Eating Habits of the Turks
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Eating Habits of the Turks and Their Associated Behaviors

F. Religious Influences

According to the rules of Islam, one begins eating with a “besmele,” a repetition of the blessing “Bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim” (In the name of God, the merciful and compassionate). First the adults begin eating, then the children. They say “Water belongs to the child, the table to the adult.” This is an expression of respect for elders.

For hundreds of years, women ate separately, after the men. A foreign writer stated that the practice among wealthy families of the men eating alone, separately from the women and children, was a show of respect for the father (D’Ohsson, p. 29). This tradition continues in some parts of Anatolia (Yıldıreak 1974). Girls and women eat what is left behind by the men. Sometimes no food may be left over for them. When working in the fields, everyone eats together. Where people eat together, the woman gives the best pieces of meat a chicken, for instance, to her male children as she dishes out the food; and in the case of a dish containing meat, picks the meat out for them. The value given to male children corresponds to the belief that they must be well fed.

In addition, during the era when men took several wives, men had to be well fed in order to maintain his virility. For this reason the man had to eat a lot, and of nutritious and oily dishes.

Gluttony is never an accepted behavior; eating greedily or overeating is not looked upon favorably.

One influence of religion is the table prayer. One prays before or after eating. But this is not much practiced any more; only on important days do people pray at family gatherings.

Other religious practices involving food include feeding the poor; special meals for iftar, the breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan; and examples of societal solidarity such as making a sacrifice and distributing the meat.

The influence of religion is also evident in the existence of certain haram, or forbidden foods. The expression “Eat lawful sustenance” is a religious saying. Yufka bread and roast lamb are considered foods of the Prophet.

Certain other foods such as wheat, dates, squash and olives have religious connotations as well.

Before the meal begins, people wash their hands. It is customary to mention the name of God when beginning the meal, and to eat with the right hand.

The Prophet also commanded: “O you who believe, eat your meals together as a family, do not scatter, because there is bounty in eating together.”

Other expressions of religious values are that one should not find fault in the food, and to thank God after the meal.

At the beginning of or during a meal, the host says afiyet olsun. With no exact counterpart in other languages, it means “may you have good health, may it bring you health.” Another expression said by a guest after a meal is “ziyade olsun,” a wish for God to bring bounty to his hosts.

The Hittites knew how to make flour into bread; bread making has been known in Anatolia since 2,000 B.C. But it was commonly believed that this process was directed by gods or other hidden forces. For this reason, certain foods were considered sacred, and eaten during holy rituals, as in the case of foods served in the name of the gods. The fact that bread, flour, wheat and certain edible plants are considered sacred and paid more respect than others is a result of these ancient beliefs (Eyüboğlu 1981). The respect shown for food by the Turks is as much due to beliefs stemming from these ancient practices as it is to their contemporary religious beliefs.

As we learn from Homer, the inhabitants of Western Anatolia held special celebrations with neighboring peoples and had feasts for which purpose sacrifices were made. A portion of the meat of the animal sacrificed was distributed to the participants in the festivities and eaten together, and another portion was burned in the fire and thus presented to the gods and goddesses.

We know that contemporary Anatolian traditions of feeding the poor and hungry in the name of God and of goodness, giving away food have their roots in the customs noted above (Eyüboğlu 1981).

Feast Traditions

Feast traditions are quite common among the Turks, and eating together on special occasions such as ceremonies or celebrations are common in Turkish history. There was a feast tradition in the religious ceremonies of ancient Anatolia. Feasts were prepared for weddings, when going to war, after successful work, burial ceremonies and in religious organizations. Extensions of this tradition in modern Anatolia include weddings in particular, but also holidays such as Ramadan and Hıdırellez and occasions such as prayers for rain, migrations, mevlit ceremonies, long journeys, the arrival of guests, holidays, circumcisions, births, and other feasts. On these occasions the best and most loved foods are prepared and eaten in a celebratory atmosphere. Examples of such foods are meat dishes, pilav with meat,baklava, börek and various sweets (Yasa 1969, Güçbilmez 1972). Naturally the traditions vary according to region.

Meal Times

Meals are eaten three times a day. The largest is generally the evening meal, but lunch is also a major meal, whether of villagers working in the fields or an urbanite in his apartment. The five o’clock tea tradition is a western tradition which has been adopted only in the cities. Tea is also drunk at dusk. The evening meal is eaten together by the entire family.

Order in the Kitchen

One can speak of a standard kitchen setup in rural areas. There are five to six shelves in the kitchen. On the lowest are jugs, water pitchers and tubs. On the next are pots, followed by saucepans, frying pans. Next come small bowls and soup bowls, and on the highest shelf are trays and porcelain plates (Koşay 1961). Turks have quite a rich array of kitchen utensils. The main kitchenware consists of pots, large pans, serving and other trays, shallow copper cooking pans, frying pans, kettles, earthenware pots, buckets, ladles, stackable serving bowls for transporting food and bowls. The variety in these wares is an indication of the richness of our cuisine. Formerly the kitchen was considered very important; when matchmakers came to a home to check on a prospective bride, they first wanted to see the kitchen.

Changes in Our Culinary Traditions

Turkish cooking has undergone much change within our lifetimes, and these changes have increased in recent times especially. Rapid urbanization, industrialization and western culture are altering our cuisine (Toygar 1980). Other effects upon our cuisine are ready-made foods and fast food eaten on foot. Under the influence of the west, small shops selling sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers and grilled sandwiches are replacing sit-down restaurants, and beer halls are opening on practically every corner.

As women enter the workforce, they have no time left to make traditional foods. For this reason they are choosing to buy food already prepared from the market, or convenience foods. As a result, the canning and readymade food industries are developing rapidly.

More and more western food is being introduced in the press. The recipes in cookbooks, magazines and newspapers are more and more for western foods.

In our trade colleges for girls and hotelier schools, they mostly teach western dishes. In this way, and especially in the cities, our traditional cuisine is in danger of being forgotten.

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