West Turkistan Cuisine
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West Turkistan Cuisine

Kâmil Toygar

One of the surest ways to research the folk culture of our fellow Turkic peoples outside Turkey is to take advantage of informants from those areas who have migrated to Turkey.

In this article, I will present the knowledge of Western Turkistan cuisine, provided by an old student of Uzbek descent, Vacide Alkış. Ms. Alkiş migrated from West Turkistan to Turkey, and now lives in the Yavuzlar quarter of Yüreğil, Adana province.

Among immigrants from West Turkistan, those who make a profession of cooking are known as aşper. Among such people, Zekeriya Şarhan and Hacı Turgun Oğuz and two of the most famous. These two aşper learned to cook from the older people in their families. This is a completely a master-apprentice style of learning. Known for their mastery in cooking, these men are especially in demand for preparing food for wedding and circumcision celebrations.

Aşpers who prepare food for celebrations are compensated with both presents and money. There is not a set fee; the host of the celebrations pays voluntarily and according to his means. Gifts might include shirts, wool socks, handkerchiefs, towels, etc.

In West Turkistan, the kitchen is generally in a separate corner of the house, and consists of a hearth and shelves in a wide space. The shelves hold pots and pans. There is no table; meals are eaten on the floor on a special mat. The kitchen is not used for other purposes such as sitting or sleeping; people sit here only during the limited amount of time necessary for eating and relaxing afterwards.

For cooking food, a cast iron kettle called a çöyen is used, as well as glazed clay platters called riştan. The spoons are made of wood. There are also copper pans.

Soup and tea are served in porcelain bowls called piyale. Those used for soup are larger than those for tea. The tea pots are also of porcelain, and samovars are in widespread use. Cold drinks are served in large glasses.

The pots and pans and other utensils used for cooking are kept on the shelves, called tahçe. Meats are wrapped in cheesecloth and stored in a cool part of the house. The other staples are kept in screen cabinets, but nowadays some homes are said to have refrigerators.

For excess food, there is a place in the kitchen that serves as a pantry. Meats, which also have a prominent place in Turkistan cuisine, are dried and stored here. Meats to be dried are first sliced and salted. They are left to stand in this way for a day, then spread in the sun to dry. When they are to be used, they are soaked in water and cooked. After drying, they may also be fried in oil and stored in glazed ceramic vessels. This meat is known as köş.

In order to prevent smoke in the house, the hearth, called oçak, is set up in the yard of the house. It is made of adobe, about 30 cm from the ground, and round with an open front. The whole surface is spread with this same mud and straw mixture. The names of the utensils used are:

Çöyen (kettle), çömüç (ladle), kebgir (broad slotted spoon). The hearth is wood-fired, and kindled with brush and twigs.

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