Saturday, December 20, 2014

Turkey of the regions 10: Dressing like a local

Turkey of the regions 10: Dressing like a local

Old blockprinted yazma in Tokat
March 02, 2014, Sunday/ 00:00:00

Anatolia in the 19th-century was a land of few and poor quality roads, a situation that encouraged communities to grow up in virtual isolation from one another.

The great geographical diversity of the land also gave rise to a wide variety of local architectural styles that evolved to make use of the materials that lay at hand. At the same time, local communities developed their own mouth-watering culinary traditions.

But one of the most conspicuous ways in which Anatolian communities used to express allegiance to their locality was in the way that they -- and the women in particular -- dressed. Sadly, except in the far east of the country, that is the aspect of regionalism that is most under threat today, as younger women abandon the old ways of dressing in favor of what could be described as modern Muslim style. Just occasionally, in places such as Erzurum, it is still possible to see three generations of the same family walking together, the grandmother clad in what was once the truly local style of clothing, the mother wearing the drab overcoat and scarf tied under the chin that was the look of the Turkey of the 1970s and 80s and the daughter wearing the colorful, neatly tailored long mackintosh and türban headscarf that is the preferred look today all the way from İstanbul to Artvin.

Today, the only places you'll usually see local costumes are museum showcases (not surprising in some cases such as when, for example, you spot the knee-exposing shorts once worn by the men of the Aegean), although markets, such as those at Ayvacık and Tire, sometimes drop a hint as to what has been lost. If you'd like to visit parts of Turkey where you might actually see people wearing regional dress, here are some suggestions. Most are in the east of the country.

Reinventing the Laz Keşan

The Laz lands

Of all the regional costumes that once brightened up Anatolia, one of the most striking had to be that of the Laz lands, technically the five small coastal towns to the east of Rize that were inhabited by the Laz-speaking people, although people in Laz dress were always visible as far west as Trabzon as well.

Traditionally Laz women wore a cotton keşan -- a wonderful black, white and maroon-patterned shawl that covered their heads and shoulders and that came paired with a wraparound apron of bold stripes called a dolaylık. According to Sevan and Müjde Nişanyan's guide to the Black Sea, the different colored stripes at one time defined where a woman came from, with the females of Sürmene opting for black and red stripes, those of Akçaabat preferring maroon and cream and those of Tonya favoring black and brown.

Sadly, these days you'll rarely see a woman younger than 40 wearing a keşan, let alone a dolaylık. Instead the race is on around Rize to find new uses for the old shawl, which now crops up in the form of everything from oven gloves to the lining for a baby's cradle.

The Hemşin lands

In the mountains inland from the eastern Black Sea coast, another minority people, the Hemşin, also developed a dress code all of their own. Here, the women twisted a flimsy scarf called a poşi around the tops of their heads, covering a plainer black scarf trimmed with white embroidery that hung down to their shoulders. The poşis usually came in black, patterned in red, orange or gold. Strangely, they were not made locally but imported from Syria.

Perhaps because it is neater and more practical, the poşi has proved more durable than the keşan, and in Ayder, Çamlıhemşin and the surrounding villages in the foothills of the Kaçkar Mountains you will still see plenty of women wearing one. Many locals have migrated to other parts of the country in search of work, particularly as bakers. When they return to their villages in the summer, one of the first things many of the women do is put on the poşis they feel unable to wear in resorts such as Bodrum.

The Hemşin people lived in a part of Turkey with an exceptionally harsh climate, so the other important feature of local dress for both men and women was thick woolen socks. This is still one of the best places in Turkey to pick up beautifully designed hand-knitted socks, although most of what is on sale in the shops aimed at tourists has been made in factories.

Bayburt and Erzurum

Twenty years ago, the back streets of Erzurum were full of women scuttling along the pavements wrapped in the closest thing Turkey had to a chador: A brown, woolen garment flecked with patterns in navy blue called an ehram. Today, the ehram has fallen from favor even faster than the keşan. When I last visited, Erzurum was down to its last shop selling the garments, and to see women wearing them you really need to travel north to Bayburt where, in the shadow of a vast medieval castle, women continue to wrap themselves tight in this garment. At the same time, in preparation for the inevitable day when the last woman will hang up her ehram, an EU-funded project has been started to come up with new uses for the hand-woven material used to make them.


In the lands of the Laz and the Hemşin, men long ago abandoned any attempt to dress with local flair. Further south, however, you will see men wearing the baggy pants called şalvar that usually come paired with waistcoats and worn with cummerbunds and flat caps. It's a look usually thought of as Kurdish, although you start to see it as soon as you reach Malatya (where they favor şalvar suits in a particularly fetching fern-green).

The men of Şanlıurfa (Urfa) wear their şalvar suits with a quirky local twist. Wander into the bazaar and you will be astonished to see these most manly of men topping off their outfits with headscarves that run the gamut of colors from the palest lilac to the deepest purple. Oddly enough, their women wear the exact same scarves, a unisex look unknown elsewhere.

Unlike most sartorial specialities of Anatolia, these scarves are a relatively recent innovation. As recently as 2003, most Urfalıs covered their heads with white scarves. Then someone introduced the lilac versions from Syria and the rest, as they say, was history.

In Urfa, too, you'll see women wearing unbelievably vibrant, colorful outfits that anywhere else would be saved for special occasions. These outfits consist of a dress called a fistan that is worn over a T-shirt and leggings in summer or trousers and a jumper in winter. Over the fistan goes an apron called a peştemal and then over that goes a long coat called a zibin, the ends of which get tied up in the peştemal to stop them trailing in the mud. Traditionally, all this was topped off with a kofi, a fez-like cap that was covered with a scarf, although these days most women wear normal scarves. In the bazaars of Urfa (and Van, Hakkari and Diyrabakır), the wonderful materials needed to create these outfits are enough to set a thousand cameras clicking.

Alanya cummerbund


Hard though it might be to believe, the seaside resort of Alanya once boasted its own particular look for men, consisting of black şalvar with a waistband of deepest maroon. Still worn by a few elderly locals, these Alanya şalvarı were worn with brightly colored striped silk cummerbunds, examples of which are on display in the Kültur Evi (Cultural House) at Ehmedek on the hill leading up to the Selçuk castle.


Visitors to the Monday morning market at Göynük, east of Adapazarı, will be thrilled to step into its undercover dairy section and find the local women wearing a delightful local style of şalvar in a variety of tartans. At one time the pattern would have made it possible to identify the village each woman came from, although today most of them wear machine-made tartans picked for a preferred pattern. The scarves are topped off with cotton shawls printed in a pattern similar to those worn by the women in Beypazarı, further east along the road to Ankara. Locals will point out the crucial minor details that distinguish their shawls from a Beypazarlı's.


On the streets of modern Tokat most women dress much as their fellows in İstanbul. This, though, is a town that once played a particularly important role in Turkey's sartorial history as the only place permitted to make the yazmas, the gauzy square headscarves that were the standard head covering of Central Anatolia. It was a monopoly industry, the proceeds of which went to support the queen mothers back in İstanbul. Today, the old Yazmahane where the work used to be carried out stands forlorn in the back streets, despite supposed plans to restore it. Meanwhile, in the surrounding streets, yazmacıs compete to sell machine-made versions of the product to a declining market. Just a few men still blockprint the cloths. One or two even keep examples of old yazmas to show their customers. As ever, the difference between the original hand-made versions and the new machine-made ones is staggering.

Examples of local dresses at Söğüt Museum


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Turkey of the regions 9: The taste of the local

Uzun pide, Kayseri & Konya
February 23, 2014, Sunday
These days no matter where you go in Turkey you can be sure of being able to tuck into a tasty lunch of Bursa (İskender) kebab or a supper of spicy Adana kebab.

 There may be a particular thrill to be had in trying out İnegöl köfte in the town where it was introduced to Turkey, or in eating a plate of Akçaabat köfte in the town where it was created, but the truth is that these days you'll be able to find meatballs of the same names elsewhere in the country, too.

Turks may still swear by the baklava of Gaziantep, but you'll be able to find versions just as finger-licking and delicious wherever you go. Thick-enough-to-cut Kahramanmaraş (Maraş) dondurması (ice cream) is now available in branches of Mado, and the famous Van kahvaltısı (Van breakfast) is cropping up on every street corner. Even ciğ köfte, the uncooked kebab that was once known only to the natives of southeastern Turkey, is now a fixture on most city high streets as popular local taste sensations work their way around the country on the back of mass internal migration combined with chain-store expansion.

Luckily, there are also dishes that haven't traveled quite as well, usually because they require special ovens or other equipment and/or involve lengthy cooking procedures. This is great news for travelers since it means that they can sample a variety of local dishes along their way.
Afiyet olsun!


Pressed to name my favorite of Turkey's many kebabs, I would have to plump for the Tokat kebab, a wonderful amalgam of thick chunks of lamb with equally thick chunks of potato, aubergine and juicy tomatoes basted in meat juices as they hang to cook in an oven especially designed for the purpose. Both the special oven and the preparation time have militated against the Tokat kebab venturing far from its northern Anatolian home base. Even there, town-center restaurants stop serving it by five o'clock in the afternoon.


Hidden away in southeastern Turkey, Siirt is one of the best places in the country to try out büryan kebabı, one of several kebabs prepared in pit ovens that also remain largely local pleasures. At dawn, the ovens are fired up and entire lambs hung to bake beneath sealed lids with the juice collecting at the bottom of the pit. Once cooked, the lamb is removed and chopped up, individual portions being reheated to order and served on a bed of squidgy pide bread.

Büryan kebab is also prepared in Bitlis and Tatvan near Lake Van. It is more readily accessible in “Little Siirt,” the market area of Fatih in İstanbul, almost the only place where you should expect to be able to eat it after dark - - in the east they prefer to tuck into it for breakfast or lunch.


“Little Siirt” is also a good place to try out perde pilav (“curtained rice”), another taste treat that comes to us courtesy of the southeast. Perde pilav is a risotto cooked with shreds of chicken, raisins and almonds inside a case of crispy pastry for which a copper pot shaped like an upside-down fez is used. You can eat it in Midyat provided you order it at lunchtime.

Beyran çorbası, Gaziantep


Over recent years, Gaziantep in the east has turned itself into a veritable shrine to the culinary arts and people pour into the famous İmam Çagdaş restaurant to feast on its Adana kebabs and baklava. On the quiet, though, Antep has a few more tricks up its sleeve. One is the garlicky beyran çorbası, a rust-colored meal-in-a-bowl soup based on meat cut from the rump of a sheep. It's on sale at lunchtime in lokantas in the market where you may also bump into men in gaudy costumes with drinks containers strapped to their backs. They turn out to be dispensing meyankökü şerbeti, a cold licorice drink that is a distinctly acquired taste.


Malatya is well known all over Turkey for its dried apricots, and a whole section of its sprawling market is devoted to selling them. But Malatya is also the best place in the country to try out kağıt kebabı (paper kebab), a lamb kebab cooked and served in packets of greaseproof paper that allow the meat to stew in its own juices with the vegetables. It's a favorite of the market traders, which means that there are many lunchtime-only lokantas serving it amid the stalls.

Mıhlama, Eastern Black Sea

East of Rize

While many of Turkey's more exotic local dishes are to be found in the towns of the Southeast, the northeastern corner of the country also has a food tradition all of its own. Mention Black Sea food, and people tend to think of hamsi, the Black Sea anchovy that is a particular winter treat, but there's much more to Black Sea cooking than fish, especially once you travel beyond Trabzon.

Up in Ayder, for example, you will be able to sample mıhlama, a thick and filling cheese fondue best eaten with a helping of cornbread. This is also a part of the world where cabbage (lahana) really comes into its own. You might not have thought you would enjoy a bowl of lahana çorbası (cabbage soup), but once you've tried the Black Sea version you may well change your mind.


Trabzon ekmeği (bread) is sold in huge heavy roundels, so popular that local bus companies factor bakery visits into their itineraries. But the best Black Sea bread of all comes from the small town of Vakfıkabir, just west of Trabzon where baked loaves sometimes reach the size of small wheels.


In northeastern Turkey Kars is home not only to a distinctive style of “Baltic” architecture but also to several local culinary traditions. Visit in winter and you will be able to gorge yourself on roast goose (kaz), but at any time of year you won't be able to miss the many shops selling tangy local kaşar and holey gravyer cheese in roundels as big as those of Trabzon ekmeği. The same shops also sell locally made honey. A breakfast feast of Kars cheese and honey is not one to forget in a hurry.


Is the testi kebabı (pottery kebab) that crops up on many Cappadocian menus a real local dish or not? The answer seems to be that it is and it isn't. Traditionally, locals certainly did prepare meat stews inside small clay pots, placing them to cook in the embers of fires set up to boil such things as pekmez (molasses) and salça (sauce). What tourism has done is to take that basic recipe and add a twist to it rather like the show put on by the sellers of Maraş dondurması with their clanging bells and colorful costumes. You can be sure that the locals didn't break their testis open at the table with a flourish although their flourish-free meals probably tasted much the same as today's tourist ones.


In Central Anatolia, Kayseri is home to mantı, miniature pockets of pasta filled with nuggets of meat. Mantı is sometimes available elsewhere in the country with many restaurants offering it as a featured dish on one specific day in the week. In Kayseri itself mantı is usually served with tomato sauce and/or garlic-flavored yoghurt as well as with chickpeas, a specifically local twist.
While in Kayseri, you might also spot some of the elongated local pides designed to be shared between several diners. Occasionally, you will see special long, thin raised benches to make the sharing of such an unwieldy dish a tad easier. Not surprisingly, the strung-out pide is not an idea that has traveled well (ditto the sugared pides that are a specialty of Eğirdir in the Lake District).

Islama köfte, Adapazarı


You will need a particularly discerning palate to be able to tell the difference between some of the köftes (meatballs) that carry the names of towns such as Tekirdağ and Sivas. Much easier to distinguish is the ıslama köfte of Adapazarı which is served on a bed of toast temptingly marinaded in the meat juices.

Pastırmalı humus, Tarsus


At the far eastern end of the Mediterranean Antakya wins culinary accolades not least for its delicious künefe, a scrumptious cheese-filled pastry made on rotating metal plates. But Tarsus to the west offers just as many unexpected delights, among them pastırmalı hummus that is served with pieces of pastrami sprinkled on top, then heated up. Here, too, you can try out cezerye, a chewy sweet made from carrot and walnut paste, honey and 40 different spices. Wash it down with şalgam, the cold turnip drink that is now fairly widely available, with prickly-pear juice, or with yayla karsambaç, a flavored-ice drink that is a lifesaver in the summer humidity.

Merzifon keşkeği


Made from wheat and meat pounded together with onions and spices, keşkek is not so much a regional dish as one that is increasingly hard to find despite being UNESCO-listed as part of Turkey's intangible cultural heritage. Like mantı, it sometimes appears on menus as a once-weekly treat especially around the middle Aegean. Alternatively, you can eat it whenever you like in the restaurant of the restored bedesten in Merzifon, near Amasya.

Mardin and Urfa

Turkish coffee also features on the intangible cultural heritage list. The standard variety can be found all over the country, but in Mardin and Urfa you should certainly round off your meal with a demitasse of bitter, grainy mırra kahvesi sometimes flavored with cardamon. Be careful to hand your cup straight back to the server - - according to tradition if instead you put it down on the table, you will have to marry him or pay for his dowry.


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