Sunday, May 13, 2012

Turkish food and good manners


Turkish food and good manners

In my piece, “What to know when you visit Turkey” (May 1, 2012), a number of comments were posted offering other points to cover...
Ahmet sent this comment in: “What about the traffic, transportation and especially cab drivers???? They have to be careful!!!! You can give some about Turkish food... Thanks.”

Thanks Ahmet, and other Today's Zaman readers, for your comments. I must admit while I was in the US for the past month that I began to miss certain Turkish dishes. Many Americans asked me about Turkish food, and they wonder what it is like. I explained Turkish food varies some from region to region. Often Americans are not familiar with the rich cultural heritage of Turkey. They do not know that some specialties came from Mongol raiders riding across the plains: yogurt and sucuk, and that southeast Turkey has a more spicy diet. Towns are famous for various things: for example, Susurluk ayran, Bursa chestnut candy and peaches, Black Sea hazelnuts and hamsi, Antep pistachios, Afyon spicy sausage and Turkish delight etc., etc.

The preparation of Turkish food is an art and can be time-consuming. Turks place much emphasis on the presentation of food. In case you are not familiar with the Turkish proverb, it goes like this: “First appeal to the eyes, then fill the stomach.”

Westerners always ask me what kind of meat is available and how it is served. They are surprised to hear that lamb is the most popular meat, and that beef is so expensive. I explain beef is often grilled and that kebab (cubes of meat) is common. Chicken, especially prepared with walnuts, paprika and garlic, is popular. Fish is expensive but a key ingredient. Meat is prepared according to Islamic (halal) rules. Of course, pork, ham, bacon and other pig products are banned in a halal diet. Other dishes are rice, which is served sometimes with currants, pine nuts and other spices, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables are grown in Turkey. Garlic and olives are used widely, as with much of the cuisine of the Mediterranean region.

One of the things I enjoy seeing in Turkey is the rows and rows of peppers, eggplant, etc. hung out to dry. Women at certain times of the year are busy making tomato paste, pickling vegetables and drying fruit.
A favorite pastime of Turks is eating. Kiosks and buffets are at the roadside, itinerant sellers carry trays of pastries on their heads, or push carts or elaborate mobile kitchens displaying their wares; from sesame seeds to sweet corn, from simit (sesame-coated bread rings) to kokoreç (grilled sheep intestine), from fish sandwiches to meatballs, all are available on the street. A typical restaurant menu will contain the following courses for you to choose from:

Meze (cold starter): Usually a tray with 10 or so varieties will be shown to you. Typical selections include stuffed vine leaves or peppers (dolma), cheese, vegetables such as eggplant or okra in olive oil, spicy tomato paste, eggplant and yogurt paste, chickpea paste (hummus), potato salad and cracked wheat in tomato and chili sauce (kısır). You may choose from the selection offered on the tray.

Ara sıcak (hot starter): Here you can choose from such delights as a deep-fried cheese pastry roll (sigara börekği), deep-fried ball of rice, minced meat with nuts (icli köfte), calamari, fried mussels, etc. Don't forget that the waiters will normally also bring delicious hot, fresh bread.

Salata (salad): Fresh fruit and vegetables are wonderful in Turkey. The two most common types of salads are a “shepherd's salad” of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions (çoban salatası) and a “seasonal salad” of lettuce, grated carrots or red cabbage, tomato and cucumber slices, sweet corn and green peppers.

Çorba (soup): It is worth trying lentil soup (mercimek), yogurt and rice soup (yayla), tomato (domates), chicken (tavuk) or mushroom (mantar) soups. Tripe soup (işkembe) has a strong smell and is an acquired taste.

For the main course, you can choose from meat and fish. If you have room, you can finish with tatlı (dessert): This is usually very sticky. While in Turkey, you must try sheets of filo pastry soaked in syrup and sprinkled with nuts (baklava), a similar dish made with shredded wheat (kadayıf), quince in syrup (ayva tatlısı) or pumpkin in syrup (kabak tatlısı) Alternatives to syrupy desserts are milk pudding (muhallebi) or rice pudding (sütlaç).

Good manners can go a long way when wanting to make a positive impression. Etiquette can vary from place to place. It is good when you can dine in or dine out with graciousness. I'll give a few helpful tips for visitors to Turkey and for Turks visiting the United States in my next piece.



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