6. Oda Açma
As with the previous events, there was another tradition fifty years ago, in which the wealthy residents of the neighborhood would “open a room” (oda açma). In every neighborhood, one or two homes would open a room. While the sıra gezmes were more popular with young people, the oda açma was perpetuated more by those of middle age and above. The stove in that room was lit that day and the room was prepared. After dinner, the people would gather and talk, trade soldier and war memories, and read from books of Islamic law and love stories. These gatherings were mystical in nature, and young people who attended would learn breeding and proper behavior, and educate themselves. Coffee was served; and according to the means of the host, tea along with foods such as börek, katmer, and nuts and dry fruits.18
7. Foods for Workers and Travelers
It is typical to send food out to those working in the fields. There is no set rule for this; whatever food has been cooked in the house may be sent. For those working in the heat, it is appreciated to send a kettle of cold ayran or yogurt along with the food.
The foods prepared for a journey were known as azık (provisions), and this was considered quite important, hence the proverb, “May your provisions be from your home, and your friends from your village.”
It is still traditional to make certain dishes, today called yolluk (road foods), for those going to the army, on a pilgrimage, to study, on a long trip, or leaving the country to work. As they need to be able to last for a long time without spoiling, they usually consist of dishes such as katmer, çörek, börek, and hurma. In the old days, those who were going on long trips such as the pilgrimage were given foods such as kırdök and peksimet, a type of heavy dry rusk. Due to the ease of modern-day travel, and the fact that food is available at the destinations, foods such as kırdök and peksimet are no longer made.
C. Foods for Births, Weddings and Deaths
Traditions and customs concerning foods on important events and passages in life such as births, weddings and deaths, have an important place in the folklore of Sivas.
Following a birth, the new mother is given foods that will stimulate her milk, such as börek, pilav, rice pudding, sweets and halvah. Priority is given to dishes with much water, such as stews and soups. Apples, known in folk medicine as medicinal, was not given to new mothers in the old days.
The tradition of making a hot drink called lohusa şerbeti for the new mother to stimulate her milk and also for those who come to visit her, is still alive today. Lohusa (loğusa) şerbeti was traditionally made from water sweetened with sugar, with that addition of cinnamon bark and cloves and cochineal; blocks of already-colored and flavored sugar are also available, though artificial dyes are used today. It is served hot; those who wish may also add walnuts.
Neighbors going to visit the new mother also bring milk and sweets. In the old days, close neighbors would take some of whatever they were cooking to the new mother as they supposed she would smell it and crave it. In the old days, the term umma was used for difficulty of a new mother to nurse/lack of milk, and it was believed that if the new mother desired something but was deprived of it, she would suffer umma. Following a tradition that has been abandoned for over fifty years now, the new mother’s mother-in-law would take a plate in her hand and go to the homes of seven neighbors. She would hold out the plate and say: “Bizim gelin umma oldu ne ilaç?” (Our daughter-in-law has umma, what is her medicine?). Whatever the neighbor had cooked, she would put some of that on the plate and say “Bizim evde pişen ona ilaç” (What’s cooking at our house is her medicine).
In the old days, the newborn baby was suckled for the time of three ezans, or calls to prayer, “so that he would be patient.” The woman who held the baby and brought it to the mother was selected for her health and appetite, so that the baby would be the same way. Water was not given to suckling babies; they said “the angels bring the baby’s water;” they even believed that if water were given to a baby, the angels would stop providing it. One the child began to grow, he was fed soups and foods made in the home, and water.
2. Diş Hediği – “Tooth Wheat”
The traditional diş buğdayı (tooth wheat) in our country is known in Sivas as diş hediği (hedik – boiled hulled wheat). When the child gets its first tooth, they boil hulled wheat; this is believed to help the other teeth come in easily. One of the milestones in the growing up of a child, a first tooth is an occasion for joy and the women of the household celebrate it. After the wheat is cooked, it is drained and put onto a wide plate, and decorated with colored sugars, raisins and walnuts. Small plates decorated in the same way are sent to the neighbors. The neighbors do not return the plate empty, but rather send it back with a small gift for the child.
When “tooth wheat” is made in the villages, the wheat in the tray is dumped over the child’s head. The wheat that remains on the child’s head is threaded on a string and hung on the child’s shoulder. This is also believed to help the child’s teeth come in easily. Behind this belief is the metaphor of the wheat’s swelling and splitting for the gums opening as the teeth come in.
A similar dish is also made for other occasions for celebration as well. When bulgur is being made, the boiling of the wheat in the cauldrons is an important and tiring task. “Tooth wheat” is boiled a bit softer than for bulgur.
3. Circumcision Feasts
Before the circumcision, the kirve (the one who will hold the boy during his circumcision – this is a relationship similar to that of a godfather) takes the boy and his friends to the hamam (Turkish bath) and buys them drinks, then takes them on an outing.
The foods for the circumcision celebration have changed little: beet soup, meat with eggplant, rice pilaf, compote and halvah. These dishes are made by hired cooks. In the morning, the circumcision ceremony is carried out after the chanting of the mevlit, and in the afternoon, the guests eat together. Nowadays the food is served in the homes but in the old days, it was eaten on tables set up in front of the door of the house or in the garden. This meal was open to any who came by; just like wedding and pilgrimage feasts.
In recent years it has become more common to serve pilaf and döner, or etli ekmek and ayran as circumcision feasts. The reason for the choice of etli ekmek is that it is available at market ovens and thus is less trouble, and also less expensive, than cooking an entire meal. While circumcision celebrations with a meal served are still held at homes, they are also held in the evening at “wedding salons.” Such celebrations have abandoned the traditional ceremonies, and have become like weddings in the large cities.
4. Söz kesme – “Giving the Word”
In Turkey, before an actual engagement there is an addition step, the “söz kesme,” which is more or less a statement of intent between a potential couple with the agreement of their families. If things go well, it will proceed to an engagement and marriage. When the matchmaker goes to the homes of the two young people, nothing is served to her, though she may ask for a glass of water. Only recently have people begun to serve the matchmaker tea, börek, pastries etc. If both sides agree to the marriage, then the “word is given.” In Sivas, as coffee is served at these meetings, they are also referred to simply as “the drinking of coffee.” After the evening meal, the men in the boy’s family and close female relatives go to the home of the girl, and there they serve them coffee, candy and sherbet. Everything that is served is sent to the girl’s home from the home of the boy.
The wish for sweetness (good will) expressed at the initial agreement continues in the engagement as well. Lokum, candies, a special sherbet made for the occasion and cookies are typically served. Engagement sherbet (nişan şerbeti) is light pink. Today it has become increasingly common to serve fruit juice in place of nişan şerbeti. In the old days, there was a tradition called “sini dönmesi” (lit. “turning of the tray) in which a tray was sent to the home of the boy with a pitcher of sherbet wrapped in translucent paper and its mouth sealed in an ornamented way. On the tray was also a glass in a silver holder. These sherbets were made of sugar, water, lemon and a special coloring; the sherbet was made by women with happy marriages (whose husbands had not died or abandoned them).
6. Yaz Meyvesi – “Summer Fruit”
The engaged girl would receive gifts of fruit from the home of the boy. This tradition is becoming less and less common. Until recently, the boy’s family would send a gift of a basket filled with all sorts of fruits in season and a box of sugar to the girl’s home.
7. Sending of a Sacrificial Sheep the Engaged Girl
Before the Feast of the Sacrifice, the sheep to be sacrificed is chosen in the old days, the engaged girl was dressed, and the sheep was decorated with balloons. On the even of the Feast, the decorated sheep were taken to the Yukarıtekke (Abdülvahhab Gazi) Cemetery. After slaughtering, the meat was distributed to the neighbors, and the hurma made with the tail fat was sent from the girl’s home to that of the boy. Today the tradition of sending a sheep for sacrifice is uncommon but is occasionally practiced.
8. Ayak Açma Hamamı
Following the engagement ceremony, the women of the girls home were invited to the hamam by those of the boy’s family. This was called the “ayak açma” (lit. “opening of the feet”) and was an opportunity for them to become acquainted and begin visiting each other as relatives. At the hamam, basins were rented according to the number of guests, and all the women would wash and celebrate, and were served sherbet or soft drinks and whatever fruits were in season. Along with the changing wedding traditions, this has also been abandoned.
9. Bridal Bath (Wedding Bath)
Like the ayak açma bath, the bridal bath was arranged by the boy’s family. This very old tradition has all but been abandoned. At the hamam, coffee, sherbet, soft drinks and fruit was served. Today it is still sometimes practiced, though seldom. In the Sivas hamam tradition, no food was served; only sherbet or soft drinks and fruits were served.
10. Henna Night
If it was a wedding with food, then on Wednesday, the day of the “henna night” (during which the bride’s palms are painted with red henna) the girl’s family would serve a big feast that would include soup, meat with onions, rice pilaf with chickpeas as well as dried apricot compote and halvah. One name for pilaf with chickpeas is “wedding pilaf.” In the old days, the food served at the henna night, which was held among women, was roasted chickpeas, peanuts, hazelnuts, raisins etc. and colored candies, sent in trays. Now this is put into small bags and given to the guests. At henna nights today, pastries and soft drinks are also served along with the fruits and nuts.
11. Baba Canı
After the bride is brought during the day to the home of the groom, close relatives and an imam were invited to dinner there. This meal, eaten together, was called the baba canı (lit. “soul of the father”); this meal was cooked by hired cooks. It included beet soup, meat, pilaf, compote and halvah. Another name for the baba canı was can görme (lit. “seeing the soul.”). This meal was served with the intent of pleasing the souls of the dead ancestors. Foods for circumcision and wedding celebrations and returning pilgrims as well as those sent to homes where there has been a death, are thus called because they are believed to go to the souls of the dead.
12. Yastık Çerezi
In the old days, the meal prepared for the bride and groom was called the honca, and was eaten by the bride and groom together. If the wedding feast had been prepared, some of these foods were sent in a tray to the bride’s room. These included fruit, dolma, börek etc., and were prepared by the groom’s family. The sağdıç, the Turkish equivalent to the “best man,” would provide yastık çerezi (lit. “pillow snacks”), which consisted of various nuts and dried fruits and colored candies. These foods for the night of consummation are still brought today.
13. Damada Tatlı Gönderme
The day after the bride goes to the groom’s house, the girl’s family would send sweets to the groom. After good news following the wedding [i.e. the marriage was successfully consummated and the girl’s virginity was intact], the girl’s family would send a tray of baklava or hurma, “so that mouths would be sweet.” The close relatives, her sister-in-law or older sister might also send sweets. The mother-in-law would put these sweets on plates and distribute them to the neighbors. Although it is less frequent today, the tradition of sending sweets is still practiced today.
14. Baba Evi
A week or two after the girl leaves her home, her family invites the groom’s family to donner. This is called baba evi (lit. “father’s house”). In the old days, the groom’s family would bring candy or lokum when they came. Today, they bring a pastry/cake or chocolate. After the happy meal, which included soup, a meat dish, pilaf, börek, su böreği, rice pudding, etc., the girl’s family gives a gift to the groom. In the old days they would give the groom a ring with a stone, or a watch. Those who were not well off would give something more modest such as a towl, socks or a shirt, because it was said that groom should not go away empty-handed.
15. Peştemal Hamamı
Fifteen days after the wedding, the bride’s mother-in-law would give the bride the gift of a peştamal (hamam towel). The point of this was to bring the bride in among the women of the family as if “wrapped in a peştemal.” Completely abandoned today, this tradition was practiced until around fifty years ago. At the hamam, guests were served fruit, sherbet or soft drinks, just as at the bridal bath.
16. Meals Served on the Occasion of a Death/Funeral (Ölü Canı)
The tradition of preparing a meal for a household in which there has been a death is an old tradition that continues today, with the belief that it will “reach the soul of the deceased.” This meal, prepared by close neighbors and relatives, is for the bereaved, their neighbors and those coming to console them. Men and women are served separately. Those in the household are informed ahead of time that the meal is being prepared. First bread is sent, then soup, spinach mıhlama, a meat dish, börek or su böreği, rice pilaf, dried apricot compote, and a sweet such as hurma, sarığı burma or kadayıf. Making food for a bereaved home is known as yemek görme (lit. “seeing food.”) Today people bring foods such as chicken, pilaf, filled köfte etc., Today, some people also order food out and have it sent to the home of the bereaved. Although ordering food for large ceremonies is more convenient, it is not the same as having home-cooked food. The most common commercially-prepared foods are etli ekmek and ayran or cacik, as they can be prepared immediately. Bringing food every day, people help the bereaved family and this tradition continues as a beautiful example of social solidarity.
Those close to the family who bring food, later send a tray of sweets or börek, have then “seen the family through.” They used to give gifts such as soap, sheets etc. as well, though today it is less common to give gifts other than food.
17. Yas Hamamı
On the fifteenth day after the death, the home of the deceased would invite those who saw them through the death to the hamam. This bath was called the yas hamamı (“mourning hamam”). As in all invitational baths, the inviting family provided the soap, and before going in to bathe, would serve the guests coffee without sugar, and sweet coffee after the bath. At this bath, the grief would be renewed and it took place in extreme sadness. About thirty years ago this practice started becoming less common, and today it seems to have disappeared.
18. Kırk Gıliği
Kırk gılığı (lit. “forty bread”) is a type of bread made on the fortieth day after a death. It is round with a hole in the middle, and sprinkled with nigella seed. The desired amount is ordered from a bakery on the day before. Kırk gılığı are sent to the neighbors, relatives and those who saw the family through the death; two are given to large families. In place of kırk gılığı, some families have pide made, those who wish may have the pide filled with flour halvah. In recent times, in place of flour halvah, some families send small packages of tahni halvah along with the pide.
* Pharmacist, Researcher-Writer (Sivas).
1 Müjgan Üçer, Sivas Halk Mutfağı, Sivas 1992. (A second printing is underway.)
2 For information etli ekmek, a sine qua non food of Konya cuisine, see: A. Sefa Odabaşı, Konya Mutfak Kültürü, Konya 2001, p. 91. In this source, we read: “Normal etliekmek has 60 gr of ground meat and 100 gr of vegetables (onions, pepper and tomatoes); those who want extra meat, up to 120 gr is added. For this reason, etliekmek is also called “bol” (plenty) in Konya. The meat and vegetables for etliekmek are never ground in a machine, but rather are minced with a knife half a meter long. The fillings for both etliekmek and köfte are called “bıçak arası” (“between the knives”). The food known as “etliekmek” in Kastamonu is bread filled with a meat filling, and cooked on a convex griddle.
3 Bahaeddin Ögel, Türk Kültür Tarihine Giriş IV (Türklerde Yemek Kültürü), Ankara, 1991, p.361.
4 Günay Kut, “Türk Mutfağında Çorba Çeşitleri”, Second International Food Congress, Ankara, 1989, p. 213.
5 Information provided by Feride Üçer.
6 Müjgan Üçer, “Karamuk”, Türk Folkloru Araştırmaları Yıllığı 1976, Ankara, s. 296. Karamuk’s botanical name is Berberis crataegina.
7 Information provided by Leman Gökseyitoğlu. Gülay Küçükgültekin, who won first prize in the desserts category of a traditional foods contest held in Sivas in 1996, learned to make karaş from her mother, Leman Gökseyitoğlu.
8 Information provided by Mualla Yıldız. Ms. Yıldız, who received first prize in the desserts category of a traditional foods contest held in Sivas in 1997 with here “kelle tatlısı,” stated that she prepared this dish based on information gathered from Zara residents Afet Türkistan of the Kurtarangil family, İfakat Hanım, daughter-in-law of Ümmühan Gültürk of the Karakadıgil family, and Kamile Turan, sister of Mahir Paşa, who knew how to make this dessert.
9 Another book on the foods of Sivas, “Divriği’de Mutfak Kültürü” by Müjgan Üçer was published in 2001 by the President of the Sivas Service Foundation and District Governer of Sivas, M. Lütfullah Bilgin.
10 For for information on North Caucasian culinary culture and foods, see: Nimet Berkok – Kamil Toygar, Kuzey Kafkas Mutfak Kültürü, Ankara, 1994. According to information from Naciye Kardan and Pınar Kardan, the traditional foods of the Chechens in Sivas are: Kıriniş, velibah/cepilgış, lepsi, sedeş, çemuka, gınnış, dannış, humpukuş, kürzünüş, şurhudur, marş, şur, tohin, kotim ve gerzınış.
11 Müjgan Üçer, “Memmecim,” Sivas Folkloru, Sivas, January 1974, 5:12, p. 9
12 Müjgan Üçer “Horoz Şekerleri,” Sivas Folkloru, Sivas, December 1973 11:89.
13 Vehbi Cem Aşkun, Sivas Folkloru, Sivas, 1941, p. 128.
14 Because of the seven Salutation (Selam) verses in the Holy Koran, seven items beginning with “s” are at the table. The verses are: 1. Ra’d Sura:26, 2. Yasin Sura:58, 3. Saffat Sura:120, 4. Saffat Sura:109, 5. Saffat Sura:120, 6. Saffat Sura:130 and 7. Kadir Sura:5. For information on the seven Greeting verses and the seven salutations, see: Bedri Noyan, “Aydın Yöresine Özel Yemekler”, Türk Halk Kültürü Araştırmaları 2990/2, Ankara, 1990, p. 94).
15Kadir Üredi, “Eskiden Sivas’ta Nevruz Eğlenceleri”, Revak 2001, Sivas, p. 108.
16 Vehbi Cem Aşkun, "Sıra Gezme", Sivas Folkloru, Sivas, 1941, s. 130.
17 Müjgan Üçer, "Oda Açma, Sıra Gezme ve Herfene", Altıncı Şehir, S. 3, Ocak- Mart 2002, Ankara, s. 17-21.