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The Culinary Culture of the Turks of Western Thrace, from Past to Present

Vahide Kalyoncu*

One link in our chain of culinary cultures is the eating habits and culinary culture of the Turks of Western Thrace from past to present. As expressed by the folk saying, “when spoons aren’t moving, there is no accord,” cuisine is a very important means toward knowing a people. Meals are where a society’s values are formed, reinforced and presented.

I had the opportunity to examine the eating habits of the Turks of Western Thrace, mostly in Komotini (Gümülcüne) and its surrounding villages, through conversations and exchange of information on neighborly relations, special gatherings, weddings, pilgrimages and other such occasions. The warmth, interest and willingness to assist shown by those who saw I was writing about their culinary culture and traditions, provide a very comfortable working environment. In a time when Western Thrace is undergoing rapid change, such a project provided a clearer view of events their in a short time, and made it easier to see the change which is taking place here within the context of cultural continuity. Especially the phenomena of eating on foot at the fast food, grilled sandwich and döner stands which have spread in almost every neighborhood and formed a quickly spreading food culture in themselves, and the habit of eating  outside the home, have rapidly become part of the society.

In many neighborhoods, as part of the city’s new building plans, the single-story homes within gardens are more and more rapidly being replaced by apartment buildings. In addition to doing away with the comfort of living a private life in a home with its own garden, another result is that many vegetables and fruits are no longer available at a moment’s notice. Presently it seems that the houses with their enclosed yards, full of fig, pomegranate, quince, grapes and the famous piravuşta plums; as well as eggplant, parsley, mint, onions, tomatoes and leeks, and all types of flowers, are destined to become a thing of the past.

The availability of many different types of vegetables in the frozen foods section of supermarkets has also partially affected the tradition of winter food preparation.

The cuisine of the Turks of Western Thrace shares many features with Anatolian cooking, but at the same time has been influenced by the cuisine of the Greeks with whom they live side-by-side. As a result of this interaction, one can find many food-related words which have entered the local Turkish and become a part of everyday speech. Some examples of these are portokalada (orange soda), tiropites (cheese börek), taper (Tupperware – plastic food storage containers), Vitam (margarine, a local brand name), hartopetseta (paper towel) and more. Likewise, many Turkish dishes have entered Greek cuisine with the same names, and are made in the same ways; for example, mousakas (musakka), halvas (helva), keftedes (köfte), etc.

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