Delicious Turkish Cuisine

by Pelin Kurt, Izmir University of Economics, December 11, 2008

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Turkish people have perfected the rich variety of their cuisine to a fine craft that reflects their culture. Turkish students miss Turkish food when they leave their country to study abroad. Our foods taste completely different from USA foods. In Turkey, we like difficult-to-make meals with healthy ingredients while Americans prefer fast food or quick meals. In my opinion, Turkish foods are more delicious than American food. We miss our food because we don’t like American foods. And we can’t find delicious food like Turkish foods in America. In the other words, we are used to our country’s food and American foods are not delicious for us. Turks love Turkish food so much, both men and women. All Turkish students agree with this statement, although gender makes a difference in the degree to which students miss their native food.

Turkish food is simple in presentation and fresh ever since the Ottomans passed laws to regulate freshness of food. Our traditional foods come from many years ago. Our ancestors created these foods and traditional meals have been passed down. The Turkish Daily News writers, Gül Demir and Niki Gamm, mentioned our Ottoman food culture: ‘‘Most likely the Ottoman diner would drink water or possibly fruit juice to begin. This would be followed with a nourishing soup and then the main part of the meal, finishing with something sweet like baklava and fresh fruit. There is no reason to believe that today's starters are any different from what was eaten in the 15th and 16th centuries, although the ingredients might have been simpler.’’ In other words, because Turkish meals were important centuries ago they have been passed down and made important for Turkish families today. Demir and Gamm go on to say, ‘‘Recently also a number of books have appeared that provide information and recipes from the 19th century as attempts are made to ensure this knowledge is not lost.’’ No matter how much the recipe changes the original is still known. Every generation families add to the recipe and make them taste better.

In addition to traditional meals we have many kinds of delicious regional foods that are enjoyed in some regions of Turkey but not others. Our country has a lot of special meals. On the internet many web sites mentioned Turkish foods. One of the internet sources,, defined our regional foods: “Taken as a whole, Turkish cuisine is not homogenous because certain food is only available in certain regions. Aside from common Turkish specialties which can be found throughout the country, there are also region specific specialties.” The regional food of Northern Turkey is based on corn and anchovies. Popular meals in the southeast are kebabs, mezes and dough-based desserts. Some examples of the desserts are baklava, kadayıf and künefe. Since olive trees grow mostly in the west, “olive oil is the major type of oil used for cooking.” Also, in western Turkey, more specifically the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean regions, they use vegetables, herbs and fish in their intense meals. In central Turkish cuisine, keşkek, mantı, and gözleme are delicious main menu items that people throughout the world enjoy and praise. Making food is important for Turkish people.

Food is important for our culture’s religious activity especially during Ramadan. Ramadan is the special time in Turkey that people fast as a religious way of worship. Ramadan meals are important. We prepare special big meals and sweets. And people meet with their family and their friends at this time. As we are studying abroad, we missed the Ramadan time and the Ramadan meals at home. Instead of eating a delicious meal with our family, we had to eat at Neubig. We really missed our meals.

As I mentioned, international students miss food from their country. I talked to my friend Masato from Japan. He said “I liked Americans foods but I missed my country’s food because there are many differences between Japanese and American food. Japanese food is fresh and doesn’t use oil. Also our country’s food is hearty.” He understands how we feel about being away from our home and missing our meals.

While Turkish international students miss their own food, there are interesting differences between the comments of Turkish men and women when it comes to attitudes toward food. We always talk about American foods during dinnertime. Some Turkish international men like American foods, such as hamburgers, pizza and pasta. But one of my Turkish friend, Şenol, said, ‘‘We don’t miss Turkish food as much because we enjoy American foods also.” Another Turkish friend, Arda, said “We are only thinking about satisfying our hunger. We have to eat American food. ” But Turkish women don’t like and don’t want to eat American foods because according to Turkish women, these foods are tasteless and unhealthy. Nazlı and Duygu, Turkish international women, said ‘‘We don’t like American food and we can’t find any food that we like.” I asked them, “Why don’t you like American food?” They said, “we don’t like the taste and we feel like we are forced to eat because there is no other choice. This situation makes us really miss our home country’s food.”

Americans who don’t study abroad don’t know what it is like to miss their home food. In America, most people eat food, fill themselves, and that’s the end of it. They don’t care much about taste the way international students do. They just want to avoid hunger. In contrast, according to Turkish people, our food and cooking is an art. Since we care so much, we spend time on our food. There are many differences between meals that take two hours to cook as opposed to a meal that can be made in fifteen minutes. Meals that take longer to cook are more delicious than quick meals. I talked an American woman named Dianne. She is a working mother and we talked about meals. She told me: ‘‘Americans tend to spend more time cooking for holidays and big events.’’ Except on holidays Americans generally want quick meals. In my country, we usually cook big meals most of the time. It is easy to for us to cook special meals because we are taught to cook many meals. According to Turkish people, we have a special ability to cook. Commonly, in America, people believe that many men are not able to cook or they don’t want to cook but women have a special ability to cook and it comes easily for them; but in Turkey, both women and men care more about food than most people in the US.

One of my American tutors, Tim, asked to me “Don’t you like pizza?” than I said “I don’t like fast food because my country’s foods are really good and their tastes are better than fast meals. I don’t want to eat fast foods because I am not used to them.” After my words he was amazed and he said “Tell me about your specific foods from home.” And then I told him my favorite meal is Mantı. He was intrigued about Turkish food and he wanted to try. Like most American men, Tim doesn’t think he has the ability to cook. On the other hand, my other American tutor, Katie, said “I am good at cooking but sometimes I get lazy so I eat fast foods.” This shows the gender difference between American men and women. Katie cooks but Tim doesn’t but both of them like fast foods, as most American students do.

According to a Turkish magazine article, “Percentage of Turkish Men Who Cook,” 70 % of men don’t want to and can’t cook. On the other hand the special 30 % of Turkish men are able to cook and care about cooking as much as women do. For example my father: he really likes cooking. He lived alone for a long time and had to cook for himself. My father is part of the 30% of men who can cook because he really likes cooking and enjoys socializing in the kitchen. Generally, Turkish men stay out of the kitchen but my father knows the gender difficulties and wants to break down the old rules. My father believes he can even cook some meals better than my mother. Last year, we stayed at home during the holiday and talked about cooking special meals. My father said, ‘‘I can make Kısır better than your mother.’’ Later, he started to make food and in the end the meal tasted really delicious. My father likes to cook and believes that cooking means being together as a family.

Overall, Turkish cuisine and attitudes about foods are much different than those in the US. Cooking for Turks is an expression of art, tradition, religion, gender and region. Americans don’t care about the food they eat, but if they came to Turkey I think they would change their mind.

Turkish Daily News
Turkish Food
• Bliss,Dianne. Daily interview.30 October 2008.
• Çelik,Şenol and Sezer,Arda. Daily interview. 10 September 2008.
• Hopkins,Tim and Rogers,Katie . Daily interview.4 November 2008.
• Kondo,Masato. Daily interview. 21 October 2008.
• Kurt, Müslüm(my father). Daily interview. 18 December 2006
• Manas, Nazlıcan and Gursesli, Duygu. Daily interview.11 September 2008.

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