Turkish Culinary Culture in Literature
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Turkish Culinary Culture in Literature


Anecdotes hold an important place in the areas of Turkish literature dealing with food culture. There are hundreds of examples of this style of discourse around the subject of food. Here I will give just a few examples:

The Halvah Maker

While wandering the streets of Baghdad, a poor, destitute and mad beggar came upon a halvah shop. Its window was decked with all manners of halvah, candies and sweets. Unable to stop himself, he went in and cried, Hey, wise master, congratulations on your beautiful ornaments; your artistry and skill! May God bless it. What exquisite morsels, what fine foods!” He then bowed his head, and began eating the halvah.

The halvah maker saw that the crazy man had taken a seat on one side of the shop, helped himself to as much as he could take, and was tucking into it. He said, “Hey, you crazy insolent man! You’ve eaten several dinars worth of halvah; pay for what you’ve eaten and leave the rest for another time!”

The words of the halvah maker never even entered the crazy man’s ears; he was in his own world and continued eating. Seeing that his words were of no avail, and that the beggar would eat all he had if given the chance, the halvah maker took a stick and gave the crazy man a couple of whacks.

The crazy man raised his head and said, “What a great and lovely city Baghdad is! They force people, beat people into eating halvah! What can you do? There’s no choice but to eat till I die…”

*Lami Çelebi, “Anecdotes”

Mıgır’s Shop

At the entrance to the Grand Bazaar, near the sword maker’s section, there was once a famous cook named Mıgır. He had quite a contrary personality and was very exacting in his work. He snapped at his customers and ridiculed their actions endlessly, but despite his shop was always full of devoted customers.

Mıgır knew each and every customer’s tastes, and made the dishes for them by hand and sent them out. Sometimes when a waiter would make a mistake and place the wrong dish in front of the wrong customer, Mıgır would go completely ballistic and shout:

“Don’t put it in front of that imbecile! What does he know about such a dish? Take it to that other pear-faced guy! Let him eat it so that his mouth will know what real food is!

One day, Torik Necmi went there to eat. Just as the waiter was about to put a sautéed chicken dish in front of him, Mıgır came flying out of the back:

Take that chicken back! Do you think that man has a face deserving of chicken?!

Torik immediately got up, stood angrily in front of Mıgır and shouted, “What’s wrong, jerk! You don’t like my face?”

Mıgır was a bit taken aback for a moment, then quickly composed himself and quietly asked, “Look here. Did you come here for compliments on your face, or to eat? Don’t mouth off. This is Mıgır’s restaurant, not a horse market. Understand?”
Mehmet Zeki Pakalın, “Anecdotes that have Become History,” 1946.

Bekri Mustafa (Mustafa the Drunkard)

One day Bekri Mustafa was crossing the Bosphorus to Üsküdar. Unbeknownst to him Sultan Murat IV had gone on an outing in disguise and was on the same boat. The beautiful weather and the gentle waves on the water put Bekri Mustafa into a jolly mood. He pulled out the bottle he always carried with him and drank a glass. Then he offered a glass to those who were sitting around him. Even though they tried to decline, Bekri Mustafa insisted and they finally drank some. As the cup went to the second and third person, the Grand Vizier finally could contain himself no longer:

“Do you know who is sitting in front of you?”

Bekri Mustafa answered calmly:

“Another of God’s servants like myself, who else?”

The Vizier’s raised his voice:

“The man in front of you is the God’s Imperial Servent, his Majesty Sultan Murat. And I am his vizier.”

Upon hearing this, Bekri Mustafa did not panic. He gave a laugh, and then in the same calm manner, said:

“Unbelievable! These guys drink two glasses and now they say one is the Sultan and the other is his Vizier. If they drank three glasses, they’d say they were Allah and the Prophet Muhammed!
Mehmet Zeki Pakalın, “Anecdotes that have Become History,” 1946.


Proverbs often do not translate easily. Many for example, rhyme in Turkish, which adds to their enjoyment. Some that seem obscure refer to folk tales. For example, “Analari daş yesin, yarımşardan beş yesin” (Let their mother eat a stone, let five eat of halves) is an ironic reference to a folk tale about a crafty mother of four children. One evening, she had only four eggs to give them. As they sat down to eat, she had nothing. Her children asked “Why aren’t you eating?” “Because we only have four eggs,” said the mother. “Then take one of ours” said the children. “No,” said the mother, “then one of you wouldn’t eat. Better you just give me half of yours,” and ended up having four half eggs.

Do not make a hungry man talk, nor a full man move.
Bravo to you, and the hoşmerim to me. (Hoşmerim is a delicious cheese halvah made in Çanakkale.)
If the mouth eats, the face is ashamed.
Eat little in the evening, and goose for sahur (the pre-dawn meal during Ramadan).
I looked in the evening and saw güllaç with milk; I looked in the morning and saw you hungry, and now I’m hungry.
A mother feeds her own son with dates, and another’s with cracked wheat.
Eat the pear with its skin, and the grape with its skin.
A little food, and my mind is at ease.
An unknown food upsets either the stomach or the head.
When one eats and another looks on, all hell breaks loose.
Don’t eat too much, it will come back out of your mouth.
Hold your tongue, eat the yahni.
If you have meat, don’t call it lean; if you have grapes, don’t call them green.
Potato soup cooks fast.
Black pepper is black, but it goes before lords.
Some women make barley flour into soup, others make it into dry cake.
If you are hungry, any food will do, if you are sleepy, any pillow.
Even if a goose comes up out of the ground, don’t scorn the chicken.
I girl’s throat is like a goose’s.
In a meeting, speak little, at a meal, grab little.
A guest does not eat what he hopes, but what he finds.
Wherever there is börek, that’s the place to be.
Don’t leave a village where the herb is thyme and the meat is partridge.
Don’t leave a village where the herb is reeds and the meat is goose.
No tears come from a dead man’s eye, and no food from the house of the imam.
Food in the morning, food in the evening and the woman went nuts.
He who is full does not understand what it is to be hungry.
What does a villager know of caviar? He gulps down ayran.
If you have flour, you have a day.
I found the oil but not the flour; I found the flour but not the day.
If you eat sweets, you’ll bear a boy, eat sour and you’ll bear a girl.
When you are poor, honey is the food to go with bread.
A rich man’s bread is not eaten, and his troubles are not told to others.
“Dough work” (pasta etc.) is lazy work.
Raise your eyebrow and I’ll eat your food.
You’ll die if you eat it, and die if you don’t.
One thin bread between 10 people, and we’re all stuffed.
The clatter of the sifter, the clank of the griddle, dough in my hand, and I’m hungry.
I have eaten, let God increase it; let the one who laid out the table gather it up.
Even if they’ve slaughtered a camel for the wedding, if you are hungry there is no place like home.
A fish in the hamsin (desert wind), a chicken in the Zemher (a very hot, lifeless region).


If the onion is hot, the food will be tasteless.
The food is cooked and the spoon survived.
Bread from the hand, water from the lake.
Dough in her hand, but her stomach is empty.
May her hand stay on the sifter and her griddle on the hearth.
If meat has come, don’t eat leftovers; if grapes come, don’t call them green.
What I eat is not food, and what I wear is not cloth.
Did I eat barley or its chaff?
To think of oneself as much of a blessing as beans.
If I eat kebab, give me the bill / I didn’t eat kebab, I’ll give you an answer.
Lots of plates and cups, but nothing to eat for dinner!


Biraz unumuz olsa 
börek, çörek çok güzel
Yağ lazım, peynir lazım, 
nerde bulak müptezel 

(Âşık Reyhanî)
If we had some flour we would have some nice pastry and pies
Then there would be a need for butter and cheese, too; where would we find them, you tramp 

(Poet Reyhanî)

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