in long draughts.

In Alevi culture, both the sofra and the guest are sacred. After the meal begins, nobody except the guest enters the place where the food is being eaten. He is invited to the table but nobody gets up from their places or gives greetings; after the meal he is welcomed. (Malatya – Hekimhan – Kızılkaya).

When the meal begins, the people put a hand on the sofra and pray.

The ways in which people touch the sofra varies. Alevis in Emirdağı near Afyon put both hands on the sofra at onece. Those in the Maraş region put the thumbs of each hand on the table with the remaining fingers under the tble. In some regions, only the right hand is placed on the sofra.

After the prayer is finished, they bring the thumb and forefinger together, kiss it, and touch their heads.

At the sofra, before the meal, the dede says the sofra prayer:

Bismişah Bismisah Allah Allah
Nimmet-i Celil, bereket-i Halil, sefaat-i Resul, inayet-i Ali, Himmet-i Veli ola
Artsin eksilmesin, taşsın dökülmesin.
Hak-Muhammed-Ali bereketini vere
Yiyip yedirenlere, pişirip getirenlere nur-i iman ve aşkı şevk ola
Dertlere derman hastalara şifa ola
Gittikleri yerde kan ve keder görmeye lokmalariniz kabul ola
Üçlerin, beşlerin, yedilerin, on iki imamlarin, ondört masumu paklarin, onyedi kemerbestlerin, kirklarin
Rical ül gayp erenlerin ve Pir dergahina yazila
Yiyene helal yedirene delil ola.
Hak saklaya. Hizir bekleye

gerçege Hüü..

In the name of Allah, in the name of Allah,, Allah, Allah,

May it increase, not be lacking, may it over flow and not spill.
May God-Mohammed-Ali give their bounty
May he send the light of faith and love to those who eat and give to eat, to those who cook and serve
May he be a balm to pain and a cure to the ill
Where they go, may they see no blood or grief, may he accept  your food
May it be written on the lodeges of the Three, and the Five, and the Seven, and the Twelve Imams, and the Fourteen Innocent pure ones, the Seventeen kemerbest, the forty, the arrived of the Rijal al-Gayb, and the Saints.
May it be acceptable to those who eat, and a proof to him who gives to eat
May god protect and may the guide wait for you,
To the truth, Allah

In another prayer is as follows:

Bismişah,
Evvel Hak diyelim, Kadim Hak diyelim
Geldi Ali sofrası ya Şah diyelim
Ya Şah versin bize.
Demine Hü diyelim

Another prayer is as follows:

In the name of Allah,
The sofra of Ali has come, let us call, “O King [Ali]”
O King, may he give to us,
To his breath, let us say Allah

At the end of the meal, the dede or the baba prays once again.
The prayers vary according to region as well as to differences between Alevis and Bektashis.
In Hekimhan Kızılkaya village near Malatya, the mealtime prayer is:

In the name of Allah,
May it increase and not be lacking, may it overflow and not spill
We ate once, my great God give a thousand times over
May it [the good deed done] be recorded in God’s scroll
May it be written in the book of the Twelve Imams.”

After the prayer, an invocation is said and the dede takes another bite.

There are also differences in eating and table practices in worship gatherings.

Among the Bektashis of Thrace, meals known as the ‘Zikir sofrasi,” “Ali sofrasi,” “Muhabbet sofrasi” and “Yunus sofrasi” are eaten.

Among the Anatolian Alevis, foods known as the lokma and distributed at the end of the cem (worship gathering) hold an important place. The lokma varies according to region. As it will generally involve a sacrifice, it may be stuffed köfte (Elbistan), or foods such as kömbe (Sivas, Maraş, Malatya and Çorum). These are presented as a sacrifice and the foods are prepared together. The common name for all of them is lokma.

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