As in all parts of Turkey, Rize has a rich culinary tradition which has emerged from its abundant and fertile natural resources. So much so that the number of different foodstuffs used in the region total over four hundred. When we examine the subject of food in Rize from this standpoint, we see that there is a distinct culinary culture there, from the preparation and serving of the food to the actual eating of it. Among the highest level of people within this culinary culture are those referred to as “wedding cooks.”
In Rize’s culinary tradition it is mostly the women who cook. But as we look into earlier periods we see that there was a class of women who made a profession out of preparing foods for various types of societal gatherings such as weddings, engagements and circumcision celebrations. These women were called düğün aşçısı (wedding cooks), aşçı (cooks) or aşçı kadın (women cooks). Wedding cooks were generally trained by women. There were men who served as wedding cooks. There was also a group of assistants who helped the wedding cooks.
A wide variety of foods was served at weddings and celebrations. At least twenty different dishes would be made for a circumcision celebration. In time, several changes took place in the wedding cooking tradition. No wedding cooks are left, and now wedding foods are prepared by men. A large part of their food culture consisted of the order at meals and eating etiquette. In time, order of meals underwent great changes; for example, the old late morning and evening meals were replaced by a morning, midday and evening meal.
In the past, two meals were eaten per day. The two meals were defined as the kuşluk and the evening meal. Kuşluk is the time between morning and noon. This morning meal was replaced by the typical Turkish “tea breakfast” (consisting of bread, cheese, butter, marmalade/jam etc. and tea) or more correctly, tea became a part of the morning meal. In the old days, the mid-morning meal included dishes that might occur at lunch or dinner. When tea began to be grown in the Rize region, the morning meal was replaced by the lighter “tea breakfast.”
In addition to the advent of three meals a day, people began eating according to their jobs and work lives. Those who left the home to work – to cut wood or collect hazelnuts for example – were brought food from the house. Certain jobs, such as shelling hazelnuts or shucking corn, were done at night. People ate as they did these jobs. There was also the tradition of evening gatherings. In the evening, the people of the house would gather, usually in the kitchen, and talk and enjoy themselves into the late hours telling stories, tales, and personal and family memories. As the night progressed, they would get hungry, and would eat then as well. A meal for a guest was a separate meal. Generally there was no advance notice of a guest, so meals for a guest were prepared in short order, and was considered a separate meal.
One of the traditions associated with meals was the announcement of mealtime. Mealtimes were announced by striking a metal pipe; this was called simply “striking the pipe.” But as the morning meal was eaten after the morning prayers, there was no need to strike the pipe. The striking of the pipe was mostly done during Ramadan for iftar and sahur. The sound was loud enough to be heard in neighboring or opposite villages.
There was also the tradition of flying a flag. This was mostly implemented during Ramadan, during which the time for breaking the fast was announced by the raising of a flag. At the same time, the evening prayer also served to announce the time.
One of the important areas of etiquette is the sofra and how it is set. The sofra has an important place in the family. The meal started when the eldest member of the family took the first bite or put his spoon into the soup; the rest waited for him or her; if the oldest person at the sofra was a woman, then the duty of starting the meal fell to her.
An important rule was not to leave leftovers. To leave food or pieces of bread behind on the plates or trays and throw them into the garbage was considered a sin. For this reason, the pans and bowls wee cleaned completely, nothing was left behind. Bread crumbs left at the sofra were also eaten by wetting the finger so they would stick, and bringing them to the mouth. At the end of the meal, faith dictated that God would be thanked for his blessings. The thanks could be long and drawn out or it could be expressed in a few words, such as:
-Artsın eksilmesin, taşsın dökülmesin,
-Yedik doyduk, Allaha şükür,
-Praise be to God
-May there be (food) to spare, may it not be lacking; may it overflow and not spill,
-We’ve eaten and are satisfied, thanks to Allah.
After the meal, children who did not take part in the prayer were warned, and thus were taught to thank God for their blessings after a meal. After the meal and the prayer of thanks, one could get up from the table. There was no particular rule about this; generally one got up when one had finished and was full. However on some occasions older people would stay at the table even though they had finished, and would wait until the others had finished before getting up.
When the meal was finished, the daughter in law or a young girl would collect the tray. It was considered to remain there after the meal was finished, because it was believed that the angels of the sofra hovered over during the meal, and if people sat too long at the table, the angels would tire.
As we mentioned above, there is a wide variety of food. The main types are soups and vegetable dishes, dishes made from meat, fish and poultry, böreks and sweets, as well as pickles, salads and various nuts and dried fruits. While some of these are unique to the region, others are common throughout Turkish cuisine.