Notes on Turkmen Culinary Culture
Kâmil Toygar-Nimet Berkok Toygar
Like those of the other Turkic tribes in Central Asia, main element behind the Turkmen eating and cooking habits is the centries-old nomadic steppe culture.
Today, the Turkmen are distributed over a very wide geographical area including Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Karakalpakistan, Kazakhstan, Northern China, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, around Stavropol and Astragan, and Turkey.
As in all the Turkic groups, bread holds a major position. The main leavened type is çörek, the most common unleavened types are petir, yağlı petir and külçe. Bread makes up a large proportion of what is consumed at meals. Next in importance after bread are meat, milk and rice dishes.
The tandır, a pit oven, is where the Turkmen bake their bread, and there is one present in every home. If a guest comes by while bread is being baked, some is always served. The guest must take the bread with both hands; to accept bread with one hand is considered a sin. Also, they never give the first bread cooked to anyone.
In order to prepare the dough, the flour is first separated from its bran by sifting over a woven cloth called a kendirik. After sifting, the flour is placed into a wooden bowl called a hamir çanak and mixed with water, salt and yeast. In order to bake better, it is pricked all over with a utensil with nails on the end, called a dürtgüç.
In addition to eating as is, bread is also made into various other dishes with the addition of meat, milk and other ingredients.
When Turkmen visit each other, they mainly serve tea, usually green tea. The tea is drunk from special bowls called çaynek. Tea is drunk in the winter as well as in the summer, when it causes one to sweat and thus cools one off.
Milk-based foods and drinks also hold an important place in Turkmen cuisine. They become most common in late winter when the animals are giving birth, and continue through the spring, summer and early fall. These include katık, goyutmak (colostrum), çal, ayran, gaymak (cream), süzme (drained yogurt) and gurt.
One feature of the nomadic steppe culture is that milk based foods are subjected to various procedures and stored for the winter.
Another important area of nomadic steppe culture, game hunting, has had a great influence on Turkmen culinary culture. The main wild game animals eaten are partridge, wild duck, wild goose, antelope, deer, rabbit, fish etc.
In recent years, the raising of vegetables has developed significantly. The main ones are tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, onions, garlic, melons and watermelon. Vegetables are eaten fresh as well as dried for the winter.
Off season, almost no vegetables are available. Families who do not grow their own vegetables get them from the market or from neighboring settlements.
In traditional Turkmen cooking, animal fats dominate. Clarified butter, tail fat and caul fat are the most consumed oils/fats. In recent years, the consumption of cottonseed oil has increased considerably.
Among rural Turkmen, the kitchen is generally a one-roomed structure separate from the living quarters.
The kitchen contains cupboards and shelves for pots and pans, a hearth where food is cooked, and sacks and vessels for dried goods. Meals may be eaten in the kitchen as well as in a sitting room.
The tandır is located in a safe place outside the kitchen and the house.
Meals are eaten on a cloth spread out on the floor, called a sacak. All the members of the family eat together, especially the evening meal. The oldest member of the family, either the father or grandfather, begins the meal. Those who need to get up from the meal early always ask the permission of the oldest person there.